Jonnie Irwin helps two very exacting buyers in Kent look for a medieval oak-beamed barn with expansive living spaces on a budget of £630,000.
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Today's county is associated with this type of hazelnut.
These were a favourite with the Victorian and Edwardian hoi polloi, served with cheese and port.
Where am I? Well, find out in an appetising Escape To The Country.
'Today, we're attempting to find a new home for a bride and groom.
'It's got to be something old, not new.'
This isn't what you want. I don't think so.
'Heart strings will be tugged in all directions.'
Really making this difficult.
'And there won't be a dry eye in the house.'
Are you OK? Yes. It's beautiful.
Today, I'm in Kent, home of the Kentish cobnut.
Until the early 20th century, there were over 7,000 acres
of cobnut plantations, or plats, throughout the UK.
Most of those were here in Kent.
Sadly, after the First World War, the industry went into decline.
But the cobnut is having a comeback.
In the last five years, nearly 200 acres have been replanted.
These are far from the only things grown in the county.
'For centuries, Kent has been a rural playground for city folk,
'bordering London to the west, and to the east, 350 miles of coastline.
'Kent became known as the "garden of England" during Tudor times.
'Apple orchards were planted here in the 16th and 17th centuries.
'Kent resident Charles Dickens gave a nod to the county in The Pickwick Papers.
'Apples, cherries and hops all made an appearance.
'Oast houses that were once used to dry hops are a familiar sight.
'Many of these old industrial Victorian buildings
'have been converted into exclusive attractive homes.'
But what are today's buyers after? Let's find out.
Meet recently retired Major General Malcolm and fiancee Catalina, who works in green technology.
Catalina lives in this two-bed terrace in a busy Surrey town.
Malcolm's house is an hour's drive away in Hampshire.
With a wedding planned in months, the key thing missing from the wedding list is the marital home.
Catalina often works from home. I have commitments all over the place.
We don't spending much time together so as soon as we can get our own place, make it ours,
get together all the time, the better.
And it's hard to find something for someone this tall!
'At six feet six inches tall, space is a priority for Malcolm
'when they cross the threshold.
'And they have specific ideas about their preferred style of home.'
We're looking for a very large hall space with beautiful oak-beam ribs,
very high ceilings, a lot of history.
It doesn't have to be in a perfect state.
It can be an older barn that's yet to be made into this.
I've been collecting tapestries and old master paintings for 20 years.
This is a Flemish piece I'm looking at restoring.
I can't hang it up properly, or the others.
So it is a bit of a crisis,
'Catalina has a passion for historic treasures.
'Her current home is a 17th-century listed building. How does she feel about other styles?'
Big no-nos for me would be modern. My skin would crawl. Really.
Georgian is a bit too pompous,
a bit too much for us - although I love it.
It isn't where I want to live.
'What about the outside space?'
Now I've got a big piece of grass to cut, uphill.
You're spending all the effort working, as opposed to enjoying it.
So, if possible, I'd like to have, perhaps, a bit more wild of an area,
not high-maintenance, but natural.
And some sort of water, maybe a pond or lake? With ducks?
'They've decided to relocate to Kent but, aside from its countryside,
'why have they chosen this county?'
I've got family ties in Hampshire.
I've got three daughters in their 20s, two of whom live in London. Don't want to be far away from them.
'Both of their properties are on the market.
'What's the budget these nearly newly-weds have for their first home together?'
?600,000, maybe to ?630,000.
Catalina is after something specific -
a timber-framed historic building with a large open-plan living space.
Whilst ?630,000 isn't to be sniffed at, these properties are in high demand.
The good news is that we seem to be looking in the right area.
Traditionally, agriculture in Kent is done on a small scale
and throws up a wealth of timber-framed barns.
Hopefully, we should have plenty to look at.
'Having to make trips into London for business and to visit family,
'Malcolm and Catalina want to be within a reasonable commute.
'Our search will take us around Maidstone.
'We'll see some incredible properties, including a development opportunity,
'but I won't reveal the price straightaway.
'Finally, the mystery house promises to unearth
'more than they'd bargained for.'
This is a start of a new chapter.
You're living in separate houses and are both coming together. Exactly.
The budget was 630. Is that still the case? I'd hoped for that.
To keep something in reserve for the project or daughters.
But I realise we've had to push up a bit. 650, 670, if we're realistic.
We've got properties to look at. Are you excited? Yes. Let's go. Thank you.
'For a top budget of ?670,000,
'Malcolm and Catalina haven't given us an extensive wish list,
'but it is precise.
