Whatever is happening elsewhere in the market, there is still sustained demand for classically proportioned Georgian or Victorian country houses in quiet rural settings and, at the higher price ranges, for houses protected by 40 acres or more of land, says buying agent Colin Mackenzie, who operates mainly in Kent and Sussex. But, he warns, buyers are increasingly nervous of taking on any major refurbishment beyond kitchens and bathrooms, and running costs have become an important factor in their decision making. Which means that vendors of classic country houses renovated to 21st century standards of efficiency and comfort have a head start in the race to attract a well-heeled buyer this autumn.
You can hardly move around the pretty West Sussex town of Midhurst without bumping into a polo millionaire. Not that you’d recognise one if you did, as they tend to keep a low profile. The same is true of the properties they buy and sometimes live in, of which secluded Graffham Court at Graffham, four miles from Midhurst, is a prime example.
The elegant, late-Victorian, stone house, set in 132 acres of gardens, woods and paddocks at the foot of the South Downs, with direct access to Ambersham Common and the bridleways of the Cowdray estate, will be launched in next week’s Country Life at a guide price of £8 million to £10 million through Jackson- Stops & Staff (01730 812357).
The cheery, light-filled manor presents a very different picture from the battered shell that greeted Dutch owners Jan and Dorothe Haverhals when they set out to create their dream equestrian estate some 14 years ago. Originally built as a hunting lodge and massively extended in late Victorian times, Graffham Court was occupied by the army in the Second World War, and never really recovered. So the Haverhals completely rebuilt it, refurbishing it to international standards of insulation, heating and design and adding a magnificent orangery to the west, in discreet contrast to the more traditional drawing room to the east.
Graffham Court has five reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, eight bedrooms and five bathrooms, with secure garaging to the rear, plus two cottages, staff quarters and a swimming pool. Perhaps of more interest to the polo-playing fraternity, which includes the Haverhals’ daughter Stephanie, who plays for the Raggy Dolls at nearby Cowdray Park, are the estate’s outstanding equestrian facilities, located just a gentle trot from Jamie Packer’s expanding Ambersham polo headquarters. They include more than 40 acres of post-and-railed paddocks, a stick-and-ball practice ground, an all-weather manège, state-of-the art stabling and a woodland training track.
The sea is the element of choice of sailing legend Avia Willment, who restores and races classic yachts and will represent England aboard a flying six-metre in a series in Canada this autumn. Back on dry land, having bought Universal Marina on the Hamble River (once owned by the Astor family) in 1997, she quickly turned the declining business around, then switched her attention to the restoration of Grade II*-listed Standerwick Court at Standerwick, on the Somerset/Wiltshire borders, which she bought in 2003. Seven years on, the renovation of the three main houses on the 80-acre parkland estate has been completed, and Standerwick Court will be officially launched on the market in next week’s Country Life, at a guide price of £5m through Palmer Snell (01935 814531).
Once occupied by the Celts, Romans and Normans, Standerwick essentially comprises two separate manor houses that were linked in the 17th century. In 1710, the main manor house was wrapped in a Queen Anne façade and substantially extended to create what is now the three storey Court House: it has three reception rooms, a kitchen/family room, 10 bedrooms and six bathrooms. To the rear of the main kitchen is the recently restored adjoining Hall House, which has a large family room, a garden room, two bedrooms and a bathroom.
To the west of the main house is the three-bedroom Wool House, originally a wool store and later a stable block, the heart of which is a large ground-floor reception room, currently used to display Mrs Willment’s treasured collection of contemporary art. The Lodge, at the entrance to the property, was built as the gatehouse in about 1810 by the Edgell family, who owned the estate from 1690 to 1919. A two-storey Grade II listed folly in the park was added in the 18th century.
‘Standerwick was once the smallest parish in England, and all its various buildings are contained within the bounds of the estate, including a range of traditional stone outbuildings and barns which could be converted to holiday lets, offices, and so on, subject to the usual planning consents,’ Mrs Willment suggests.
For her part, having completed the marathon restoration of Standerwick Court in a refreshingly personal style that reflects both her feeling for these historic buildings and her passion for sailing and the Arts, a new project beckons and Avia Willment can’t wait to jump aboard.
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Engaging star of stage and screen Ashley Russell, perhaps best known for his role as John in the TV series Pie in the Sky, has used his theatrical skills to great effect in the inspirational renovation of imposing Trenowth Manor at Trenowth, nine miles from Truro, Cornwall.
First mentioned in Domesday, the Trenowth Manor estate was bought by mining tycoon Sir Robert Harvey on his return from South Africa in 1885. In 1929, he had the present neo-Georgian Trenowth House built by Truro architects Cowell, Drewitt and Wheatley as a wedding present for his son Robert. Pevsner considered it ‘the only house of note’ in the scattered hamlet of Trenowth. Mr Russell bought it five years ago following the premature death of its previous owner, a retired NASA rocket scientist.
Set in some 28 acres of formal gardens, woodland and paddocks, sheltered Trenowth House has four main reception rooms, a kitchen/ breakfast room, a playroom/home cinema, seven bedrooms and six bath/shower rooms. The panelling in the drawing room was taken from the waiting room of Newton Abbot railway station, having reputedly been commissioned for a visit of George V. Structurally, the house was in good shape, so Mr Russell concentrated his creative talents on transforming the interior, which included cutting a hole in the ceiling of the entrance hall to create a dramatic light-filled staircase, and using subtle changes of colour throughout the house to enhance the feeling of light and space. He’s really gone to town on the design and fitting of the kitchen and bathrooms, which are truly space-age.
‘I’ve been restoring houses professionally since I bought my first, a one-bedroom cottage in Gloucestershire, with the proceeds of my first serious acting job at the age of 25, so I know every nail and every blade of grass that has gone into Trenowth,’ says Mr Russell, whose current property portfolio includes a ‘wonderful’ house in Orkney. But now he’s considering ‘a major life change’, so Trenowth House will be officially launched in Country Life on September 8, at a guide price of £2.5m, through Cornish agents Lillicrap Chilcott (01872 273473).
Originally built as the hunting lodge to the surrounding Ashburnham estate, idyllic 16th-century Deer Park at Ashburnham, listed Grade II, sits in 3.7 acres of wooded grounds and water-gardens -a setting ‘so wonderfully unspoilt and isolated that you can’t tell which century you’re in’, says selling agent John Young of Chesterton Humberts (01892 782424), who quotes a guide price of £1.9m. The same can be said of the cheerfully quirky interior of the house, which has two main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, four/five bedrooms, four bathrooms and a dinky island guest cottage. All has been charmingly restored by the current owners, who have sourced antique materials and fittings from France and England, including ancient wood and stonework from a local church.