Many people dream of making the move to the country, creating not just a new home, but a totally new way of life. Philippa May met one couple who’ve made the leap and landed on their feet

Having already had one big adventure, transplanting herself from Australia to the UK, and starting a family with her husband Chris, Kari Morgan found herself wondering what was next ...

“I’d had a big adventure, coming here from Australia and working hard, hard, hard and I’d begun to think there must be another adventure and more to life than working all those hours.

It turned out to be a move to an area the couple knew nothing about, but they’re now firmly established in the community, the 17th century farmhouse renovated as their family home, and now enjoying a new identity as a holiday let, and created a suite of five unique b&b rooms where the old stables used to stand.

The new rooms proved an instant hit with visitors to Hay Festival, despite the fact that, as Kari explains, “we didn’t even know about Hay Festival when we bought the house.”

Living very busy lives in London, working long hours, and not seeing their daughter Heidi as much as they wanted, Kari and Chris awarded themselves a short break around a decade ago and chose a B&B near Ewyas Harold.

And then fate stepped in when they decided to visit Hay-on-Wye and Kari spotted the For Sale sign half-hidden in the hedge at Westbrook Court. At which point, the die was pretty much cast – “Basically, we made an offer there and then,” says Chris. “We made the offer in September and we moved in in December,” adds Kari, explaining that it wasn’t quite as precipitate or madcap a decision as it might sound.

“We’d been looking to leave London ever since Heidi was born, but we hadn’t found the right place or the right property until then. I resigned from my job there and then and never went back. We had nothing to lose,” says Kari, adding “We had a lovely house in London but we were working from seven in the morning until eight at night – it wasn’t the life we wanted.”

Having taken the leap of faith, the couple’s original plan was to convert the stunning barn at the front of the house into b&b accommodation. The first estimate they were given for that job convinced them it was a feasible project, but a second, doubling the prospective cost, forced a re-think.

The re-think led to demolishing the stables, an old open woodstore and a concrete workshop, leaving them with a blank canvas, on which they have created five stylish self-contained rooms, each one given a very different look and ambience by Kari.

With an impressive background in property and interiors – Kari was a director of a corporate lettings agency, responsible for refurbishing properties in a wide variety of ages and styles, not to mention having project managed the remodelling and redecoration of Westbrook Court – Kari knew the look she wanted for the accommodation. Not wanting a traditional oak building, she sought inspiration online and came across the Stealth Barn in Norfolk, which had exactly the look she was after – a sleek, black, modern yet traditional looking building.

“I knew it would work with the black profiled metal roof of the Old Stables,” she says.

Since completing the suite of five b&b rooms, the business has evolved, and this year Kari and Chris have effected the transformation of the main house into a holiday let for larger groups of families and friends in search of somewhere that will accommodate all of them … and their different needs. The changes have included transforming the barn into two discrete entertainment and activity spaces to provide even more amenities on-site.

In the main farmhouse, all trace of the family may have gone, but it still bears the very recognisable imprint of Kari’s style, which is very much about bringing the inside out. “I am a big fan of bringing the outside in,” she says, “and in any of the rooms I do for myself, I always bring something from outside in. Whether that’s in a lampshade or art or wallpaper.”

A big fan of a feature wall, and more especially, a feature wallpaper, one of the house’s reception rooms has a fabulous, very bright paper from Woodchip and Magnolia, on which a riot of meadow flowers run riot. “As long as you link your wallpaper with your colour scheme, it works.”

The house offers guests a choice of two reception rooms and a dining room that offers guests real flexibility in how they use the space. When I visit, three long tables and a selection of classic Tolix charis are set out as three sides of a square, with the capacity to seat 21. But if a less formal approach is what’s wanted, the space will adapt itself easily.

A spacious kitchen, which runs along most of the back of the house has been decorated in true country style, with muted Farrow and Ball paints, but every possible modern convenience to allow catering for big numbers. But there’s no need for guests to cook for themselves if they’re in search of true r&r – Kari has three caterers on speed dial, who will do breakfast, lunch or dinner … or all three!

Washing up, however, could well prove more tempting, offering the chance to get lost in the stunning views from the kitchen window.

Kari recognises that their approach to doing b&b doesn’t fit with the traditional image of b&b – the rooms are not in their own home, and each of them resembles a luxury hotel room. There’s no shuffling down a hall to a shared bathroom here, listening out for the tread of other guests’ feet.

Every one of the rooms at Westbrook Court comes complete with a luxurious bathroom – free standing, claw-footed rolltop bath and a great shower – a sitting room to kick back and relax in, and in four of the five, a cunningly incorporated mezzanine bedroom taking full advantage of the fabulous views. Each room also has a small terrace to make the most of the building’s location when the weather is smiling.

As in the b&b suite, everything in the house has been sourced locally as far as possible, and always to a strict budget. Kari is not a designer who throws money at a property to get her effects, but instead prefers to upcycle, recycle and reuse. “I designed the lighting (uncovered lampshades, with gorgeous warm filament bulbs) and found things at places like the Pontrilas auctions and The Old Electric Shop in Hay.”

Among her serendipitous finds are a trio of Boston tin tiles she picked up in a lighting shop in Hay. “They were vintage and clearly had a story, so I nabbed them.”

Explaining her inspirations, Kari reveals that she is something of a magpie and picks up ideas from the occasional getaway breaks she and Chris manage. “I do get a lot of ideas from beautiful places we’ve visited, like the Rectory Hotel in Crudwell (in the Cotswolds) and Penally in Pembrokeshire. “I bring ideas back and incorporate them into whatever I’m working on at the time.”

As an Australian, Kari brings something unique to her design, choosing colours that are at odds with her background. “I like dark colours,” she admits. “But not everywhere.

“Coming from Australia, where there’s a bright white light, which you don’t get here, I feel I need to cosy up. It’s a mix-and-match of brights and darker shades.”

In the b&b rooms, Kari has, over the years since she completed them, brought in additional touches, including Melin Tregwynt throws, sheepskins and, appropriately, large framed quotations of local poet, playwright and author Owen Sheers. The five stylish rooms will continue to be available as b&b lets until the house is fully established and they they will be incorporated into the property and offered as an entirety.

Outside, Kari's commitment to combining the best experience with a touch of upcycling is clear - a state-of-the art woodburning, cedar clad hot tub, is situated to offer the best view possible, and on the terrace outside the kitchen, old doors have been sanded down and given hairpin legs - we could all learn something from Kari's clever and inventive upcycling!

With the wealth of experience she’s accrued through renovating the couple’s own homes, including Westbook Court, other people’s homes and creating Westbrook Court B&B from scratch, Kari has now created a new career for herself, qualifying as an interior designer to use her creative eye to provide design solutions for others.

Kari admits that Westbook Court began as her dream, and it’s become a dream come true for the whole family.

“Chris was very resistant but it felt so right to me that we should buy not just this house, but this house with the potential for our future B&B business. In London we were chasing our tails and for what. I said to Chris, ‘life is too short – we have to do this’ and then it all just fell into place.

"I love Westbrook," says Kari. "It's been a real journey to make it such a beautiful space for guests." 831752