'A detached historic property, preferably a barn,
'with exposed timbers...
'With that in mind, we're kicking off not far from Paddock Wood,
'a popular bolt hole for commuters
'situated eight miles southwest of Maidstone.
'Our first property is situated close to a town,
'is in easy reach of amenities and benefits from a great rural setting.
'Let's see what our buyers think.'
What do you think, Catalina? I don't want to speak before I get inside.
Let's get inside and find out some more, shall we?
'Malcolm and Catalina are reserving judgment
'on this beautiful two-storey 18th-century barn.
'It was converted 20 years ago and has an unconventional layout
'that places the open-plan living area on the first floor.'
So what are we thinking?
Very nice beams, as requested. There's some heritage there.
Is it tall enough?
That is still a potential Malcolm headache.
But I'd get used to one.
It's if I was having to bob up and down. It's got a lot of light.
There's a good sense of space.
I'm looking forward to seeing the rest, to understand a bit better what could be done.
'The vaulted ceiling and walls feature a wealth
'of original beams that have been dated to the early 1700s.
'The top floor is also home to the master bedroom
'with exposed woodwork and an en suite shower room.'
What do we think? Is it big enough?
It's big enough. You've gone very quiet, Catalina.
I kind of wanted something all on one level, like a big traditional barn with the height.
Then we could maybe add something on later or develop it slowly
with other period barns, if we needed to. This is interesting.
So many people like to go up or down a set of stairs to bed.
This isn't what you want. I don't think so.
'It's apparent that their vision for their dream property
'is even more specific than we'd thought.
'Let's get down to the ground floor to the kitchen.'
Fabulous! Good and open.
We like open. Mm. I like your reactions, then.
Catalina has a lovely long table which deserves to be used.
In terms of visions, I saw this long table and everyone around it.
So there's no room for that table here? We'd struggle.
'To the opposite end of the ground floor
'is the family bathroom and two bedrooms.
'One is a single being used as an office.
'The other is a double room with storage.'
We've now see every room in the house. What do we think?
It's a family home.
It's been designed into little compartments.
We were thinking maybe we could open up a bit more. Yes, exactly.
'This is an historic and homely family property,
'but it's clear that it's not delivering the right vibe.
'Perhaps the beautiful garden
'will be more to their liking.
'There's a double garage with storage space.
'The grounds are in terraced areas, with patios and water features,
'which should be to Catalina's liking.
This was a real surprise to me, the whole style of this garden.
It's gorgeous. You like it? Yeah. It's lovely. Catalina likes water.
A little piece of water flowing through it gently.
How much do you think this house is on the market for? I'll say 620.
Higher or lower? Probably lower.
Probably lower? You're right.
This house is on the market for offers around ?585,000. Gosh.
'Very comfortably under budget at...
'Dating back to the 18th century,
'our first house delivers on period features,
'but will it match their very particular requirements?'
Shall we move on? Mm-hm. Good.
'A crop that swept to popularity in the 19th century was a wild hazelnut
'called the cobnut, cultivated in Kent as it could be easily transported to London.
'By the mid 20th century, the Kentish cob was eclipsed by more exotic imported varieties.
'Cobnuts grow in clusters
'and are harvested by hand, as each nut
'is individually inspected for quality.
'Product manager Catherine Robinson showed me the ropes.'
It's pretty simple, really. You just shake the tree.
What? As simple as that? You'll hear the nuts come.
There they go. They're camouflaged!
Yeah... Look. There's loads of them.
Why are people starting to eat the cobnut now?
People are looking for locally sourced food.
They're the only type of nut to be commercially grown in the UK.
If people want local produce, nuts, they're looking at cobnuts.
'But nutcracking is a very seasonal trend,
'so this farm has diversified by tapping into a market where cobnuts can be savoured all year round.'
We designed a machine
to crack the shells, to get the kernel out,
then once we have nut kernels, we roast them and press them for oil.
These have been pressed for oil. OK.
So, may I?
See what you think of the taste. Lovely colour.
It is a lovely golden colour.
Mm, that's... That would rival any olive oil I've had.
It's very tasty. Mm. Very good for your skin.
It's full of vitamin E, B vitamins and no cholesterol.
'No wonder that demand outweighed supply this year.
'The future looks bright for a successful revival
'of this tasty Kentish treat.
'It's back to the house hunt to see if I can unearth their perfect property.
'They may be unfazed by a bit of work,
'but how will they feel about starting from scratch?
