The good life
Laura Cartledge finds that creating the perfect break for other people is a full-time business.
Blue Door Barns, near Lewes, is so special and distinctive that even owners Bryony Johnson and Emma Basden struggle to explain it.
“We call ourselves a B&B for want of a better description, but we hope we are a bit more than that,” says Bryony. “What we have tried to do is be more of a boutique hotel environment.”
Only not many hotels are made up of lovingly-restored 16th-century outbuildings, have a dedicated space called ‘the snug’ for beauty treatments and offer everything from bespoke dinners to parent and children yoga retreats.
It’s fair to say the past two years have been a little different to the London-based lives the pair used to lead.
“It was a big move, but it didn’t feel like it at the time because we are both quite adventurous,” reveals Bryony, who grew up in the area before leaving for the big city.
“We bought the house with the idea of renovating the outbuildings. Two were coach barns and one was a stable and the other we built in the footprint of a stable which was here.
“It has been a really brilliant two years. Neither of us had done anything like this before. By luck as much as anything, we got a really good spot,” she adds modestly.
“I think this is a really beautiful area, the proximity to the downs and the coast is quite rare.
“Lewes is quite traditional in its approach and when you look around there is nothing like us. It was about filling a need, but also making ourselves stand out.”
So what does she think makes Blue Door Barns do just that?
“We have found people really like the personal approach and it helps that Emma and I are both chatterboxes,” Bryony replies. “We’ve also tried to capture the magic of our own travels. When we go away for a weekend or a holiday we are going to get away from everyday life and to be spoilt. Making sure people who come and stay here go away feeling rested is key.
“A lot of people say they get a feel of Provence here and we used to travel a lot in France,” she adds. “While Emma grew up in Cyprus so we also have a sense of outdoor living as well… but this is England.”
While it boasts an ideal location for enjoying the countryside, there is little risk of bad weather ruining the fun at Blue Door Barns as workshops range from making a vintage dress in a weekend to wellness retreats.
“The classes are an extension of our hobbies and interests,” Bryony explains, admitting because they live in the main house, it can be difficult to know where work ends and home life begins.
“It is really hard to stop working and there are always more ideas we want to explore. Just this morning I was talking to a mum at school who is a ceramist who said she could build a kiln in our garden.
“I was thinking ‘we could make that work, that would be amazing,’” she laughs. “But there is a real benefit to it as well, when most people are at their desks on a Monday morning I might be riding the horses or walking the dogs.
“We split the way we run the business – Emma has a real creative flair and such a talent of transforming a space, no matter how small, into something beautiful.
“She is the creative one and I am the business one, which works out well,” Bryony says. “I do all the cooking, but I don’t do groups over 25 people because I only have a domestic kitchen.
“But breakfasts, bespoke dinners and the picnics are all done by me, I am nose to the AGA rather than the grindstone,” she enthuses. “I am not a trained chef, but I have always loved it and no matter how tired I am, I will always have the energy to rustle something up, it is therapeutic for me.”
The picnics Bryony is referring to are ideal for guests going to nearby Gyndebourne, but of course it is not only food that is included.
There’s also a private car there and back and a porter service which means the table, linen, cutlery and even candles will be set up, and cleared down, for you.
“The attention to detail is really important for us,” says Bryony simply. “We have a real mix of people who come to stay here but what they have in common is they are all discerning.
“People expect really good quality food and really good quality linen.”
And it seems it is not just the visitors to Blue Door Barns who are having a great time.
“Sometimes we have to stick our head up and think we created this,” she admits, “but that is really good. I love the fact the world is our oyster.”
Upcoming retreats include child yoga May 29 – June 1. For more information on Blue Door Barns, visit www.bluedoorbarns.com or call 01273 858893