Baddiley animal farm

This Baddiley farmhouse may not have been Richard and Tonia Rutherford's dream home but the couple, their children and their animals are head-over-heels about it now

It wasn't exactly love at first sight. Richard and Tonia Rutherford happily admit their beautiful country home in Baddiley, near Nantwich, was not their first choice. They had their hearts set on another less than 15 miles away in Little Budworth but lost out at auction.

But when Richard carried his new wife over the threshold of the caravan they spent two years living in while their new house was converted, they knew they had made the right decision.

'We were devastated not to get the first one, I didn't love this house nearly as much,' recalled Tonia. 'This one came up and we decided to go for it because our wedding was coming up. I don't think anyone else bid for it because the building was in such a mess.

'People probably think I'm crazy but I loved the caravan. We had our own pictures on the walls and we put our own bed in too. It was fabulous.'

The couple had bought Mere House Farm, a farmhouse and outbuildings with around 12 acres of land. The house was built in 1911 and the farm was built in 1935 by what was then Cheshire County Council. The dairy farm was one of several small set-ups around the county built in response to a government drive to encourage people into farming. However, as commercial farming grew, Mere House Farm was sold off.

When they bought the site nine years ago it was in need of a little tender, loving care. They spent a few years renovating and extending the original farmhouse, now Orchard House, but after two years of living in it they turned their attentions to an old barn on their land. In the meantime they had two children, Kate and Charlie, and Tonia, a former accountant in Liverpool, struck out and set up her own greetings cards business, Orchard Cards (

'I thought I would be getting a slower pace of life and that the business would be something I could just do for an hour a day. It didn't quite work out like that.

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'It didn't feel like a huge task when we were doing it all but when we look back and see what we've achieved, it is incredible.'

The former milking parlour is now the kitchen and the children's bedrooms, the couple's bedroom (the only first floor section of the house) and their dining room take up what was the hayloft. Their lounge had various uses and bedrooms were stables and storage. One of their spare bedrooms was the site of a special occasion.

'Richard helped some of the sheep when it was lambing season. They actually had their lambs in that room,' said Tonia. 'We had CCTV on them which we could watch from the caravan. When we saw that something was happening, Richard went to help them on their way.'

There may not be any sheep now but horses Ness and Splodge, chocolate labrador Molly, more than a dozen hens and ducks make up the Rutherford family. Having spent so much renovating the barn, they didn't have a huge budget to improve the interior. But you would never know it.

The kitchen Aga - their one splurge, Tonia admitted - cuts a dash in the bespoke kitchen made by Pineland in Nantwich. The green oak beams fit with this country-style kitchen, along with an unusual specially carved out area under the kitchen units for labrador Molly's basket.

In the dining room, a huge table dominates. Sitting next to double patio doors which were once the cows' entrance to the milking parlour, it is on long-term loan from Tonia's parents. They have replaced it with a dining table that converts into a snooker table. The bedroom has beautiful antique furniture, including a few new additions from a pine shop in Whitchurch. The garden, a simple but well-thought out area, was designed for them by Kate Rayner from Tarporley-based RaynerShine. (RaynerShine's gold medal winning RHS Tatton garden this summer was sponsored by Cheshire Life.)

Unsurprisingly for a farm, animals play a key part in the decoration of the Rutherford home. Paintings, photographs and ornaments showing Tonia's love for birds and animals are dotted around the house. Family pictures are also commonplace.

'We didn't go out and buy new things to fill the new house with,' she explained. 'Everything in the house are bits and pieces that we have collected over the years. They are things that have significance and there are a lot of animal pictures because I love them.'

The Rutherfords say their renovation of the farm has given new purpose to their lives. This is no high-gloss show home, it is a building lovingly restored through passion and commitment. They may not have loved it at first but it is now a match made in heaven.

Tonia said: 'I'm so relieved we didn't get that first house now. Just look at what we would have been missing!

'I've always had four dreams in my life. One was to marry, two was to have children, three was to have a beautiful house and four was to get a job I loved. We have a hectic life and those books I thought I would get around to reading are still sitting on the shelf. But I feel like the cat that got the cream.'

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