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Ex-Londoner Paul Chivers tells us about his family’s ambitious renovation project in East Devon…

We spoke to the owners of Groom’s CottageHayloftGardener’s Cottage and Barley House to find out how they were transformed from redundant buildings into popular and successful holiday lets.

Paul Chivers and his wife Diana Mase lived and worked in London for many years, but they always felt the pull of the West Country, where they both have roots. When they had a daughter, Amelia, they decided to take the plunge and raise her where there was “more oxygen”.

Keen about architecture and garden design, Paul and Diana love historic buildings. They had already renovated a Regency townhouse in Budleigh Salterton, and now they set their sights even higher: on Talaton, then a run-down Georgian rectory with outbuildings in East Devon. “We had to do everything you could imagine to bring the house up to date,” confides Paul, previously a banker. “It’s been a long journey. “You have got to be slightly delusional to embark on a project like this. It always takes more time and money than you think when you start out.”

Talaton, Devon

A decade later, and Talaton had been transformed. Now, the couple could turn their attention to the outbuildings: a former coach house and stables. These are handsome and well-built traditional buildings of stone and brick. “Our architect joked that these were in a better condition than the house, which was true,” says Paul. “The plan was always to turn these into holiday let units that would provide support for the running costs of the house.

“We had to replace the roof and focus on other areas of repair. We thought: if we’re going to spend a lot of money on it anyway, we may as well do the best job on it that we can.

Lounge Area in Holiday Home, Talaton

“We have tried to finish these cottages so that they are places that we ourselves would like to stay.” The outbuildings have been divided into four attractive holiday cottages with all the mod cons. Says Paul: “People expect a lot more from holiday lets these days. There was no question of putting in old furniture and cutlery and things like that: everything has been put in from new. Another thing everyone expects is connectivity. You need good broadband, wireless music systems and TV.”

Outside, Paul and Diana have chosen landscaping that’s a blend of traditional and contemporary. Around the holiday lets, this is a series of rectangular hedges punctuated by pleached hornbeam trees, also rectangular, but a different orientation. It has a pleasing geometry and calls to mind the Georgian love of symmetry and shapes.

Garden Area in Holiday Home, Talaton

“One thing visitors have is a lot of privacy,” says Paul. “They’re in a beautiful setting, but it’s so well connected as well. Here we’re close to Tiverton, the A30 and the M5. You can be at Exeter Airport in 10 minutes. Some people think of Devon as being remote, but it’s such a big county – East Devon is much easier to get to than some other areas. It’s a very exciting time for this area. A lot of people have overlooked East Devon, not just for holidays. We’ve got phenomenal restaurants, a burgeoning community in Exeter, good access to the North Coast, golfing, surfing – it’s got real star quality.”

Exmouth, Devon

Paul and Diana finished their holiday lets in October 2015, and are well into the swing of holiday letting their cottages, which have earned Helpful Holidays’ prestigious five star rating.

“We chose Helpful Holidays as our letting agents because you have an outstanding track record and an impressive collection of people who come back again and again to take holidays in the West Country. We also feel you’re responding to the e-marketing side of the business, with around 60 per cent of your bookings made online. As that is more and more how people operate, that’s an essential component.”