A 17th-century farmhouse restored
The owner of this seventeenth-century Chilterns farmhouse took a sympathetic approach to its restoration, reorganising the layout to highlight its many original elements and making the most of its glorious rural location
In the undulating foothills of the Chilterns, barely an hour’s drive from London, is a hidden gem: a castellated flint and brick restored farmhouse with a seventeenth-century core. It perches high on a bastion, jutting out into the landscape like the foredeck of a great ship, and overlooks a magnificent open view of the English countryside with hardly a building in sight.
When the owner started restoring the house and its dilapidated barn and farm buildings in 2004, she decided to sweep away the modern pebble-dash and cement additions. Although the house is not listed, she wanted to restore it within its historical context.
With the help of the architect Ptolemy Dean, who is the surveyor of the fabric
at Westminster Abbey (a post once held by both Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor), and the garden designer Jinny Blom (whose own garden features in this issue), they set to work unpicking many years of neglect. The idea was to simplify the design of the house and to celebrate its spectacular position.
Researching historical documents and old tithe maps in the county archives, they found evidence of an ancient site; a 1,000-year-old yew tree grows beside the church close by. The house was built on a steep descent so, to take advantage of this dramatic position, a curved lawn terrace supported by a flint wall was built on a high rampart in front of the house (the garden in its entirety featured in the May 2010 issue of House & Garden).
Using local materials, an extension was added to the left of the front door, adopting the same banded flint and brick as the original seventeenth-century part of the house. Traditional knapping techniques were used to cut the flints. The owner explains that she wanted to give the façade an eighteenth-century castellated top in homage to her previous home a few hillsides away. A porch was also added, the original dovecote and barn were restored, and the old farm buildings were knocked down to make way for a new second barn, which is used when the owner’s sons visit.
Inside, the space was reconfigured, with six bedrooms reduced to only two. Small rooms, false ceilings and a staircase were swept away, and beams were exposed. ’I have a lot of oversize furniture, so felt that it was important to have one large room, explains the owner. She turned to her old friend, the interior designer Piers Westenholz. He has the most wonderful eye, was familiar with the furniture that I wanted to bring from my old house and incorporated it brilliantly.
The hall and corridors are painted a shade of Cornish cream and hung with large paintings of dogs. Chunks of raw amethyst and stuffed exotic animals and birds are displayed over two hall tables. The scheme for the drawing room was designed around a set of seventeenth-century Soho tapestries, which hang on each side of the chimneypiece. An unusual painting by the French-Polish artist Balthus hangs on the adjacent wall. Two random figures are running from an orchard across a landscape, explains the owner. You glance out of the window at our view and the two views somehow seem to talk to each other.
The dining room opposite is painted in Chappell Green from Farrow & Ball, which makes an ideal background for the Restoration portrait above the chimneypiece. Through the dining room is the study, a mini replica of the one in the owner’s previous house. Piers continued the crenellation theme with two oak and burr bookcases made by a specialist
furniture maker; these flank a painting by Ivon Hitchens above the sofa.
Upstairs in the main bedroom hangs a collection of John Nash watercolours. I love them, they represent “my England”; it makes me happy looking at them, says the owner. The magnificent Tabriz carpet is reputed to have come from the house of the poet and arts patron Edward James, West Dean in Sussex. A cinema room along the corridor from the bedroom is dominated by original beams.
An array of supporting beams on a much larger scale were revealed during the restoration of the original barn, and these became the focal point for its decoration. The barn now has a mezzanine bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and sitting room, and is completely separate from the main house.
The result of the collaboration between the owner and her three expert advisers has been a real triumph – a distilled study in restoration, but also a joyous celebration of a new home complete with a glorious view. The project was a challenge and an inspiration, says Ptolemy. But it was also enormous fun