Natalie Roberts can’t quite believe her luck. It’s been nine years since she and her husband Steve bought their farmhouse with a derelict windmill in the garden and yet she is still excited every time she pulls into the driveway. “When we arrive home having been away even just for a day, I can feel myself relax” she says. “Suffolk is so beautiful and the views from our windows change all the time, I never get tired of it”.
And I can see what she means. We are sitting in the fourth floor living room of the 19th century windmill, which has been so lovingly and carefully restored into luxury self-catering accommodation. It’s a bright and sunny day, the wind is whipping around the zinc-clad top of the 14.5 metre tall windmill, and we are cosy and warm inside.
The views from the huge window at the back of the building are of an ever-changing rural landscape, complete with cows and sheep, green fields and those wide skies Suffolk is famous for, while the smaller window on the other side of the living room, frames the most amazing sunsets.
Natalie and Steve were visiting the Christmas market in Bury St Edmunds, when they came across the ‘for sale’ notice for the farmhouse and windmill in a local newspaper. Steve dismissed it at the time saying it was too far from their work, but when it came on the market again a little while later, they decided to take a look and were instantly smitten. “We sadly each lost a grandparent within three months of each other” says Natalie, “and we decided to turn a sad period in our lives into something positive, by investing the money they left us into a new life for ourselves.”
They moved to Mill Farm in Cockfield, just two miles from the medieval village of Lavenham and set about planning the restoration of the windmill. Constructed in 1891, it is thought to be the last windmill to have been built in Suffolk and had lain derelict for nearly 90 years.
The building was just a shell when they bought it, with a few loose planks where the floors now are, but Natalie and Steve had a vision: “Everything has been made to measure; the kitchen, the beds, the sofa and so on, and we have retained the curved shape of the walls, so even when you are inside, you know you are in a windmill” says Natalie.
Steve took a two year break from his career as a quantity surveyor to help with the building work and Natalie took charge of the interior decoration part of the project. “I was keen for everything to be really good quality and I’ve added different layers and textures as points of interest throughout the building” she says. The attention to detail is striking and the whole project is obviously a labour of love.
Vertical living has its benefits. With the ascent of each flight of stairs, the views get more spectacular and there is a certain novelty in the upside down layout of the accommodation. The kitchen and dining room are on the ground floor, with large French doors leading out into a garden area and the fields beyond. On the first and third floors are bedrooms, sumptuously fitted with super king-sized beds, thick carpets and lots of thoughtful extras. The marble bathroom on the second floor can only be described as a haven; a luxurious sanctuary with a huge bath and separate rain shower, overlooking the surrounding countryside.
The fourth floor living room though, is where the windmill really does come into its own. There’s a balcony with a glass balustrade to ensure uninterrupted views and a telescope is provided so guests can enjoy the spectacular night skies. The comfy velvet sofa wraps around the room, encouraging guests to settle down with a good book and a cool drink, until the stars light up the sky and the celestial show begins.
Natalie and Steve’s hard work is reaping its rewards and they have collected multiple accolades for the architectural and restoration work of the building, including one for the zinc roof which is the first of its kind in the world.
The Windmill, Suffolk is now open to guests. The self-catering property sleeps up to four adults and prices start at £1200 per week. Short breaks of two nights are available.
Mill Farm, Lavenham Road, Cockfield, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP30 0HX | T: 01284 828458
This article was originally written for Heart of Suffolk Tourism. Images © Natalie Roberts.