A couple bought a crumbling 700-year-old medieval farmstead and turned it into a fairytale retreat where guests can stay in treehouses overlooking the English countryside

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Parsons Hall Farm after renovations.

Nicki and John Beavan restored a 12th-century medieval farmstead in Worcestershire, England.
They renovated the farmhouse and a 700-year-old tithe barn and built two treehouses on the grounds.
For up to £495 a night, guests often rent the treehouses for anniversaries and birthdays.

In November 1999, Nicki Beavan was flipping through a newspaper, looking for a new home in Worcestershire that would have space for a workshop for her growing furniture-design business. A classified ad for a dilapidated 12th-century farmhouse with a medieval tithe barn immediately caught her eye. “It was just so enchanting. The house drew us to it like a magnet,” Nicki Beavan told Insider. She and her husband, John, bought it in April 2000.

The farm before renovations.

Even though it was in a poor state, Nicki and John, who creates furniture for stately homes in the UK, only saw potential in the 12-acre Parsons Hall Farm. Though they didn’t realize it when they purchased the 700-year-old property, it would become a restoration project that would take 20 years to complete.

Here’s how they created the perfect hideaway in the English countryside for themselves and guests.

Rainwater running through the roof

A farmer had lived in the three-bedroom house until the moment the couple took the keys. “I don’t know how, as it was in such a state of disrepair,” Nicki Beavan said. “There were more buckets on the floor catching rainwater than there were tiles on the roof.”

She described the medieval detached kitchen as a “few sticks of timber” and said that electric wires had been poked into the wall and held in place with matchsticks. The tithe barn, which once held the crops the farmers would give to the church until the 1800s, had holes in the roof and was missing timbers.

Once they moved in, the first change they made was to install an Aga (a Swedish range cooker) that they brought from their former home. “It gave the house a heart,” Beavan said.

Their next priority was to boost the property’s spring-water source by creating three boreholes in the grounds and connecting them to a plant room where the water would be filtered and pressurized. They also switched the wood burner out for an underground heating system. The pipes they installed in the fields drew heat from the ground to feed the underfloor heating and radiators in the house and supply hot water.

With a mortgage and work piling up, they had to focus on turning one of the outbuildings into a workshop. It took them six months to create a fully functioning space and install the lighting, dust extraction, and air lines that would help power the pneumatic tools.

But compared to renovating the house and tithe barn, this would prove easy, as the others were listed buildings, or buildings of historic interest. The Beavans gathered as many old photographs of the property as they could find from the local library and researched historic events to find out more about Parsons Hall Farm.

Embracing traditional skills

When the couple applied for planning permissions, they found the rules that surrounded a listed building often came into conflict with modern building regulations. “The conservation rules would say you’ve got to leave that staircase where it is and then building control would say the staircase isn’t safe because the treads aren’t right,” Beavan said. “So eventually, we hired a conservation consultant who we met through our work on stately homes to help fight our corner.”

With the help of the conservation officer, they also discovered a thatch line made from bricks that showed the home once had a thatched roof rather than broken tiles, so they were also given permission to re-thatch it. This wouldn’t be cheap, as projects like this can cost £33,000, or around $40,000.

They struggled to find a craftsman who knew this ancient art, but they eventually found one in their county and two elsewhere in the UK. “That’s one of the trades that John and I both wished we’d learned,” Beavan said.

Thatching the roof proved to be the most time-consuming part of the project; however, the couple didn’t think twice about their decision. “The roof is your umbrella — it keeps everything warm and dry,” Beavan said.

The couples’ workload continued to grow as their business expanded and Nicki gave birth to their second set of twins in 2003. They also made the decision that year to become farmers after buying another 12 acres to extend their farmland as well as three Herefordshire cows, which eventually grew to a herd of 80.

Giving a medieval barn a new lease on life

The tithe barn before renovations.

The couple next turned their attention to the tithe barn and their dream of building treehouses in their woods. They had to wait three years for planning permission, which finally came through in 2009.

“When we put in the application for the treehouses, the planner came out and said, ‘Why don’t you convert the tithe barn for holiday lets?'” Nicki Beavan said.

To do this, the couple had to source air-dried oak to replace the missing timbers. A few of the woven-oak panels were also missing, but they found a craftsman who could copy them from photographs of others in the barn. A heritage charity helped fund 40% of the cost of these renovations.

The tithe barn took four years to complete, and they now hire it out for weddings.

The tithe barn after renovations.

Taking treehouses to the next level

The couple chose two trees next to a riverbank to build the treehouses so they would be easy to access — and it was where they went for walks to de-stress.

One of the luxury treehouses for rent.

“When we stressed over having the bridging loan, being parents to new twins, and running the workshop, we used to walk down into the woods where the treehouses now sit,” Nicki Beavan said. “Once we’d walked down there and all the way back up, we’d sorted all our worries out. It’s a very healing place.”

Everything in the treehouses was handmade. In his downtime, John, whose work is usually sold by auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, built a £50,000 kitchen for each treehouse.

One of the kitchens John created.

They added underfloor heating and hot tubs, and when a friend delivered a trailer load of flat stones, they turned them into a waterfall. It took nine years to complete the two treehouses.The stairwell in one of the treehouses.

The couple listed the first treehouse on their Treeopia website in February 2018 and the other treehouse in May 2019 after it was completed. Guests are now booking the treehouses for proposals, anniversaries, and birthdays for up to £495 a night.

Renovating everything was a gigantic project, but Beavan said that they couldn’t have completed one without the other. “If we hadn’t had renovated the house, the treehouse guests wouldn’t have that wow factor of coming down the drive and seeing the house lit up in the dark, they wouldn’t be able to tour the tithe barn, or drive past the cattle in the winter — it’s all interconnected,” she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

​Real Estate, BI-freelancer, Renovations, United Kingdom, England, Farmhouse, Treehouse, Renting, Vacation, Home Renovation, Farming, Furniture, contributor 2023, Lauryn Haas  

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