Global travel inspires family to bring worldwide colours to a Dorset barn

PUBLISHED: 10:47 10 November 2014 | UPDATED: 14:25 25 March 2015

Hilltop Barn a former 1820's barn converted into a family home

Hilltop Barn a former 1820's barn converted into a family home

(C)2008 Peter Booton Photography, all rights reserved

Inspired by their global travels the Newmans have brought the rich colours of Bali, the Caribbean and New York to a barn in a quiet corner of Dorset

The hall, with chunky wooden staircase and pianoThe hall, with chunky wooden staircase and piano

the first time she saw the 1820’s barn which was for sale in Winterborne Zelston, Shan Newman recalls thinking that it had a very good roof and solid walls. “Apart from that it only had a dirt floor and its original doors, which were hanging off their hinges. It looked more like an aircraft hangar than anything else.” But crucially for Shan and her husband Bill, who were looking for a ‘project’, it already had planning permission for conversion into a single dwelling and the barn wasn’t a listed building.

The Newmans had renovated previous homes, although this Dorset barn was to be a bigger project than they were used to. First, they engaged an architect. “I told him that I wanted a spacious hall where we could put a piano,” explains Shan. “He drew a wonderful picture that showed a grand piano, but that wasn’t quite what I had in mind,” she adds, with a smile. “Although the barn wasn’t a listed building, it was in a conservation area and so the planners were particular about how it looked externally. The windows had to be recessed so that they sat in shadow. We could use softwood but it had to be stained dark, which was good because the cost of hardwood would have been astronomical. Where the barn doors were, we’ve now got large windows.”

Work on the property commenced in April 1992 and by October of that year the conversion was nearly finished. The Newmans were intimately involved with the work. Bill project managed and did a lot of the plumbing whilst Shan took care of the painting, stripping and sourcing of things - mostly from demolition sites and reclamation yards. One particular site that proved a useful source of materials was the former Dolphin Hotel in Poole from which Shan gained two large oak beams, some attractive glass lampshades and an old butler sink. Sections of the oak beams were then used for the newel posts in the barn’s sturdy wooden staircase.

Shan designed the staircase using railway sleepers for the stairs and post and rail fencing for the banisters, all painstakingly smoothed off. “I wanted a big, chunky staircase,” admits Shan. “This is such a big barn, and the hall is double height, so it needed something substantial, with a galleried landing. We couldn’t afford a big oak staircase, but apart from that I wanted this barn to look rustic, used and worn as if it had always been there.”

‘Redwood’ –American themed suite with pictures of New York‘Redwood’ –American themed suite with pictures of New York

The old barn doors have been re-used as part of a field shelter in the surrounding two-acre grounds and the door posts, still with their rusty iron hinges, are now decorative beams in the dining room ceiling.

When excavating the floor in the hall, in preparation for laying the Purbeck stone floor, they uncovered a large number of old local bricks which would have been the original floor. These have now been reused within the brickwork in the hallway and kitchen.

Standing majestically in the dining room, on a reclaimed maple floor from a school in Parkstone, is a refurbished three-quarter size Riley snooker diner. “To use it as a snooker table you remove the four top sections and wind it up on a ratchet to the correct height,” explains Shan. “This way it serves two useful purposes.”

Hilltop Barn, perfectly named for its location, is full of lovely, quirky and often retro-vintage items. Some have an interesting history. For example, ‘Eric the bath’, as it is affectionately known by the Newmans, came from a house in France owned by Eric Stewart of the rock group 10cc. The heavy, re-enamelled cast iron bath now has pride of place in one of the well appointed en-suite bathrooms.

Caribbean style ‘Mango’ bedroom and en-suiteCaribbean style ‘Mango’ bedroom and en-suite

Other reclaimed items of interest in Bill and Shan’s home include a wooden bench from a railway station waiting room, French internal courtyard doors with attractive iron scrollwork and a number of ‘town hall’ radiators.

The games room certainly lives up to its name. As well as a table tennis table, dartboard and pinball machine, there is a jukebox that was a present to Bill from Shan. Also in this room are rocking horses and items of retro furniture that Shan is hoping to restore when she finds time.

Free time is something the Newmans have very little of these days; since their children left home they have started offering bed and breakfast accommodation.

Hilltop Barn has six en-suite bedrooms, each individually styled by Shan, a former commercial fashion designer.

“Each room has been inspired by places we’ve visited on holiday. For example ‘Mango’ has a Caribbean theme because we bought some paintings back from Antigua. We’ve added plants and a ceiling fan and I’ve tried to use typical Caribbean colours such as deep oranges.”

Other bedrooms include ‘Redwood’ which has an American theme - the scene is set by paintings of New York. Then there is ‘Bali’, where ‘Eric the bath’ resides. This recalls the visit by Bill and Shan to their daughter who was in Bali on her gap year. The couple watched geckos running up the wall of a restaurant there, so geckos now enliven the bathroom, and Eric has one too.

To ensure they have enough beds for guests, as well as their own large family when they visit, the Newmans wisely keep a few spare mattresses in readiness, but where to store such bulky items?

Drawing inspiration from a piece of furniture she had seen in a French florists, Shan has designed a wooden cabinet that stands on the first floor hallway and looks like an apothecary’s chest. But the drawer fronts are false - although some are hinged outwards to hold small plants – and one side opens to reveal two mattresses within, while the remaining space holds bed linen.

Shan’s workroom above the garage is where she makes all the soft furnishings for her home as well as her own clothes. The room has far-reaching views of the surrounding countryside and looks out over Hilltop Barn’s two-acre grounds where Shan keeps a flock of fourteen home-bred, pedigree Zelston Southdowns which have won numerous prizes at shows.

Now that the Newmans have two granddaughters living in Kent, the couple are planning to sell up and move nearer. “Hilltop Barn is a great family house and party house,” Shan enthuses.

“Our children grew up here and roller-skated on the stone-floored hall. It’s a very happy home and it needs a family.”

Hilltop Barn is for sale through Humberts, Blandford 01258 452343 (

Hilltop Barn B&B, 01929 459665 or visit


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