Tucked away in a quiet corner of south Norfolk is a gem of a converted barn, as Tony Hall discovered... eventually
Tony Hall finds a stunning barn in south Norfolk
Over the 28 years of finding my way to readers’ homes, I have only got lost twice. Now it’s three times. Finding the village was simple, but finding the barn, which is Kally Ellis’s Norfolk home, took slightly longer, as it really is tucked away. However, it was well worth the search, as Kally is a fascinating person with a delightful home.
Kally’s first acquaintance with Norfolk came about when she was attracted by the language courses at the UEA, so she enrolled for four years, to do French and Italian.
A job at a French bank in the
‘ I am into village life and love going to the Christmas panto and art exhibitions in the hall, summer fetes on the green’
City of London followed but, as is often the case, a major event alters the course of one’s life. Her dearest friend Sophie, who lived in Paris, was sadly killed in the Lockerbie air crash. They had often met up and on hearing the sad news, Kally went to Paris to comfort Sophie’s mother, Anne. “I recall the moment that changed my life so well,” remembers Kally. “On my first day there I had gone to the florist to buy a bunch of flowers for Anne. They were just mixed tulips, but I was so impressed by the way they were then tied and wrapped, creating an extremely beautiful presentation. That was my light bulb moment.
“So on returning home, I told my parents I was going to open my own flower shop. Everyone thought I was totally crazy, as there were city redundancies, the worst recession and people told me that the very first things to go were luxury items. With Christmas coming up I did some work experience at a well-known London florist’s and realised that this was exactly what I wanted to do.
“Within a month I had found premises, a tiny flower shop in Shoreditch called McQueens. I decided to keep the name and
we opened the doors in January 1991 with one aim, to sell simple and stylish flowers, all beautifully presented.” Her business went from strength to strength. Another lucky break happened when Kally was called upon at the last minute to provide her services at a Vanity Fair party at the Serpentine Gallery in London: their florist had let them down. In time this led to Kally being asked to provide flowers for their post Oscar party in Los Angeles, one of the world’s most glamourous events, a commission she is still proud of after 22 years. “We also design and style flowers for other prestigious Vanity Fair events including the Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington at the French ambassador’s residence, the Tribeca film festival opening part in New York and the glamorous Hotel du Cap party at the Cannes Film Festival.”
Kally now has 47 staff, a large warehouse, offices, workrooms and shop in Cambridge Heath Road, London. Clients include Claridges, The Connaught, The Berkeley, The Shangri La at The Shard and the Grove in Hertfordshire. Kally had originally been looking to buy a barn in Suffolk and found one near Mendham, when her estate agent showed her this one built in 1830, located in South Norfolk.
“As soon as I drove into the village I knew this is where I wanted to be,” explains Kally. “There was something about this wonderful, historic place that I fell in love with instantly. I am
only a few minutes’ walk away from good village shops, a church and two pubs and the barn is in a perfect location. It had already been partly renovated, although it needed lots of updating. It all took about 18 months, ably assisted by my neighbour Jamie, a builder, and his wife Carrie. He was an ex model maker in the film industry and was well versed in everything. What a find!”
Kally and I start of our tour of the barn in the spacious kitchen and dining room. There is a very rustic French feel, the kitchen having a centre island in distressed blue originally from a haberdasher’s shop in Kent. It is enormous but with this big space is in total balance. At the other end are a dining table, chairs and sideboard from Dix Sept in Framlingham, which is Kally’s favourite interiors shop and a source of several items throughout the house. The whole space opens onto the terrace.
“This room is definitely my favourite,” says Kally. “I love everything in it and its very much the centre of socialising.” We then go through an inner lobby, with a big collection of kitchen paraphernalia, off which is one guest bedroom and Jack and Jill bathroom. We then step into the stunning main living room, with sofas gathered around a large fireplace. To the other end is more a garden room, to relax looking over the garden, complete with Greek bench.
Being a committed Grecophile – Kally’s grandfather came from Mykonos – we pause every so often to chat about the Greek islands.
Kally then shows me the other guest bedroom, which overlooks the garden, before we go upstairs to see the master bedroom and en suite. Everywhere you look are unusual, interesting pieces of furniture and artifacts, often very different but as they are chosen by Kally’s experienced creative eye, they make this barn truly unique and fascinating.
“It’s six years now that the renovations have been complete. I find after the fast, hectic life in London, that I spend more and more time here, it is just so calm and peaceful. I enjoy just walking my dog Teddy, a Bedlington terrier, getting to know the locals and feeling welcome. I am into village life and love going to the Christmas panto and art exhibitions in the hall, summer fetes on the green. I have totally settled into Norfolk life.” N McQueens, 229 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 0EL en[email protected] mcqueens.co.uk tonyhalleyepix.com
BELOW: Bed from Loaf, side tables from Solid ID, cushion in French linen, chest from Suffolk House, Yoxford, 01728 668122
TOP LEFT: A natural suntrap
LEFT: Bed from Loaf, side tables from Solid ID, cricket table from Yoxford Antiques Centre, mirror from Dix Sept
ABOVE: Centre island from haberdasher’s shop in Kent, sink from Mongers, Hingham, 01953 851868, butcher’s block from Farm House Antiques, Bungay, dining table from Dix Sept, radiators from Mongers, pamments from Womacks Reclaim, 07770 388314, sideboard...
Chaise from the Conran Shop, London, distressed painted table from Cork Brick, Bungay, 01986 894873, armoire from Solid ID
Kally with Teddy