A couple of huge bulls – locked, thankfully, behind sturdy steel pens – are eyeing up passers-by.
Elsewhere, cows are mooing at high volume, farm vehicles are on manoeuvres and men in muddy wellies go about their business with steely purposefulness.
It’s a classic rural scene in the Kent countryside, not far from Maidstone, and a fitting one.
Rustic: A brick floor from Lubelska made from material reclaimed from farm building in Eastern Europe
Because near the bulls is a huge shed which doubles as the warehouse for a company called Lubelska, which specialises in brick flooring that has been reclaimed from farm buildings similar to these Kentish ones, but in Poland, Serbia and elsewhere in the Baltics.
There is a lot of it, piled high on pallets, but not as much as there was before the first lockdown.
‘People seem to have spent a great deal of time Googling and thinking about changes they might make to their homes once all this is over, so we’ve had a busy year,’ says Ed Howey, 30, whose father, Charles, started the business 15 years ago, at first supplying companies such as Fired Earth but now going it alone, offering prices that the big boys can’t match.
And for those of us like me, who have an insatiable thirst for reclamation yards, Ed’s shed is a joy. I’ve long held the view that salvage emporiums are true stockists of treasure and give credence to the whole idea of sustainability.
Ed’s bricks, for example, may have outlived their usefulness in Polish farm buildings — with their impractical, uneven surfaces — but they make for wonderfully original floors in British homes.
‘The farmers from whom we source everything regard the bricks as little more than rubble,’ says Ed. ‘They are pleased to get rid of it and even more pleased when we are prepared to pay for it.’
They are a lot paler – and arguably more subtle – than Mediterranean terracotta and can be laid either in a simple stretcher-bond or herringbone style. But a lot of work goes into the bricks before they reach Ed’s warehouse.
They are jet-washed, and any lime mortar is then removed. Sometimes they are mellowed using manual brushes or electric hand-held tools. No two bricks look the same: some with ragged edges, others smooth. They cost £79 per sq m.
‘My father is English, but my mother is Polish,’ says Ed. ‘They were living in London, but when they went to Poland, they kept seeing empty farm buildings which had these beautiful floors, and that’s where it started.
‘The main area where we get the bricks is called Lubelska, hence the name.’
The clay that makes up Lubelska bricks is fired at a much higher temperature than ordinary bricks, making them stronger and, therefore, longer-lasting. Most of the bricks in Ed’s warehouse are 100 to 150 years old.
‘People often ask if they work with underfloor heating and the answer is that they do a great job. They might take longer to warm up, but they then give an even temperature and remain warm far longer than a traditional stone floor.’
Reclaimed materials are also the lifeblood of the Beechfield Reclamation Company, near Devizes, in Wiltshire.
Here, you can find everything from old chimney pots to wooden doors, roof tiles, slabs of York stone, urns, plinths, troughs that can be converted into basins. All of life is here and it’s addictive stuff.
One of the specialities is wood flooring. ‘We are selling a lot of reclaimed pine boards which we salvage from sites around the country,’ says Mike Davis, managing director of the Beechfield Reclamation Company.
‘There is zero carbon footprint and nothing needs to be imported, whereas a lot of engineered wood veneers come from China and have no provenance.’
Reclaimed oak, however, is becoming far harder to find, and is twice the price of reclaimed pine.
‘Pine is a soft wood, whereas oak is a hard wood and so the latter, which lasts much longer, has become aspirational.’
But Mike does sell new oak flooring, which he sources from an Englishman living in Northern France. His prices start at £33 per sq m.
We’re often told that modern building materials don’t stand the test of time — so how much more satisfying to have a 150- year-old brick floor from Poland or a solid oak one from France rather than a flimsy job made in a factory in China?
- For Lubelska, visit lubelska.co.uk, 07495 552542; for Beechfield Reclamation Company, visit beechfieldreclamation.co.uk, 01380 730999.
What your home really needs is… coloured glass
Tablescaping is an awful made-up word. Yet this trend for finding ever new ways to decorate a table seems unstoppable.
This embellishment can include exuberant displays of flowers and twigs, mismatched china, table-runners and coloured glassware, which is the most fun way to get into this decor groove.
Dibor medieval-style embossed goblets in amethyst, blue, grey and green from Not On The High Street (£29.95 for a set of four, notonthehigh street.com)
At this point in history, your home needs things that raise cheer, and Marks & Spencer’s Rainbow Picnic tumblers (£15 for a set of four, marksandspencer.com) will lift the mood even of the abstemious.
You can hail the latest vaccine news with Lina Blue wine glasses from Oliver Bonas (£34 for a set of four, oliverbonas.com) or the Dibor medieval-style embossed goblets in amethyst, blue, grey and green from Not On The High Street (£29.95 for a set of four, notonthehigh street.com).
The pink ombre Monroe collection of flutes, gin glasses and champagne saucers from Next (£26 for a set of four, next.co.uk) allow you to toast a rosier future in a more subtle fashion.