Neither Mel nor Lizzi Smith appear quite certain why they’ve converted one of the outbuildings on their Kent property into a holiday let. But in the wake of six children who’ve all but flown the nest, the most accurate answer is perhaps just that they could.
Having spent 25 years living at Rose Farm Studio on the outskirts of Pluckley, Mel, a Londoner by birth, exudes a certain passion for change, having built his portrait photography and framing business in the structures around the converted cowshed he shares with Lizzi.
There’s a sense the quarter of a century has been one of constant, incremental change.
The Nutshell itself has variously served as workshop, studio, office, lawnmower dumping ground and impromptu tea room serving cream teas when the couple open the garden to the public for charity.
Now it's all geared up to welcome holidaymakers .
“It was a random thing really,” said Mel. “We just thought let’s turn it into a holiday cottage or do something with it.
“We’ve never done anything like this before ever. It also creates passive income, doesn’t it?”
Having hit the online holiday market in February, its present incarnation is one of snug homely touches.
Located just over an hour’s drive from London it offers an ideal base for two to get out of the smoke and explore Kent safe in the knowledge luxury awaits at the end of the day, not least in its freestanding copper bath, an influence of Lizzi’s work with bathroom interiors.
Rather than being a commercial decision, however, the extraordinarily well-equipped cottage feels more like a natural evolution of the couple’s home – a space made redundant by an extension to the main house that’s been put to use introducing more people into the Smiths’ orbit.
Mel, 53, said: “We’re used to having people here. At one stage we had 10 working in production for the business and then there are my clients who all come here to have their pictures taken.
“We’ve also been opening the garden for charity for the last five years.”
While guests will inevitably notice the comings and goings, with views over the couple’s remarkable garden to open fields, away from the gravel car park it’s easy enough to ignore the passings-by.
Lizzi said: “We’re starting to think, now it’s done, we might move the other way – rent the house out and move into The Nutshell, we love it.”
With such easy access by road from London and bookings already coming in, they’ll face some strong competition.
I certainly plan to return, not least to make the most of the year-long ticket I was bamboozled into buying for nearby Leeds Castle (£24.50) – worth a visit for its intricate hedge maze if you can bear the eye-watering entrance cost.
Being first through the door is a gamble. But Mel and Lizzi had been so thorough in their preparation that my stay was as close to faultless as can be imagined.
The warm welcome my companion and I received, compounded by the hyacinth-sweetened air and generous breakfast hamper from the local farm shop, served to create an instant feeling of warmth, comfort and relaxation.
It was quickly home and, after two nights, neither of us wanted to leave.
The Nutshell strikes the right balance; close enough to the main operations of the other buildings in the compound to feel secure, distant enough to feel private.
And its decor is a flawless delight. I challenge anyone who stays there to get out of the freestanding copper bath.
Once ensconced it’s almost impossible to escape.
Jon was a guest of kentandsussexcottages.co.uk – a week in The Nutshell, Pluckley starts at £395.
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