Three modern houses in a landscape by Capability Brown and Humphry Repton, adjoining a house by Soane, are making waves. Eleanor Doughty reports.
As artistic pedigrees go, this Oxfordshire estate is exemplary. With a handsome Grade I-listed house remodelled by Sir John Soane and 600 undulating acres of landscape that bear the stamp of both Capability Brown and Humphry Repton, Aynhoe Park epitomises the finest fashions of ages ushered in by wealthy owners. Now, more than 300 years after its creation, and in the 300th year since the famous landscape architect’s birth, a corner of this 17th-century estate is being reborn.
In 2003, art collector and property developer James Perkins bought Aynhoe, which had, by then, been converted into a series of flats. In the following years, he undertook an enormous restoration, remaining true to the previous architects’ visions, which incorporated Jacobean, Palladian and Baroque elements, but injecting his own imaginative sensibility. Today, as well as being a family home, Aynhoe is a world-class events venue, filled with everything from taxidermy to modern art.
Now, Mr Perkins, an ardent collector of sculpture—a 10ft-tall statue of Hercules, inspired by Canova’s Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker in Apsley House, London W1, stands at the bottom of his staircase—has even bigger plans.
The latest of these is a trio of new houses, most unusual for a traditional country estate, says Damian Gray of Knight Frank (01865 987666), the joint agent with Savills on the project. ‘It’s rare to even be able to build in such a historic setting, and rarer still to be able to build such modern and innovative properties.’
These new houses, named after Aynhoe’s most famous contributors, Capability, Soane and Repton, are far from the traditional Cotswolds cottages one might expect. Designed with rubber walls, they will each form a jaunty cross shape over an 8,650sq ft area. As they are yet to be built, it is the plots, not finished houses, that are for sale and buyers will have the opportunity to build the properties to their own specifications, within an approved exterior design.
This is no Grand Designs project, all white walls and acres of glass. ‘We took the essence of what makes an English country house and put it into these houses, thinking about the way we live today,’ enthuses Mr Perkins. Inside each, there’s room for six bedrooms, a boot room, a kitchen and even a dog room for muddy labradors. Upstairs, Mr Perkins has designed his and hers bathrooms for the master suite. This mirrors Aynhoe itself, where there are doors signposted ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’.
Inside the ladies’, a giant Regency mirror towers over visitors; the whole place is a work of art. This spirit, Mr Perkins hopes, will be in evidence in the new buildings. ‘What I want [from each buyer] is a person who understands it—someone who has a love of architecture and art.’
Nicholas Rudge, head of Savills’ Banbury office (01295 228002), imagines that this project will appeal to Londoners renting in Oxfordshire while they look to buy. ‘If you’ve got a budget of £3 million, you might think “actually, we can build and design our own house here”.’ There is a financial incentive to do so, too—in selling plots with planning permission (for £1.45 million each) rather than completed houses, which would be valued at approximately £4 million, there is a Stamp Duty saving. ‘It’s quids in,’ says Mr Rudge simply.
Aynhoe’s fashionable location should also appeal. Soho Farmhouse, the popular members’ club-cum-country-house hotel, is just 20 minutes away, the Bamford family’s farm shop at Daylesford is a 30-minute drive and Bicester Village, the high-end discount-shopping outlet, is just 10 miles to the south. London is commutable, too: it’s 90 minutes by car via the M40 and an hour on the train to Marylebone from Bicester North.
The airport at Oxford is also convenient for quick getaways, but Mr Rudge isn’t expecting a huge uptake in international interest. ‘Buyers are likely to be London-centric people who have come out to the country to indulge in Daylesford and Soho Farmhouse. They’ve caught the train and realised that it’s accessible.’
As for Capability Brown, on whose landscape the new houses will rest, Mr Perkins strongly believes that he would approve. ‘He’d think it’s fantastic,’ he smiles. Mr Perkins’s passion for Georgian architecture is also evident; the houses will incorporate Soane-like arches with light wells in the ceilings. ‘I’m sure that, if the Georgians could have thought about having a roof terrace, they would have,’ he adds.
Most importantly, the one thing Mr Perkins is doing that the Georgians did not is selling these properties—and, in doing so, a sizeable chunk of his estate. ‘We all have to live in the modern world,’ says Mr Rudge philosophically. ‘These big houses don’t run themselves. Why not let others share in what Aynhoe has to offer?’