'We'll find out at our second destination,
'the village of Bredgar, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
'Surrounded by hills and woodland,
'Bredgar has a 13th-century Norman flint church and a farm shop
'with a post office.
'We're upping the space stakes with our next property
'in the centre of the village, but it's not much to look at - yet.'
So... The lady wanted a barn. CATALINA GIGGLES
Is this barn big enough? It's incredible. I can't believe it!
That's the size. It's about 2,500 square foot inside.
It is massive.
This is very tempting. Let's look.
Come over this way.
Our boundary... comes to this corner.
You're on the corner of your plot. Everything that way is yours.
Does it have planning to become residential?
Or is that a question mark? No. That's a full stop. It has planning. Wow.
It's probably a ruin inside and his face will drop.
Suddenly, it's a longer term project, not a walk-in and live-in. Let's do one thing at a time.
'They're both more animated outside this historic agricultural barn
'than at our first property, and I'm certain Malcolm's height won't be an issue.
'But has it got the potential to fit Catalina's vision?'
CATALINA LAUGHS Wow! What do you think?
Tears. Are you OK? Yeah.
Are you OK? Yes. It's beautiful.
So...how old is this?
It's mid 16th century. It's a real piece of Kent history.
All the beams are from then. Yeah. This was a threshing barn.
The more you look at it, hopefully,
the more you can see the useable space, the very rare opportunity
to get an untouched barn with that big space.
It's a little bit intimidating as to where you would...
It does look in very warm condition.
Honestly, this is not as rotted as you might have expected.
I see some tidying and things that have been done, but done well.
The barn is listed. Mm-hm.
So you can't cut a beam to put a window in. Don't want to. Good.
So you've got long slatted windows.
'Catalina's full of great ideas of what to do here.
'I can almost hear the cogs turning as she mentally creates a home.
'It covers an enormous footprint which, I suspect
'is a daunting prospect for Malcolm.
'I've brought architect's plans, which should help them configure the massive interior.'
This is the proposed layout. Just proposed.
Look at these words! "Open-plan living space"!
I saw that straightaway!
They've got it open plan at one end.
Then your three bedrooms at the other end.
You should be able to change this.
It should give you an idea
of what you might want to put where.
One thing the planners might stipulate on keeping is the porch.
All glass. Of course. There's a doorway here.
So...2,500 square foot of useable living space
all wrapped up in a lovely-looking barn.
You know what's coming, don't you? Guess the price.
Let's have a look at it.
I always have to go first, don't I? I have no idea, really.
Let's say 350. 350,000.
OK. Higher or lower?
That's all you have to say. Maybe a bit higher. I don't know.
Well... It's in very nice condition. It is.
Though there's a lot of work, hundreds of thousands of pounds to make that suitable.
But, Malcolm, I take my hat off. It's on the market for ?350,000.
That's a pretty good guess! It was a guess, though.
'For ?350,000, our second offering is substantially under budget.
'But at the same time, it needs a huge amount of money, time and TLC
'to turn it into their dream home...
'With a basic refit estimated at about ?150,000.
'The prospect of the work is enough to reduce most people to tears.
'Fortunately for our buyers, theirs are tears of joy.'
All done in here? Yes. All inspired? All planned out?
Thinking it through. Lots to think about.
It's almost the end of the day. Let's find somewhere to warm up. OK.
'With the sun setting
'on a day of high emotion, excitement and apprehension,
'the first day of our property quest comes to an end.'
Yesterday was a roller coaster, but I think it ended on a high.
Today, we show them the mystery house, which often surprises our buyers.
I hope they're not expecting another barn conversion.
'Time we challenged their preconceptions
'about an alternative architectural period,
'just under a mile from the village of Cooling.
'Surrounded by traditional farmland, Cooling has a public house,
'a 14th-century castle
'and a 13th-century church believed to be the setting of Pip's encounter
'with Magwitch in Dickens' Great Expectations.
'The house is a Grade II-listed farmhouse
'built during the reign of William and Mary.
'This early Georgian neoclassical style
'is the type of property our buyers described as pompous.
'It's full of gems that I hope will deliver an historic authenticity
'that they'll both appreciate.'
This property was built around 1700, so we've got a lot of history.
Always been a farmhouse. Excellent.
Let's take a look. OK. OK.
'Intrigued by its 300-year-old pedigree,
'let's find out whether what lies beyond the facade excites them,
'starting in the first of two elegant reception rooms.'
Let's talk dining tables. BOTH LAUGH
Yes, it could fit! You've got space, you've got beams.
It's tall, isn't it? It's a good height. You're right.
This has almost been modernised a bit too far for your tastes.
