This week’s Country Life sees the launch of the first ‘trophy’ country house to hit the market in 2011. The cause of much excitement is the sale of immaculate Dunmore House, with 25 acres of gardens, grounds and pasture, near the pretty village of Four Elms, two miles from Sevenoaks, Kent, for which Savills (020-7499 8644) quote a guide price of £5.75 million.
The sale underlines the growing sense of urgency that has swept across Kent in recent weeks. Strutt & Parker, for example, have agreed sales on no fewer than eight houses priced at more than £1 million through their Canterbury and Sevenoaks offices in the past month, and expect to launch
at least 10 more houses in the £1m-£3m price bracket in the coming weeks.
Other local agents report similar levels of activity. But with few houses sold in the UK for more than £5m since the recession began, a successful early outcome in the case of Dunmore House would provide a powerful shot in the arm for the top end of the country-house market-not just in Kent, but throughout the Home Counties.
Dunmore House (pictured) was built in 1938 as a holiday home for the clergy, but was sold after the war and, in 1946, became the main house for the Greenaway family’s 2,000-acre Dunmore estate. Following the death of Sir John Greenaway’s mother, the estate was broken up and sold off in 2004, with Dunmore House and its grounds being bought by Colin Graves and his wife, Sharon, in June of that year. But with retirement looming, Mr Graves is cutting back on his business commitments and returning to his native North Yorkshire.
Mr and Mrs Graves have overseen a major renovation of the house, which, although sound, was tired and dated-and, fortunately, unlisted. As a result, they have been able to significantly extend the house with the addition of a smart new wing, comprising an impressive double-height reception hall and staircase, a 30ft dining room and a splendid master suite.
The old part of the house has been renovated and modernised in a matching style, and includes a drawing room and study, a charming new conservatory, a kitchen/breakfast room and two guest suites, plus two more bedrooms and a family bathroom. The leisure facilities are no less luxurious, and include an all-weather tennis court, a magnificent indoor pool and spa, and state-of-the-art equestrian facilities, including a floodlit manège and horse-walker, and manicured post-and-railed paddocks.
Edward Church of Strutt & Parker attributes the recent surge of activity to a ‘bubble’ in the market caused by the re-emergence of buyers who had gone into hibernation at the end of last year, the impending Stamp Duty rise (which means that sales will have to be completed, and not just agreed,
by April 5 for buyers to avoid paying the new rate of duty), and the threat of a rise in interest rates in the not too distant future. All of these factors have contributed to the early launch of some very special houses, such as Grade II*-listed Stourmouth House at East Stourmouth, eight miles from Canterbury.
Strutt & Parker (01227 451123) quote a guide price of £1.25m for Stourmouth House, whose striking early-Georgian façade fronts a much older property, thought to be a medieval timber-framed farmhouse. In the early 1930s, the house was owned by Charles Sydney Gibbes, who was the tutor of Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia until the Romanov family’s arrest in 1917. He returned to England a few years later and, in 1934, became an Orthodox monk.
In the same year, he established his adopted son George, a Russian orphan, on a fruit farm at Stourmouth House. Set in 1.8 acres of colourful gardens at the end of a long gravel drive, Stourmouth House has been beautifully renovated by its present owners, who have created an ambience of understated elegance throughout. Its 4,390sq ft of tranquil living space includes a handsome stone-floored reception hall, three main reception rooms, a large farmhouse kitchen,
master and guest suites, four further bedrooms and a family bathroom. Outbuildings include a garage and a substantial former chicken shed, currently used as a workshop and store.
In this part of the country, where local buyers spend an average of £1.1m on a country home, the sight of London buyers sets pulses racing. One property likely to appeal to a City worker is Willington Manor near Sevenoaks, for which Knight Frank (01732 744477) quote a guide price of £2.15m. Built some 10 years ago by local developer Walker Residential, Willington Manor is one of six large country houses set in 17 acres of parkland within Belmont Park, a green belt AONB, some three miles from Otford, from where the towers of Canary Wharf can be seen on a clear day. Surrounded by terraced landscaped gardens, the property has 5,393sq ft of accommodation on three floors, including a 40ft hall, four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, five bedrooms and four bathrooms.
The same agents quote a guide price of £1.95m for Fullers Hill Farmhouse, which sits in 3.7 acres of gardens, woodland and paddocks, a mile from the village of Seal and four miles from Sevenoaks. The farmhouse was previously split into two, one half of which was bought in 1987 by the present owners, who have since acquired the other half and cleverly rear-ranged the interior as one substantial, 5,168sq ft house overlooking the North Downs. In all, Fullers Hill Farmhouse has four reception rooms, a conservatory, a large kitchen/breakfast room, a garden room, eight bedrooms and five bathrooms, as well as garaging and stabling.