Dan Haylock and Jo Finn have reinvented their gravity-defying 1950s Cornish home, perched high above the treetops, into a shining example of sustainable living.
There’s getting away from it all and then there’s ‘Treetops’ — a true hideaway, totally removed from the pressures of urban life. The house is built into a steeply sloping wooded valley near Tintagel in Cornwall, where only natural sounds break the silence, including the soothing rhythm of the nearby river and St Nectan’s Kieve, a plunge pool fed by a 60ft waterfall.
It’s no wonder that Dan Haylock fell in love with the idea of living in such a secluded and magical place. But life in this isolated location came at a price — Treetops is reached by a narrow, mile-long farm track only passable in a four-wheel drive. “The property had received no viewings in six months when I spotted it for sale in an estate agent’s window and went to take a look. It reminded me of an alpine chalet and I liked the idea of resurrecting the large overgrown garden, so I put in an offer the next morning — only to be told that another buyer had just beaten me to it” explains Dan.
The new owner soon decided to sell up however, and so Dan, who had been given first refusal, successfully purchased the ramshackle three-bed property (and an all-important off-road vehicle) and moved in during 2001.
Dan was happy to make the best of it while he lived in the house on his own, spending much of his time landscaping the surrounding garden. But when his partner, Jo Finn, moved in and later gave birth to their first child – Maisie, now four – it became obvious that things needed to change. “At first we just wanted to add insulation, decorate and replace the old pine cladding,” reflects Dan. “But when the roof structure was revealed my builder friend realised that the upper floor was unsafe, and a structural engineer basically condemned it.”
With no funds allocated for such major repairs, the family found themselves without a home. They eventually moved in with Jo’s parents, a 30-minute drive away. It was at this stage that he contacted local architect Gavin Woodford for advice.
The previous layout made little sense, and plans were drawn up which positioned open plan living accommodation upstairs to capitalise on the tranquil valley views. Now three sets of French doors open out onto a full-width balcony. One bedroom and the bathroom are also located on this upper level, with two further bedrooms on the ground floor fronted by a south-facing sunroom.
Work began in August 2008 and a long, laborious and stressful build ensued. “It’s been an enormous task, and I thought I’d never stop taking things apart, but we got there in the end,” reflects Dan, who dedicated his evenings and weekends to working on the project. The couple now have another daughter, Sandy, who was born during the build, and the entire family thoroughly enjoy life high above the trees. “A lot of people compare it to being in Australia or New Zealand,” says Dan. “One thing’s for sure, it’s totally unique. There really is nowhere else quite like it.”