Hidden away in Surrey are many small villages with beautiful houses dating from the late-19th and early-20th century. Munstead Wood, near Godalming, once the home of gardening doyenne Gertrude Jekyll (1843 - 1932), is one such house. It was built in 1896 - 1897 by the architect Edwin Lutyens in the Arts & Crafts style and is where Jekyll experimented with her radical ideas of bringing together horticulture and art that were to be such a great influence on the 20th century English garden.
Within the Munstead estate stood a range of working buildings, including a relocated Medieval barn that formed Jekyll's garden workrooms, together now known as The Quadrangle. These have recently been converted into an award-winning home that acknowledges Munstead's Arts & Crafts past while ensuring 21st century comfort.
Gail Naughton bought The Quadrangle in 2001 and began a year-long restoration project with the help of architect Roger Meadows and restoration builders G. J. Smith of Whitchurch. "For some time I had been looking for a house in the country with a big garden and I was told about The Quadrangle by a friend of mine. It was fairly dilapidated with holes in the roof, which later had to be completely replaced, and the builders told me it would have been quicker to build a new house!" she laughs.
What makes The Quadrangle special is that it adheres entirely to the principles of the Arts & Crafts movement, blending seamlessly into its surroundings. In addition, much of the work within the building has been hand-crafted, while the oak beams above the windows have the date and the builder's initials carved into them. Nothing has been wasted: "The fireplace was entirely built by hand by a stone mason using spare roof tiles," explains Gail.
When The Quadrangle was built (between 1891 and 1909) it incorporated the barn and a stable, coach house and a harness room which is now a cottage. The barn was converted into living space after the Munstead estate was split up and sold in 1948. The large space that now serves as Gail's living-room, dining-room and kitchen was originally five small rooms dating from the 1960s. In order to return the barn to its original, single volume space, all the partitions were stripped out. The original oak trusses and rafters were fully exposed and the room is now filled with light from three full-length glass doors, two of which replaced huge barn openings that overlook the courtyard entrance and the garden on two sides. Elsewhere other 1960s 'improvements', such as Georgian-style windows, were removed and replaced with sympathetic materials.
The kitchen, at one end of the barn, is separated from the living area by ingenious sliding oak panels and features two American oak built-in dressers. "It was important not to compromise the architectural space here," says Gail, who particularly loves the plate rack and the Shaker-style cupboards.
Gail has collected most of the furnishings for her home from antique shops and auctions or architectural salvage specialists. The dramatic elm-topped dining table was a particularly good find at Drummond's Architectural Antiques. "I love going to auctions and I bought the bench at one for far less than it would have cost to have a new one made. I bought the table especially because it is so big." A beautiful oak settle with carved heart detail, made in 1900 by Wylie & Lochhead, came from Liberty.
In another corner of the living-room a pivoted floor-to-ceiling door opens onto a new staircase leading up to a loft above. During Jekyll's ownership it was used for storing fruit and bulbs as well as sorting seeds. Partitioning here was also removed and the room returned to its original two spaces. One, which is filled with Gail's books, is used as a separate reading and sitting room and the other is now her bedroom with an open-plan area for the bathroom. The bedroom, which is believed to have originally been a workroom used by Jekyll, features the original floorboards and iron window catches on a long, low leaded window. Gail's main passion is her garden and she has researched whatever she can find about Jekyll's original garden at Munstead, represented by her enviable collection of gardening books. Part of the garden, which faces southwest, was used by Jekyll to create her Grey Garden. "Jekyll started the fashion for these grey plants which inspired Vita Sackville-West to develop her white garden at Sissinghurst," explains Gail, who has begun her own five year restoration project by reconstructing the Grey Garden.
The Munstead estate covered 15 acres and during WWI much of it was laid down to vegetables. The Quadrangle garden is about one acre and now, nearly 100 years later, it is being transformed with the help of old photographs. "I've got a lot of photographs and one very early plan dating from 1908," Gail reports. Jekyll took a number of photographs herself besides those taken by Country Life magazine. "The Garden magazine featured a photograph of the Grey Garden as an illustration in their Victory edition in November 1918," says Gail.
Jekyll was a woman of many talents, being an accomplished author, artist and embroiderer: she was forced to give up detailed work because of poor eyesight, enabling her to devote her artistic eye to gardening instead.
When Gail is not involved with her garden restoration project, which she anticipates will take a further four years to complete, she is a volunteer at the Watts Gallery in nearby Compton. "The Gallery is unique. It is a very secluded Arts & Crafts building and everyone who visits feels as if they have made a special discovery." Meanwhile her own amazing home has won two awards: Waverley Design Award in 2003 for Alterations and Conversions and Godalming Trust Civic Design Awards in 2004 - Highly Commended, showing that Arts & Crafts is very much alive and well and living in Surrey.