Country houses that have slipped beyond their use-by date as family homes have been converted into all manner of things, from schools and hospitals to offices.
One option has been to convert the building into a series of apartments. This is by no means an easy feat, as many of the grander houses whose upkeep costs have forced a rethink on usage are also Grade I listed, so finding appropriate dividing lines and creating the requisite number of separate entrances can be fiddly, especially with English Heritage looking over the shoulders of developers.
One of the most successful country-house conversions has been at Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, where, earlier this year, the designer Jasper Conran bought the gargantuan principal apartment, which covers 23,000sq ft. The conversion from the house’s incarnation as Cranborne Chase School was completed in 1990, and created 10 apartments out of the Palladian manor built for Lord Arundell by James Paine. ‘Apartment One includes virtually all the old state rooms, the piano nobile and the rotunda,’ explains Graham Waterton of Strutt & Parker, which launched the property in COUNTRY LIFE on June 16. ‘We often take on apartments in houses because they’re always different and interesting propositions, but we do so with our hearts in mouths slightly because the market for them is often quite limited.’
In this case, however, the office had ‘lots of competitive interest’ and when Mr Conran was shown around one Monday morning, he immediately fell for it. ‘He’s incredibly creative and saw a fantastic opportunity, but he’s not a classic apartment buyer.’
A survey carried out by Knight Frank earlier this year on buyers of these apartments revealed that 50% were made up of ‘older couples’, a large proportion (28%) were single people and another cluster of buyers was expatriates looking for a base back in Britain. ‘The apartments tend to appeal to people who are downsizing from a large country house and appreciate the character and features of a period property, but don’t want the huge running costs of owning the whole property,’ explains Judith Archer of Knight Frank. ‘They also fit for people who want a lock-up-and-leave option, as neighbours provide good security.’
For buyers who are planning on doing a lot of travelling, as well as those who want to use it as a weekend or holiday home, the apartment option is becoming increasingly attractive.
Robert Pritchard of Smiths Gore in Stow-on-the-Wold has lots of experience of selling apartments in country houses to clients, including those at Northwick Park in Blockley. ‘They are absolutely right for certain buyers, but there are a few things that people need to be mindful of before committing,
including aspects such as restrictive covenants-for example, no washing lines, rules about dogs on leads, satellite dishes and external paint colours.’
Other aspects to consider are the management companies that run the buildings, which involve owners being invited to join committees to agree on proposed changes and the payment of service charges. ‘The latter can seem a lot to pay on an annual basis, but, when you compare it with the costs of maintaining a freehold property, even the £20,000 charge on Apartment One at Wardour-when you consider the size of the property-appears reasonable,’ adds Mr Waterton.
Perhaps one of the biggest considerations to take on board when buying an apartment is the fact that you are buying into a community. That doesn’t mean that all decisions about maintenance and works need to be agreed between the leaseholders, but it does mean that people are living side by side with neighbours, perhaps for the first time. ‘When I show people around Wardour, they’re always interested to know if there are any kindred spirits living there. Often, it’s a case of transferring from living down a long drive to sharing space with people,’ explains Mr Waterton. ‘I always advise speaking to another resident to get the lowdown: noise is terribly important.’
One option, currently on the market with Smiths Gore, offers perhaps the best of both worlds. The Orangery at Northwick Park has been converted into a three- or four-bedroom house that stands on its own, but has all the conveniences on the doorstep, including use of the 35-acre communal parkland, four all-weather tennis courts and an outdoor pool. The drawing room enjoys six full-height
sash windows with built-in window seats overlooking the terrace towards the garden. £1.45 million (01451 832832).