They say location is everything, but Cara Bale had other priorities when she was looking for a home. She had been living in a two-up-two-down cottage in a pretty village on the Norfolk Broads, but longed for more space for her family. “Location is never something I would usually sacrifice,” she says, “but I fell in love with this design.”
Cara and her family now live in a converted barn in Catfield, also on the Broads. Many would seek out its location: it is barely more than a half-hour drive from Norwich and 15 minutes to the beach. But for Cara, it was just a village with a history of boatbuilding. It didn’t have the historical associations of Walsingham; it wasn’t a daytripper destination like Cromer.
The place she found was bigger than their previous house, with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and the rooms were all large and well-proportioned. The red-brick-and-flint farm building had been built in the mid-19th century as a byre for cattle. Previous owners had already converted it into a home and preserved many of the original features.
Cara, a lifestyle photographer, loved the high-beamed ceilings in the sitting room with hooks that would have once held hay bags or animal feed. Plus, she liked the small loft hatch accessed by a wooden ladder in the kitchen and the old planked doors. The single-storey layout was a benefit. Mathilda, her younger daughter, was just six months old at the time and would soon be taking her first steps. Now, Cara didn’t need to worry about her tumbling downstairs.
The barn did need some work, though. “The house was quite dated,” Cara recalls. “Most of the rooms had brown threadbare carpets, with magnolia walls, and there was a lino floor in the kitchen.” Together with her partner, Ben Mullard, they made a plan: “We tackled a room at a time, moving furniture as we went.” The floors were particularly important to get right. “I love painted floorboards,” Cara says. “We sourced planks from a building merchant and hired a local tradesman from mybuilder.com to fit them.” Scuffmarks added character.
Cara and Ben wanted the kitchen to be the heart of the home, and have since held a barbecue for Ben’s fiftieth and birthday parties for the two girls, now five and nine, around the table. They designed an L-shaped room and, influenced by aspects of Parisian and Scandinavian style, replaced dark, wooden units with elegant Shaker-style cabinets and white composite worktops. The walls were also kept free of eye-level cupboards so that the dining table would be the focus. The kitchen has high ceilings, too, giving it an extra sense of space and airiness.
Cara has had the beams painted the same colour as the walls throughout the barn. “It gives a calm feel,” she says, “and it makes things easy: you only have one paint colour to remember when it comes to retouching.” For the paintwork, Cara used Michelle Stephens Decorating, a team of working mothers who operate during school hours, enabling everything to be done while the children were out of the house. For the furnishings, she scoured local reclamation yards and charity shops, and sought out independent sellers. “Most items have a practical use,” she says, “but I make sure they suit the space. In
the kitchen, the copper tap, dishrack and ladder stand out – I don’t feel the room needs more than that.”
No room has been neglected, with all of them being given a similarly serene makeover. To disguise pipework in the family bathroom, Cara had it covered with floorplanks painted in blush pink. She then added an enamel bucket sink, a rolltop bath, floral prints and vintage accessories.
The main work on the exterior has been the installation of solar panels on the large roof, which faces south, and the couple have since found that their heating bills are considerably lower. As the walls are incredibly thick, the barn stays cosy all year long, especially with the addition of the woodburner through the winter months.
The family have grown to love the area. Cara enjoys paddleboarding and the girls go canoeing. They also camp at Hickling Campsite nearby. “The barn has given us the growing space we needed,” Cara says. “It’s so practical and works perfectly for our lifestyle.”
Follow Cara Bale on Instagram @caras_norfolk_life.
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