What makes the perfect holiday rental? For a big get-together, it's room enough to gather and room to retreat. It's an escape that doesn't require a gold medal in orienteering to find; a house that's a treat to borrow, but that still feels homely.
This is the winning formula that Karen Northcote has arrived at with The House. After setting up the food operations at Harvey Nichols in Leeds and a decade running the acclaimed north London pub, The Engineer, she fell in love with The Weald, where she now runs a cosy pub in Rye and rents out her Grade II-listed, 16th-century wealden hall house in the village of Kenardington.
These medieval houses are dotted all over Kent and the South-east and were usually built for yeomen; Karen's gloriously wonky building still bears original leaded casement windows, wooden latch doors, notched timber beams and creaky, oblique floorboards. However, on entering, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the resident yeoman had a penchant for Bob Dylan, Virginia Woolf, Where the Wild Things Are and Mexican handicrafts – the house's history is redolent, but embellished with Karen's own eclectic tastes – a marriage that doesn't try too hard, but works a treat.
There are three bedrooms in the house (one en-suite) as well as a converted barn-annexe across the drive with a bedroom, shower, and sitting room with sofa bed. Bathrooms are stocked with generous bottles of Neal's Yard toiletries.
Each room is furnished with an endearing selection of curios – cute, knitted Donna Wilson cushions bearing badgers and owls; old Enid Blyton books; an antique teddy and flat-woven rugs; Roberts radios; pretty linens and soft, plaid blankets. There are no curtains, so you'll go to bed gazing out at the lights of distant neighbours and wake up with the day.
Downstairs, the house is broken up into distinct social zones. There's the gravitational cosy, country kitchen, with Aga, larder, dining table and doors that open on to the garden; and the solitary study, with a desk nudged into the casement window for inspirational views and dozens of knick-knacks, including Mexican Day of the Dead figurines, candles, old postcards and Anglepoise lamp. The spacious sitting room has an inglenook fireplace and stash of logs, an assortment of lamps, colourful glass tea light-holders, fresh flowers and Sky TV. Next door is the "Snug", with a log-burning stove, mini ping pong table, DVDs and – best of all – the vinyl collection: David Bowie, Otis Redding, Billy Bragg and the Jesus and Mary Chain were just the start of a long weekend of record spinning.
Out and about
There's plenty to explore in this corner of South-east England, and your bucolic base is only a 10-minute drive from high-speed trains and the M20 at Ashford. The vast beach of Camber Sands is down the road from Rye (visit1066country.com), around a 20-minute drive south of The House. Local attractions include Chapel Down Winery (01580 763033; chapeldown.com) with its resident alpacas and vineyard tours; as well as Smallhythe Place, a 16th-century cottage and theatre-barn; 14th-century moated Bodiam Castle; and Sissinghurst Castle with its Vita Sackville-West-designed gardens – all run by the National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk). Or you can strike out to explore Romney Marsh, with its tall grasses, sheep and the Royal Military Canal (theromneymarsh.net).
The food and drink
Breakfast essentials are provided:coffee for the Italian espresso machine, milk, home-made muesli and bread from the Lighthouse Bakery School in Bodiam. The kitchen is stocked with an array of cookery books that endorse Karen's diverse tastes: take your pick from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery, right through to David Chang's Momofuku. All that's left to do is get acquainted with the Aga. Karen also runs The Ship Inn in Rye (01797 222233; theshipinnrye.co.uk) and can fill up the fridge with ingredients, wine and beer ready for your arrival. Or just pop down for Rye Bay fish curry at the pub.
The Woolpack in Tenterden (01580 388501; thewoolly.com), a recently renovated 15th-century inn that celebrates local produce, is around a 10-minute drive away. Closer still is The Red Lion in Snargate, which is happily lost in a timewarp. Walk there in an hour and a quarter, then reward your efforts with a Whitstable Winkle Picker bitter and pickled egg – just make sure it's not between 3-7pm, when the quaint and quirky pub closes for the afternoon.
The House, Kenardington, Ashford, Kent TN26 (07515 713517; thehouse.so). Rental starts at £250 per night for six guests; £350 with the annexe. Children and dogs welcome.