Transformation is something of an instinctive reflex for film makeup artist Pamela Smyth and art director husband Mark Lowry, who between them have worked on dozens of film and TV productions. So a barn conversion seemed a cinch. Now their once modest country cottage has morphed into a show-stopping home with more than a touch of movie glamour.
A tip-off from a friend pointed Mark and Pamela in the direction of the old cottage and disused barn at Cranley Hill outside Downpatrick. And initially the site had little to recommend it except four acres of the kind of country lane location that poets wax lyrical about. That and phenomenal potential.
It might have been a stretch back then to see beyond the stone walls, lack of heating, sanitation and basic utilities.
But for Pamela, who had an impressive six home makeovers under her belt, and Mark, whose job is to magic film sets out of thin air, the challenge wasn't remotely daunting - it was eminently do-able.
So they bought and quickly rebuilt the original cottage within a six month time frame, executed with military precision, fitted in between film projects. They moved in on deadline and soon after began a more leisurely conversion plan for the adjacent barn, annexing it to the cottage via a large living pod that has become the heart of this intriguing L-shaped dwelling.
Pamela sketched and redrafted the plans painstakingly before the final draft would go to the architect, (the barn was levelled and rebuilt from the ground up, faithfully reproducing the original style). It was a habit honed over years of filling in the vacant scraps of time on film sets, waiting rooms or on sun loungers on holiday - Pamela has scribbled her way through scores of graph pads.
Having undertaken renovations and revamps of several homes, she has also developed a practised and precise eye for spatial planning - and endless days on site with builders and tradesmen have fine tuned her ability to spec the nuts and bolts of both self build and home conversion. And she has developed an appreciation of high quality materials - she buys the best her budget will allow.
Enter Cranley Hill and the first impression is of light and space, and widespread use of authentic materials like slate, stone and hardwoods. The second is a wash of green - lush countryside, trees, wild flowers and rambling bushes fill every window and steal every view. The materials cleverly blend old and new, contemporary and cottage charm - slate tiles and solid wood, glass and stainless steel.
The living room, warmed by underfloor heating, has generous scale and height that is a real surprise behind the traditional cottage façade. It has plenty of features - a Fired Earth slate floor, a fireplace with marble slab hearth salvaged from the original cottage, a high vaulted ceiling, a feature round window in the gable, double French doors - and is overlooked by a gallery area.
The large kitchen and dining room - the connecting hub between the barn and the cottage - blend function with modern glamour. The space doubles as a family room for the couple and their two young boys during the week and come the weekend easily transforms into a lively space for dinner parties or family entertaining.
If these walls could talk - they've been privy to countless dinner party conversations between some very famous names from the film world - the couple likes to cook for cast and crew friends during filming.
The couple said: "We work hard and really appreciate our time off so we make the most of it - that means cooking for friends, lots of people around, getting outdoors with the kids, or relaxing in the hot-tub with glass of white wine."
The kitchen has been planned to make cooking and cleaning a breeze. The units and central work station are easy to clean high gloss white with Corian worktops, the Bosch appliances include a Pyrolytic self cleaning oven, Quantum speed convection combi oven and heated pull out drawer, and a Fisher Paykel dishwasher with two drawers. Stacks of storage have been smartly concealed behind mirrored sliding doors.
Move to the bedroom areas and Pamela's love of opulent fabric and glamour touches are everywhere. The four bedrooms are themed individually, creating different moods. The master bedroom has the opulence of a thirties film set with the thoughtfulness of a hotel suite - there's space for breakfasting, studying, reading, relaxing and watching TV. Another bedroom offers a charming vintage cottage feel, while the guest bedroom has a sense of drama with its custom made headboard.
Practicalities played a big part in the planning of Cranley Hill. Pamela had a long list of considerations to create the optimal living space that would minimise effort and make for a smooth running home - from designing the kitchen for ultimate convenience and ease to adding a separate laundry room, with access to a roof space that has plenty of potential for conversion. There's a wet room - that's been on Pamela's wish list for a long time - that has proved one of the highlights of the home. Easier to use, easy to clean.
Another is the separate dressing room in the master bedroom - a luxury Pamela feels is too often edited out in home design -- one that's practical and indulgent at the same time.
She admitted: "I wanted the bedroom to have that luxury hotel feel - a place you could come in, shut the door and escape the world for a few hours. In our line of work, that's important."
Outside, the walled garden at Cranley Hill has been designed by TV's John Cushnie for the Greenmount Garden Show. Enclosed and private, it features decking, attractive mature planting and the hot tub that's hosted many a film star and has been the focal point of many memorable summer days and evenings.
She added: "On a warm summer evening, watching the sun set from the hot tub, glass of wine in hand, music streaming from the surround sound system, you could almost imagine you are in the Hollywood Hills. And that was definitely part of the plan!"
There's also a host of other useful facilities, from storehouse to workshop, where Mark has undertaken many hours of carpentry for the home, a lean to glass house, potting shed and a vegetable plot where produce has been planted and picked by the kids and cooked in the kitchen by Pamela.
Cranley Hill might look like a country cottage on the outside, but on the inside it's had much bigger ambitions. This is a space that offers thoughtful design on a grand scale, a rural idyll that may be more Martha Stewart than Marilyn Monroe, but a place they'd both feel at home.
With four-plus bedrooms, underfloor heating in many of the rooms with wiring for surround sound and five floor-to-ceiling double glazed doors out in the kitchen/sitting/dining room overlooking the gardens, there is so much here to recommend this home.
There is also a perfect rural backdrop of rolling countryside, just right for setting the scene.
Address: Cranley Hill, 5b Woodgrange Road, Downpatrick
Agent: Ulster Property Sales, Downpatrick, tel 028 4461 4101. Fax 028 4461 2016.