Refurbishing two holiday lets in a year has been an amazing process, but also a big upfront investment. We were lucky that both the barn and the caravan were part of the house we bought, but in order to be able to find a property we could afford, we knew we would have to do some work. We chose carefully though, avoiding buying property that required planning permission, meaning we could get to work quickly..
The barn had already been run as a holiday let but not been in use for a few years and was ready for a refresh.
Salavaging the 1961 caravan was a decision of the heart, in many ways a new caravan would have been cheaper, but not as aesthetically pleasing or green. Instead we focussed on other ways to keep the costs manageable.
Kitchens don’t have to cost the world
Our joiner taught me the basics of planning and designing the barn and caravan kitchens and confirmed everything I had suspected, the minute you get a kitchen showroom involved you will pay through the nose. Having an expert fitter talk me through what was needed, with an eye on how to save money was brilliant. We turned our chats into a shopping list which meant I could bypass showrooms completely and order the components online or pick them up off the shelf.
This was so liberating.
I won’t lie, the first time ordering everything also really made my head hurt and it was time consuming. I made a few mistakes with the order and had to return and reorder a couple of things, but you do save a lot of money this way. I know friends who have waited months for parts to arrive via kitchen showrooms, and been without a kitchen for months, so don’t assume going via a showroom makes it any less stressful either.
I had always suspected the mark up on kitchen showroom’s, then recently I read Kitchen Warehouse ‘s about page which explains how as family kitchen manufacturers they have moved from supplying the middle men or kitchen showrooms, who add a large mark up, to supplying customers direct. More proof that a cheap kitchen can be done and doesn’t mean lowering quality, it’s just about being a bit savvy.
We didn’t cut corners on the flooring, it gets a lot of wear, its very disruptive to have to replace and it needs to last and look good. A good floor sets everything else off. The barn had a slightly sloped floor – it was a cow shed and cow wee would have needed to drain away – so we used engineered wood and levelled it using a suspended floor.
In the caravan we used Harvey Maria vinyl planks, light and flexible to work with, looks just like wood, easy to clean and super hard wearing.
On the other hand, I found some amazing but very cheap vinyl tiles for the barn kitchen, they look fab, but are a pain to clean and getting them to stay down was an ongoing challenge. I really must re do the photos, taken in the darkest depths of February.
Auctions are fun
We spent a lot of time at John Pye, our nearest auction house when kitting out the barn. It auctions off furniture returns, seconds and end of line for John Lewis, Made and Loaf.
We bagged a beautiful new John Lewis sofa at well over half price, a carpet worth £400 for £50, a new Bosch fridge and Smeg dishwasher for about £50 each, a rug and a zip lock double bed that converts to twins, plus a huge 10 seater table from Loaf for our own house for £65 and a new roll top bath for £120.
However there are pitfalls, electric appliances are very much take as you find, we bought two dud dishwashers which we then had to tip. They don’t have warranties and if I had my chance again I probably wouldn’t buy integrated appliances – they are more expensive to fit and replace and harder to pull out when a guest pours milk down the back of the fridge.
Online auctions are time consuming too – going to visit the warehouses to check what you want to bid on in advance, placing and monitoring your online bids (fun but stressful!) and then collecting the items – often on different days of the same week. We had to hire a van to collect the items, so we needed to pick an auction where we could successfully bid on lots of things at once to make it worthwhile.
It was great fun though and Mr A and I enjoyed our lunches in the cafe and the excitement of bidding.
My top tip would to be to investigate or gamble on the forgotten or tucked away things still in boxes – often people just go for the standout pieces on display, but I found our table in perfect condition this way.
Shop around, use local merchants
Initially we bought bits and pieces in a chain DIY store as it was closer to home, but I soon discovered the timber yard and builder’s merchants were much cheaper and much more knowledgeable and helpful.
I bought the odd thing on facebook marketplace, but recommend starting to look early on because it will remember your search and tell you when things come up if you don’t find what you want straight away. It’s great for recycling and keeping it local. I met one seller who did house clearances who offered to keep an eye out for specific things for me.
Shower panels come in so many funky colours these days and are so much easier to fit and keep clean than tiles. We bought quite expensive shower panels for the barn as we wanted to tie together the new and old elements in the room and create a bit of luxury. We installed a new shower cubicle, but kept the existing toilet, sink and red stone floor – we found some burgundy marble pattern panels that brought it all together nicely.
For the caravan we actually used ‘dairy panels’ – yep as used in milking parlours – which were a fraction of the cost, but looked clean and white and suited the newly made bathroom space.
Putting the word out with tradespeople helps too. Our plumber offered me a virtually perfect Royal Doulton bathroom set for £20 he was selling on behalf of a couple he had ripped it out for. Our joiner got us a panel heater, travel cot and highchair. Again, keep an eye on facebook marketplace. John Pye also had an incredible plumbing auction at one point but we’d already got what we needed by this point.
I bought our tiles for the caravan kitchen at a furniture recycling shop, only to find loads hidden in an outbuilding back at home, so ask around, if you just need a few of something I bet friends and family may have some. Same goes for paint, Dad found me a half used pot of Farrow and Ball masonry paint which I used to paint the barn porch.
I asked family for first dibs on books, games, ornaments, picture frames, anything that was going to charity. I wish I had done it sooner as it became a real extended family team effort and was so much fun.
Car boots and charity shops
Doing the barn up over Winter meant car boots weren’t an option, I definitely noticed the caravan was kitted out more cheaply and easily. It was so much fun too, Mr A followed me round our local car boot grabbing the bags as I filled them up and taking them back to the car. I wished I had started collecting things sooner for the barn. However, it was great to give something back to charity and I scoured charity shops for finishing touches for both places.
It’s been a big old year and when I can’t quite fathom why I feel so tired, I look back at these photos and how far we have come. It’s really exceeded my expectations and I can’t think of anything nicer than being part of making people’s holidays special. We’ve had the barn open since Feb and the caravan since August and have over eighty 5 star reviews, two four and one three, which I count as a success. You can also read the story of the caravan in more depth on my homes blog A Creative Residence.
Mayfield Hideaway Caravan is listed on Airbnb and available to book all year round, alongside Mayfield Hideaway Bar which also sleeps 2-4. It is 4 miles from picturesque Dovedale with its famous stepping stones and 10 miles from Alton Towers theme park.