Would you say that's fair? Yeah.
Could you bring this back? The history's there, isn't it?
Is it one layer underneath or a bit deeper?
Is it listed? It is. Grade II. Only II.
There might be bits and bobs you can do internally.
'Across the hallway, the second reception room is presented
'as a sitting room with a fireplace.
'What do they make of the kitchen?'
That is absolutely original.
Look at that. It's lovely.
I would put the table in here. Great.
What they've done is to retain this more as a reception room.
They've got the nuts and bolts of the kitchen next door.
You'd at least keep it as a working utility.
Get all your white goods out there, non-period items.
Keep this pretty much as it is. It's a lovely room.
This is a beautiful view, too.
'Catalina and Malcolm are starting to appreciate
'the character of this house.
'We head through to the hallway to the first floor,
'where the family bathroom serves four bedrooms.
'At the back are two double bedrooms with fireplaces and sash windows.
'The smallest bedroom sits at the front
'and is another double with dark timber floorboards,
'which are also a feature in the largest bedroom.'
I thought you'd like the floorboards. Original floorboards.
Painted dark chocolate but that's not a problem.
'Catalina and Malcolm are warming to the mystery house.
'But I've got a surprise that should turn up the heat another notch.'
You don't mind getting on your hands and knees? Let's have a look.
Look at this staircase. Oh, my gosh! It's untouched.
Come in. Mind your heads, especially you, Malcolm.
CATALINA GIGGLES Oh, my gosh!
If you were a fan of timbers... LAUGHTER
It's phenomenal. A lot of new work.
How many fireplaces? Two. That's incredible.
You've both got quite wry smiles.
Haven't you? Looking at this!
Cos we're going to have to give joined-up views in a minute. Yeah.
'The untouched open plan second floor
'is full of possibilities, subject to planning,
'and has given them food for thought.
'We weave our way down the two sets of stairs to check out the garden
'or - dare I say? - grounds.
'The land is mainly laid to lawn with a pond bordered by flower beds
'and a weeping willow.'
I can't believe I'm apologising for the amount of land.
One and a half acres. Oh, gosh!
Cos I said my lawn-mowing days were behind me? Yes.
What do we think of the house?
It definitely deserves restoring. It's stunning.
It's got a lot of heart, some beautiful features. OK.
So, tough question but I've got to ask it.
How much is it on the market for?
I'm going to say ?680,000.
OK. 680. A bit more, I think. A bit more? Mm.
Then you'll both be pleasantly surprised. Oh! It's on the market for ?625,000. What?
It's a beautiful property. A lot to think about.
'At ?625,000, this extensive period mystery property
'is again well under budget.
'Stately yet simple, the house is full of historic charm...
'You get a lot for your money with a little left over for remodelling.
'Would they take on a classical property rather than a Tudor barn?'
So, that's three properties.
Let's find somewhere for you to have a sit down and a chat.
After three properties, I clearly got the best reactions from the barn conversion project,
but I do think the mystery house gave them something to think about.
Let's find out what they want to do next.
I thought I'd bring you to one of the county's most famous buildings, Leeds Castle.
It started off fairly challenging. A barn conversion already converted.
On reflection, not for you guys.
Loved the garden. Nice family home.
The way the space was used
probably means we're unlikely to follow up on that one.
The second property certainly gave you an open-plan layout!
But that's all it gave you!
I can't believe you got the depth and width.
Beautiful beams. Really left as is.
Hopefully, we can look very carefully at that detail
and try to enhance it rather than ruin it.
I'm being the practical one.
I'm, as I said before, both excited and daunted in equal measure.
That was a great end to a day. This morning, the mystery house
gave you something very different.
There were some beautiful heritage pieces, honest to God.
Someone will fall madly in love and treasure that.
The favourite is the barn project.
What do you want to do about that? We want to follow up on it.
You showed us some interesting plans but that's one version.
There's enormous potential there.
It's such an exciting project.
You look like you can't wait to get your hands on it. I can't.
Very few people protect the fabric and integrity of a building.
And it's small enough for us to get our arms around it and keep going.
It has a lot of benefit.
It could be falling into the right hands. Let us know how you get on. I wish you the best of luck.
Thank you for looking after us so splendidly.
Quite a fitting location after spending time
with a couple who are passionate about England's historic buildings.
By choosing the barn-conversion project,
they could well be putting their money where their mouth is.
We wish them both the very best of luck. We'll see you next time.
'Malcolm and Catalina went back for another viewing
'and are currently in consultation with the agents.
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