Country houses for sale

Modern mansions

Could this be a listed building in 100 years’ time, wondered David Smith, Octagon’s head of marketing, as he cast an eagle eye over his firm’s newest trophy mansion, Upper Ribsden at Windlesham, Surrey, which launches on the market today at a guide price of ‘excess £25 million’, through Knight Frank (020-7629 8171). Why shouldn’t it be? The spectacular, 27,000sq ft house, set in six acres of sculpted grounds in the woods around Sunningdale golf course, has taken five pains-taking years to build, and, unlike many of its grand Surrey neighbours, will surely still be standing a century from now.

The project has been a massive undertaking for Surrey-based Octagon, says chief designer Tony Taylor, who has been involved with every stage of the process, from concept to completion. Unlike the great designers of old, who only had to satisfy the demands of their rich clients, today’s builder must first navigate the minefield of UK planning regulations-a process that turned out to be more tortuous than usual in the case of Upper Ribsden. The previous occupant of the site was a dilapidated 1920s country house that had already attracted the attention of several developers, but their schemes had all been rejected by the time Octagon came along.

As Mr Taylor explains: ‘This is Surrey greenbelt, and the planners here don’t like anything above ground that’s higher than the building that previously existed on the site. So, to gain extra living space, we came up with the idea of creating a huge basement, a Mediterranean-style courtyard and a large horseshoe-shaped garden at the rear of the building. Today, that area houses a 13m (42ft) swimming pool, a games suite, a cinema, a state-of-the-art catering unit and wine cellar, staff quarters and an underground garage for up to six limousines. This was an extremely costly construction process, which involved excavating down to 20ft-or more in the case of the pool-and using the most expensive load-bearing and waterproof materials to avoid any risk of subsidence or leakage.’

‘Creating sufficient light within a large house is a problem,’ he continues. ‘I’ve always liked the use of glass and metal in Art Deco design, and we’ve used these materials to emphasise the feeling of light and space throughout the house, and link the interior with the outdoor terraces and surrounding andscape. We’ve made extensive use of marble, glass and mirrors-for example, in the curved glass of the bay windows to the front and rear; the glass balustrade on the curved marble staircase in the main entrance hall, with its signature two-storey, Italian-glass chandelier; and
the ingenious ‘light tunnels’, disguised as chimneys, that throw light along the corridors of the first floor.’

The looking-glass theme is echoed in the glass-walled morning room that overlooks the terrace and grounds and in the wide, panelled-glass first-floor landing, in the mirrored lift doors, and especially in the master suite dressing room lined with Italian mirror cupboards, illuminated by Swarovski crystal lighting, and connected by a mirrored door to an equally glittering mirrored and marbled master bathroom.

Is the interior a bit too shiny for the average wealthy Briton? Even if it is, it probably doesn’t matter, given the strength of London’s booming international market. Upper Ribsden is aimed squarely at this marketplace, and it was interesting to learn that Mr Taylor and his team gleaned some of their design ideas from a Middle East sheikh who thought long and hard about buying the house, before deciding that it was too small to accommodate his family and numerous staff. Instead, he has commissioned Octagon to build him two houses on the prestigious Wentworth Estate.

Given Upper Ribsden’s close proximity to London, Heathrow and Surrey’s international schools, James Crawford of Knight Frank wouldn’t be surprised to see some rich private individual decide to pass on buying a house in the capital, and instead head straight for this family country home in Windlesham. As he reminds me, secluded Upper Ribsden, with its five large (but not massive) reception rooms, six bedroom suites, impressive leisure and entertaining facilities, staff cottage and beautifully planted gardens, was designed with a family in mind-albeit one with very deep pockets.

Art Deco has also provided the interior inspiration for elegant, neo-Georgian Mansfield House in exclusive Wildwood Road, NW11, which has been launched on the market through north-London agents Glentree International (020-8458 7311), at a guide price of £18.75m. Newly built for niche developer Sapphire Services by architect Garnett & Partners, according to strict criteria imposed by the planners of Hampstead Garden Suburb conservation area, the 11,600sq ft house stands on land owned by the Earls of Mansfield from 1755 until 1922. Wildwood Road takes its name from one of three woods maintained by Lord Mansfield as ‘wild copse’ to provide cover for the game he liked to shoot, and still retains that sense of rus in urbe that makes Hampstead such a beguiling part of London for international buyers.

Mansfield House has luxurious accommodation on four floors, including three grand reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedroom suites and a magnificent leisure complex, which includes a large indoor pool, a gymnasium, a games room and a cinema.

The interior has been translated into a free-flowing living space by Clapham-based designer Tim Gosling, whose career path mirrors that of the late Oliver Messel, theatre designer and architect, to an uncanny degree. Mr Gosling also did a degree in theatre design, working as a stage designer on major West End productions before joining Messel’s great-nephew, David Linley, as a furniture designer in the early 1990s. Having established his own company in 2005, Mr Gosling has built an international reputation as a designer. Recent commissions include The Berkeley, The Goring and The Savoy, and BP’s London headquarters.

Given free rein by the developer to design the interior architecture of Mansfield House, Mr Gosling has created a collection of unique bespoke pieces in a mixture of finishes, including wood, fabric and marble, which can be bought separately by the eventual purchaser. Of particular note are his designs for the dramatic Art Deco hall in black and white marble, with its central chandelier created by Sharon Marston; the light-filled Art Deco drawing room; the Art Deco dining room, where Eglomisé panels, inspired by the French designer Albert Rateau, create mirror surfaces of extraordinary depth; and the gilded swimming-pool area based on the style of the 1930s ocean liner SS Normandie.

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