Period Property of the Month - March 2008
With the help of a leading architect, Tim and Sarah Watkins decided to return their country mansion to its Georgian origins
Chop and Change
The elegant Georgian house was imposing in itself, but ultimately it was the location that drew Tim and Sarah Watkins to the property which was to become their family home. Victorian additions had detracted from the integrity of the original Georgian property, with much of the symmetry of the classical design being lost. However, the restoration project, which spanned 18 months, became an enduring tribute to Sarah's vision.
Tragically, she died before the project was completed.
"It was a project we embarked on together, and a lot of Sarah's input is there, but because of the circumstances, I have needed help from others to assist me in completing her dream," Tim explains.
"Sarah wanted a house in a village, and I wanted one with uninterrupted 180 degree views, which was a very difficult set of criteria to find in one house. We had been looking for six years for something which fitted both, but then, ironically, we found this house in the village I grew up in, and near where she grew up."
It was the perfect spot with panoramic views and in a village, not tucked away down a remote lane, which Sarah did not relish with young twin sons. Built two decades into the 19th Century, the house was originally a classic Georgian country property in the Palladian style, with sweeping views of its own estate on the Essex/Suffolk borders.
Initially, because of the hotch-potch of later Victorian additions, Tim felt it would be simpler to demolish the house and re-position it directly facing the river valley. Renowned architect Quinlan Terry, a leading proponent of Georgian classical architecture, was brought in to draw up plans for a complete re-build, and also for a re-modelling of the existing house.
"I hated anything that wasn't Georgian because those later additions knocked it out of symmetry," Tim recalls. Sarah also felt instinctively that the crooked layout of the hall, for example, was not in sympathy with the house.
"Eventually, we embarked on Quinlan's plans to demolish the later additions, including a Victorian bay window. We then extended the rear of the house with a loggia, drawing room, and new kitchen on the ground floor. On the first floor, the extension provided a new master bedroom suite, two guest bedroom suites and a laundry room. The criteria was to have a third of the floor space for the master bedroom, dressing rooms and bathrooms, another third for the guest rooms, and the remaining third for the children's area. The extension has restored symmetry to the house."
Dark panelling in the hallway and a Victorian stained glass window on the stair well were also removed, while reproductions of the original, full-length sash windows were put in on the ground floor.
The stunning loggia across the rear of the property maximises light and ensures those glorious views across the pastures can be seen from almost every room.
"Vistas were designed to flow with the gardens, which have been laid out to maintain as much symmetry as possible, thus becoming an extension of the house. This has included the construction of three ponds, giving a view from the drawing room and master bedrooms over the ponds down to the church - the subject of a recently discovered pencil drawing by John Constable," Tim points out.
"I think gardens should be an extension of the house, and the new sash windows ensure it can be enjoyed to the full," Tim adds.
Walls to the old sitting room were removed to open up the hallway, creating a formal dining area and an uninterrupted vista from the front door through to the rear windows in the loggia. The old morning room to the left of the front door, which had a blocked up window, was converted into a handsome study, with the window reinstated.
The house had been built in Suffolk white brick, but as these are no longer made, brickworks were scoured for the closet match. Discussions did take place on whether to stain the bricks with tea or soot, but natural weathering is being allowed to take its course and blend the old with the new.
Quinlan Terry, who owns a similar property himself, was only too pleased to restore the house to its true Georgian symmetry. He explains: "Like so many Victorian additions, they had not continued the general principles of Georgian buildings, so symmetry was not regarded as a fundamental priority. The house had rather spread itself to the south-west, which didn't look good from the lower meadows; it looked more like an old people's home. In fact, it had been bought by one such company and then sold by them as they considered there was no life in the village for the old people!"
"It needed someone with courage to do something with it and I knew exactly what it wanted - you needed to be able to look right from the hall to a loggia on the south side
It has got an ideal view on the south side and an approach on the north, which means you arrive on the formal side of the house and the south side enjoys the views without being overlooked by people. That is the general arrangement of a classical house and one which I normally aim for," Quinlan Terry explains. "It is always important with a good building not just to get the front and back symmetrical, but to have the side symmetrical as well. Here, we put in a Venetian window with porch in the middle, removing the Victorian bay."
The front, or north elevation, has three windows across on the first floor, with a pediment over the centre, while the south side has a wider pediment in the centre with three first floor windows directly beneath, and two either side. Three symmetrical elevations and the removal of some internal walls that complicated the layout on the ground floor has created a home with clear lines and handsome rooms with unimpeded vistas.
The result is the rebirth of an elegant, perfectly proportioned Georgian country home, which sits proudly on the brow of a slope above pastureland where little has changed since the house was first built, nearly two centuries ago.
Quinlan & Francis Terry Architects
Tel: 01206 322370 www.qftarchitects.com
Haymills Construction Ltd
Tel: 01473 211259 www.haymills.com