In January 2021, Hannah and Dave Bullivant posted a leaflet through every letterbox along the main road in their village. The note asked the residents of Oare in east Kent if they could move their cars on a particular day to make way for a wide load that would be traveling through the village to a field behind their friends’ house.
“There were two or three incredibly tight corners with very, very old buildings on either side,” says Dave. “We knew it was going to be tight.” Within moments of the leaflet landing, Dave’s mobile started to ring. “It caused such a furore,” he recalls. “People were coming out on to their doorsteps to voice their concerns. It took all of my placement skills to calm everyone down and explain that it’s all going to be OK.”
For Dave, Hannah and their children, Frankie, 10, and Auden, five, this was just the beginning of their downsizing journey – a two-year plan that would see them move out of their long-term rental, buy a secondhand mobile home , transform it into a “luxury lodge” and, ultimately, save towards a deposit on their first home together.
In 2020, the family was given six months’ notice on their rental – a three-bedroom house in nearby Faversham. “At the time, we couldn’t really find anything else suitable,” says Hannah, an interior stylist. They were talking through their predicament with friends who live nearby, on the edge of Oare nature reserve. “We’ve camped in their field a lot over the summers,” Hannah says, “and were half-joking when we asked if we could have an extended camp in their field in order to save some money and think through our plans … ”
As the conversation deepened, both families realized they could make this a formal – and mutually beneficial – arrangement. Hannah and Dave would buy and renovate a static caravan and live rent-free on their friends’ land, during which time they hope to save for a mortgage deposit. At the end of the two years, the Bullivants would move out and the lodge would become guest accommodation for visiting friends and family.
For both families, it was important that the friendship remain intact, so they drew up a contract stating that the Bullivants would move out in 2023, and that the £20,000 budget would be divided equally between the two families.
Their first purchase was the caravan, which came from a salvage yard in Sandwich. “It was £150 including delivery,” says Hannah. “Basically, it was a piece of crap. Our mission was to make it look nothing like a static caravan.”
It was winched into position 100 meters from the main house at the end of January 2021; Dave, a commercial music video director, had until May to make it habitable. He would be doing most of the work himself – learning on the job, with input from his friend (the field owner), who is from a family of builders. “We benefited a lot from his knowledge – and his power tools,” says Dave.
What began as a cosmetic repair job became a full-scale renovation when they discovered a bathroom leak that had damaged a large part of the floor (“it was musky – just like Weetabix”) and some of the internal walls. They decided to gut the interior, which prompted the decision to add a bathroom extension. This created space for two bedrooms, a freestanding bath, utility cupboard and “luxury composting toilet alongside”, a living, dining and kitchen area.
While Dave launched into the physical labor of the renovation, Hannah sourced the materials. “Once word got out that we were doing this project on a tight budget, friends and acquaintances got in touch to offer us stuff,” Hannah recalls. Kitchen carcasses, double-glazed units and scrap wood were donated. Other stuff was sourced locally via Facebook Marketplace.
At the same time, Hannah was responsible for drastically decluttering their rental home. “We had to get rid of half of our possessions, so we devised a rating system” she recalls. “It was fairly brutal. If an item didn’t score 10, we had to get rid of it.” Hannah – who also teaches decluttering and home-styling courses online – revealed in the task. “There were a few things I was sad to part with, but I couldn’t tell you what any of those things are now.” What wasn’t sold was donated to a local sharing community or left in boxes outside their front door for passersby to rummage through and rehome. “It feels very freeing, to not have much stuff,” says Hannah. “Plus, we can clean and tidy the whole place in about an hour: that, I love.”
Most of their furniture was sold, aside from a few treasured pieces: a Rambert Ballet poster, a small chest of drawers, and a couple of vintage lamps which are being temporarily stored in Dave’s sister’s loft. “We brought very little with us: just a few small artworks, a bench, a step ladder and the kids’ bunk beds,” says Hannah.
Canny storage features throughout. In Hannah and Dave’s room, the bed has been raised to create space for deep storage boxes. These have been hidden behind a repurposed linen table runner. Raising the bed had the added benefit of bringing them closer to the view over Oare marshes: “The sun rises just behind those oak trees,” says Hannah.
In the kids’ room, the space has been cleverly bisected, with each child choosing a favorite color for their bunk space. Built-in shelving, cork boards, hooks and a soft-toy hammock allow them to hold on to just enough of whatever it is they are into, and moss-green curtains enclose each bunk, giving them time alone when they need it.
The light-filled living, dining and kitchen space is in gentle pastel shades that connect with the colors outside. Again, Hannah has been clever with storage by raising the legs of the corner sofa to create space for boxes of toys to slide in and out. There are small concessions to luxury throughout, too: an engineered oak floor; William Morris wallpaper in the loo, a dinky wood-burning stove and a boiling-water tap.
“There’s enough separation and space between us, so we don’t ever feel like we’re living on top of each other,” says Hannah. “But we are able to live quite communally – we grow veg and garden together, we eat together a couple of times a week in their house or in the field. The children go to school together, so we share childcare and school lifts. In summer there are lots of kids running around in the field that overlooks the sea and the marsh. It’s idyllic, really.”
Outside, the flimsy external shell has been heavily insulated and clad in timber so that it no longer shakes when the wind gusts across the exposed estuary. The wood is gradually silvering and disappearing into the landscape that surrounds them. “We feel very lucky to live here,” says Hannah, who is already looking forward to a summer of playdates under wide, rosy skies.