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Restoration of country houses

By Penny Churchill

Restoration of country houses

Deep pockets and patience are required for restoration projects – as is the right property

Who hasn't dreamed of transforming a 'lost' historic house into a classic country property which combines the charm of the old with the comfort and convenience of the new? As the founder of Cirencester-based Property Pathfinder (01285 653190) which specialises in project managing the renovation and restoration of listed buildings, chartered surveyor Tim Lawson relishes the challenges involved. 'Provided you accept from the outset that any project involving a historic listed building is likely to cost more, take longer, and involve more bureaucracy than you would like, the experience can be immensely rewarding,' Mr Lawson explains.

It will take someone with deep pockets to revive the Cornish Sleeping Beauty that is the romantic Georgian Old Rectory at Luxulyan on the River Par, four miles north of St Austell Bay. The 8,000sq ft, eight-bedroom, three-storey house, listed Grade II, was a substantial rebuild of a modest mid-to-late-18th-century vicarage by the Rev Richard Grylls and his heiress wife, Sophia, carried out from 1816 to 1851; they also created the Old Rectory's once-glorious rock gardens and grounds. In 1968, the church sold off the former rectory, since when, apart from the roof, which was overhauled by the present owner in 1989, house and garden have seen little in the way of maintenance.

Selling agent Hugh Townsend (01392 823935) invites offers over £750,000 for this 'hidden, unspoilt gem', the renovation of which he sees as 'a satisfying and creatively enjoyable project'. But one which will undoubtedly take courage, commitment, and lots of hard cash. The house probably needs replumbing and rewiring, in addition to the eradication of pockets of dry rot, plus comprehensive modernisation and refurbishment. The professional's rule-of-thumb estimate for a project of this nature is about £200 per sq ft, so a restoration budget of £1 million to £1.5 million may be required to realise the Old Rectory's considerable potential.

In contrast, the modernisation of secluded, Grade II-listed Kent Farm, at Shapwick, near Bridgwater, Somerset, is a much more straightforward proposition. Humberts (01823 331234) quote a guide price of £700,000 for the traditional, 5,130sq ft, five-bedroom stone farmhouse set in 4.75 acres of grounds and paddocks other surrounding land is available in various lots. Kent Farm has been the home of a working farmer for many years, and is structurally sound, but a lifestyle buyer would probably want to upgrade the kitchen and bathrooms, and convert the storage rooms at the end of the house to two further bedrooms with a family room and studio underneath. Any alterations would require listed building consent, selling agent David Hebditch points out. Otherwise, he says, all the house needs is 'a sweep-through inside', which could all be done over time, for a total outlay of less than £100,000.

Smiths Gore (01798 345994) are selling two pretty listed farmhouses on the Barlavington estate near Petworth, West Sussex, both structurally sound, but in need of modernisation. A guide price of £1.2m is quoted for the four-bedroom Shopham Bridge Farmhouse, a charming, timber-framed, stone and brick building set in eight acres of gardens, paddocks and water meadows on the banks of the Rother, with riparian rights thrown in.

The house has been tenanted until recently and needs 'general updating and redecoration', says Daniel Clay of Smiths Gore, who estimates the likely cost at £25-30,000. Offers of £1.3m are invited for 17th-century Sutton Court Farmhouse at Sutton, a delightful village at the foot of the South Downs. The farmhouse has also been let, and now needs a 'thorough overhaul' of the interior, including kitchens, bathrooms and general decoration, at an estimated cost of £100,000-plus. The house currently has five bedrooms and four reception rooms, but there is ample room for expansion, subject to the necessary planning and listed building consents. The house is surrounded by lawned gardens, and has a range of redundant outbuildings, including piggeries with planning consent for conversion to holiday accommodation.

Picturesque Bank Farm in the hamlet of Meadle, at the foot of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns, started life as three 17th-century brick-and-flint cottages, evolving over the years into a country house of great character, not-ably by the addition in the 1970s of wings at either end one incorporating part of the Great Hall from 15th-century Askett Manor, the other a historic staircase, front door and timbers reclaimed from Park House, Elmley Castle, Worcestershire. This wealth of ancient timbers is an essential part of the building's unique character, and no doubt a major reason for its Grade II* listing, but could represent a possible 'restoration minefield', Mr Lawson warns. 'The uneven roof-line of the older, middle section of the house suggests that there may be dangers lurking underneath, as do the tie-bars on the front elevations, so a thorough structural survey by a surveyor with experience of historic buildings is essential.'

No such survey has been carried out as yet, but the building appears to be 'relatively sound', say selling agents Strutt & Parker (01844 342571) who quote a guide price of £1.2m for the intriguing four-bedroom house. It stands in an acre of enchanting gardens, and comes with a range of outbuildings with potential for conversion. Bank Farm's Grade-II* listing also means that any alterations must be sanctioned by English Heritage, as well as being approved by local planning and conservation bodies. None of which appears to have deterred the string of interested parties who are already queuing to view.

Lawson's Top Tips:

1. Ensure you have all the necessary building consents in writing before embarking on any renovation project. Buildings listed Grade I or Grade II* also need approval from English Heritage.

2. The complete renovation of a historic building (including re-wiring, re-roofing, new heating, insulation, new kitchens and bathrooms) can cost up to £200 per sq ft. Thermal efficiency is currently a 'grey area' in the case of listed buildings, so always take expert advice.

3. Expect the unexpected and budget accordingly: re-wiring and re-plumbing involves lifting floorboards and stripping off plaster which can reveal 'horrors' unseen for 100 years.

4. Dry rot need not be terminal, but you must identify and eliminate the source of the damp which causes it.

5. Listed planning consent may require you to use expensive traditional materials, for example, handmade bricks which cost 40–90p each, compared with standard bricks costing 3p each.

6. Always employ specialist craftsmen and consultants with experience of historic buildings and building materials—it will save you money in the long run.

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