Cornwall Today’s Hot Colours & Dreams
“People all over the world are uplifted by colour,” says Janie Cooksley, as she considers the rainbow shades that adorn her boutique B&B near Mevagissey. The eye-popping palette spans hot pinks and purples, lime greens and reds – sometimes all together in the same room. “In even the poorest of communities around the world, colour gives people energy and warmth, and makes people smile,” she adds. “It always enriches your life.”
Janie and her husband Mike moved to Lower Barns nearly a quarter of a century ago. “I first came across them when I was looking for some land for my horses,” explains Janie. “They were once part of the Heligan estate and, though I loved the place immediately, the buildings were nowhere near habitable. The main barn was full of stinging nettles, you had to enter it through the window, and a chicken coop occupied the space where the conservatory now stands.”
The couple had just returned from travelling around South America and, accustomed to a bohemian life, they decided to live in a caravan at the back of the paddock while Mike painstakingly began the restoration, holding down a full-time job at his parents’ pasty business in St Austell at the same time. “We ended up living in the caravan for six years,” laughs Janie.
First to be completed were the Lawnside and Garden suites, which were soon followed by the Hayloft and the Hideaway. “The business took off straight away, and we were encouraged to carry on, improving things bit by bit as the years went on.”
Among the additions was a conservatory in which guests enjoy legendary breakfasts, and an open-air hot tub that is perfect for star-gazing at night. Mike also converted an outbuilding into The Shack, a dining room with an open fire in which Janie serves evening meals to widespread acclaim. “Guests sit at a lovely big, round table so everybody can chat together. I wanted our son Jake, who is now 16, to grow up feeling that everyone who came to stay was sharing one big home.”
The most recent developments at Lower Barns are two little cottages – called Nook and Cranny – which Janie and Mike created from the old stables. “These days, every interior designer seems to be decorating in the same way,” says Jane. “We wanted to come up with something really different that was romantic, quirky, ands unlike anything we’d seen before.”
Both new kitchens have cabinets made from old scaffold boards, their irregular surfaces looking fabulous against the original bare brick walls, while old Victorian newel-posts that Mike rescued from a building site support the worktops. Each kitchen also has a bright orange retro Smeg fridge. “They set the tone perfectly,” says Janie. “I see them as pieces of furniture in their own right.”
The bathrooms are similarly eclectic: Nook’s walls are lined with a mix of red and blue tiles from Fired Earth that positively zing next to lemon-yellow-painted walls, while Cranny’s has white metro tiles topped off with higgledy-piggledy wood rescued from old pallets.
None of these creations were Mike not a consummate craftsman, able to turn his hand to anything from a special plaster finish to the making of bespoke doors from salvaged timber: “Mike is so clever,” says Janie. “We sit down and talk through an idea and he will go away and create something amazing – maybe using some driftwood picked up on the beach or some materials from a reclamation yard.”
These artisan structures are a brilliant backdrop for accessories and furnishings that range from heirloom antiques and ethnic treasures to folk art prints and industrial leftovers. Logic tells you it shouldn’t work together, but it does.
“The interiors at Lower Barns are everything,” says Janie. “They are a true reflection of all the amazing ideas we have brought back from our travels. In South America we saw coloured borders around doorways that somehow invited you to walk through them; in the Atlas Mountains we saw and memorised rich colour schemes at the roadside; and we recreated them all here in the barns.”
Many an experienced interior designer might think twice about being so bold with style and colour, but Janie has no fear: “The secret is never to be afraid of trying something new,” she reveals. “I have made mistakes along the way, but I am always prepared to have another go until it works. In life, you always have to take risks if you want the rewards.” Thank you to Alice Westgate.