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Tales of the riverbank

Hot off the press

The owner of a stylish holiday home tells us how transforming her riverside bungalow was a labour of love...

Mandy Pitts’ family has been farming Glebe Farm in the Devon village of Kenn for generations. Her grandfather bought the farm from the church and it was handed down from father to son and then father to daughter. “My father was always a bit of an eccentric,” explains Mandy. “When he retired we built him a bungalow on the farm so that he could stay close, but he chose to live in a caravan instead, using the bungalow as a greenhouse and home for his dog and cat!” Mandy already had a flat on the farm that she rented out, so when her father sadly died it made sense to rent out the bungalow as well, which she did originally as a long term let. 

“The day came when my long-standing tenants handed in their notice,” says Mandy. “I was devastated at the time, but in hindsight it was actually a blessing in disguise.” Not one to be daunted by a task, Mandy took on the project of transforming the riverside bungalow into something really special. The building was taken back to a shell, internal walls were moved, it was re-insulated and electrics were replaced. “What started as an intended lick of paint ended up being a labour of love,” jokes Mandy. 

She wanted the property to be as eco-friendly as possible, so one of the first tasks was to have a borehole dug. The borehole now supplies potable water to the property and feeds both the underfloor heating and the stunning private hot tub – which is chemical-free thanks to some clever UV technology so that the water from it can be returned to the river.

Mandy runs Powderham Farm Shop and this provided some of the inspiration for the interior decoration. “I do the buying for the shop and so am always looking out for beautiful things. My husband, who is a baker, is also luckily a bit of a hoarder. I’d seen some furniture I liked, but it was very expensive. While looking through some old bread making machinery that my husband had stored in a shed, I found some great galvanised frames.” With the help of her talented builder, Mandy in-filled them with oak to create her very own ‘look’ for the property.

A subsequent visit to a local timber yard unearthed some wood from the former Plymouth Hovis factory. Still with some of the yellow Hovis markings visible on the wood, these were to become the glorious dining table and benches that grace the main open-plan living area. “The interior design was quite an organic process,” says Mandy, “with each piece defining the next. The yellow paint on the dining table dictated the mustard colour of the curtains, and the oak used on the original galvanised pieces was the inspiration for the large mantle above the woodburner, as well as the handmade beds.”

Mandy’s ingenuity proves that style doesn’t have to come at a cost. On finding beds that she loved, rather than pay the rather expensive price tag from a manufacturer, she sourced the wood and had them built herself – and so the beds at Waterside are not only bespoke, but beautiful and built on a budget! It’s the same story with the big settle in the living area. A hunt around Fishbelly Antiques in Tavistock unearthed this glorious piece of renovated furniture.

And her ingenuity doesn’t end with interior decoration. The house itself has been cleverly designed so that it can be sectioned into two halves, each with its own kitchen, bedrooms and living area. Pocket doors slide back into recesses in the wall to open up the whole property or can be closed to divide Waterside into two. This versatility means that eight guests can rent the whole property, an ideal holiday home for families holidaying together or with grandparents who want their own space, or there’s a discount available for smaller groups.

It’s all about the personal touch and attention to detail for Mandy. “If you’re undertaking a project you need a great builder. Luckily mine’s exceptional, and also my ex-husband! He was the clever one who suggested that we ‘hang’ the toilets rather than have pedestals and not have kickboards on the kitchen and bathroom cupboards. Why you might ask? So that it makes the floors easier to clean on changeover day. I don’t have a cleaner or a caretaker, I prefer to do the changeovers and welcome the guests myself,” says Mandy, “and anything that makes this more efficient has got to be a bonus.” 

When it came to letting out Waterside, Mandy wasn’t sure which holiday company she should go with and had a few in mind. “My mind was made up, though, as soon as I met Gaby from Helpful Holidays. She was persuasive but not intrusive with her advice and she’s the kind of person who immediately filled me with confidence.

I originally bought the person, not the company, but with excellent bookings, I now know I’ve made the right choice on both counts.”

Waterside can be found in the village of Kenn, in countryside just five minutes from the end of the M5. Exeter is only a short drive away, as is the wonderful landscape of Dartmoor. It’s ideally situated as a touring base, with nearby Powderham Castle and the Exe estuary just waiting to be explored. The village even has a fabulous pub. Waterside accommodates eight and is pet-friendly.

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