Blackwood in West Runton has been created to capture the tranquillity of the surrounding trees. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out how this calming cabin grew from a tiny acorn of an idea…
Somewhere for friends and family to stay – that was the original plan for the slightly obscure-looking, red roofed garage in the top corner of the woods.
Sarah and Daniel Morton thought they could turn their outbuilding in the grounds of their Norfolk home into a great little bolthole for visitors.
“Then it just snowballed,” says Sarah. “It wasn’t really anything that we started out with the intention of doing.”
Rather than simply two bedrooms above a space for the ride-on lawnmower, the project became a luxurious retreat with beautiful interiors that have won praise from savvy stylists all over the world. Blackwood is quite the garage conversion.
“We completely changed our plans,” says Sarah, who blames the shift on having so much time to think during lockdown. In February 2020, work on the ‘eyesore’ garage was in the early stages. “The builders had taken out all the windows and the roof was off,” says Sarah, explaining that the idea back then was just to add a couple of bathrooms upstairs and keep the garage space below. Then the whole world shut down.
“It was horrendous timing,” says Sarah. “Everything stopped. Our builders left and didn’t come back, we were trying to deal with home-schooling…
“But the main takeaway from all of that was that I had a lot of time to plan my ideas about what I was going to do with the building. I’d never been into Pinterest or Instagram before but now I was looking at all sorts of stuff and I loved it, absolutely loved it.
“I really nailed down what kind of interior style was me.”
By now, Sarah had seen too much. There was no way she’d be content with just making do with a quick ‘do-er upper’. Instead, she and Daniel decided to create a high-end holiday property they could run as a business.
Plus, Blackwood was the creative kick Sarah, a solicitor, had been waiting for. When the family moved from Hertfordshire to West Runton five years ago, Sarah had begun giving more thought to what she could do next.
She had spent years working in corporate law before taking time out to raise her children, George now 17, and Charlotte, 14. “I knew that throughout that time I’d spent with the kids, I loved doing anything arty or crafty, just little projects,” says Sarah. “I’d started thinking that I wanted to do something for myself, something that gives me a sense of pride.”
Blackwood took 11 months to complete and was ready to be enjoyed by the first guests in June 2021.
The heavily charred accoya timber exterior helps the cabin to ‘sit quietly’ in its woodland setting before the door opens to an even more zen-like experience.
Natural, earthy tones and plenty of textured textiles in every room – just walking in makes you want to lie on something soft.
Months of research into different looks has certainly paid off, with Sarah narrowing down her favourite style to a kind of ‘desert chic’, inspired by homes in California and south west America.
Carved wood and touches of green stand out against the calming, tactile backgrounds. Light walls have been textured with micro cement and lime washes to avoid ‘flat’ looking surfaces.
“It just feels – and I’m not just saying this because it’s mine – it just feels so relaxing,” says Sarah. “When you walk in, your shoulders drop. It’s high-end without feeling like you can’t sit down.”
Sarah has enjoyed every stage of her unexpected but fulfilling journey.
“I fell in love with the whole process,” she says. “I fell in love with design generally and furniture and textiles.
“I didn’t think I was capable of this before but I’m so proud of it. Every room feels like it belongs. It’s really cohesive.”
Feedback from happy guests has been flowing in, including one comment from a seasoned holiday let stayer who said Blackwood felt like the sort of place ‘you could just move into’. That’s been a huge confidence boost for Sarah, who has strived to make sure this three-bedroom cabin feels like a home from home (except a much cooler one, I imagine).
“There have been some lovely compliments,” says Sarah, delighted that visitors are enjoying Blackwood and being in such a special part of the world. “The big skies here are amazing and so is this particular part of Norfolk. It isn’t flat! We’re actually at the highest point in the county, close to Beeston Bump and with rolling countryside all around. It’s really pretty and really laid back.”
Sarah laughs when she says the family moved here to enjoy the slower pace of life and she’s never been so busy in her life. But it’s a different sort of busy.
Inspired by her interior design journey, Sarah now hopes to use her skills on other projects. She’s been working on collaborations with other makers and then there’s the not-so-small matter of renovating the family home. One day.
“The house is totally liveable but it’s not to my style,” says Sarah. “Plus, my standards are really high now!’ she adds, explaining that rising costs have also put any future plans on hold for now. “I’d rather wait and save up and do it right. The kids joke that they’ll move out and then I’ll get a really nice house!”
For now, the plan is to enjoy being the proud owner of a pretty special cabin in the woods.
BACK TO A MUCH-LOVED PLACE
Both Sarah and Daniel grew up in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk’s neighbouring county. Before they met, the pair had enjoyed many family holidays on the north Norfolk coast.
When they got together in their twenties, the couple kept coming back to this part of the coast for weekends stays and later spent their honeymoon in the area.
“It’s just somewhere that we really love,” says Sarah “We both felt an affinity with the place and so when we came to look at moving out of the home counties, it was naturally on the list.
“We both love being near the sea and it’s just been such a great place to bring up the kids.”
Blackwood is set within its own private grounds and nestled amongst the National Trust woodland and heath that sweeps up above the coast at West Runton. Parts of the area are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
Blackwood is not far from the Beeston Bump, a 207ft (63m) hill.