Sunday, 17 December 2017

House goes from shabby to chic

FIELD PLACE occupies a wonderful secluded setting in the heart of the Park Place Estate, a Grade II listed landscape,

FIELD PLACE occupies a wonderful secluded setting in the heart of the Park Place Estate, a Grade II listed landscape, conveniently situated on the London side of the River Thames. It is a wonderfully quiet and private setting with a great outlook over neighbouring fields and Templecombe Wood.

Field Place has very attractive red brick and Chiltern flint elevations and decorative barge boards, all under a clay tiled roof. For a quarter of a century it has been in the same family who, over time, carried out a thorough and sympathetic refurbishment to upgrade all fittings and fixtures throughout the house and the decorative presentation.

The current owners first moved there 25 years ago after seeing an advert in the Henley Standard that the property was to go to auction.

Owner Anne Macgregor said: “We had friends in the area and had enjoyed attending the regatta when my husband, Scott, an architect, received a commission to refurbish a row of historic 17th and 18th century cottages in Wallingford. We decided to move our base from London to cut down his travel time but had no idea how difficult it would be to find a property that would suit our needs.

“We were after a house with a good-sized garden, private, quiet and not on or near a road. We weren’t afraid of taking on a property that needed some work as we had good experience of refurbishing historic properties in the UK and overseas.

“We didn’t think our ‘wish list’ was too onerous but it was a near impossible task 25 years ago, as it is today, to find a suitable property. Without exaggeration we drove hundreds of miles around Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. Then, while visiting Henley for the regatta we saw an ad in the Standard for Field Place which was to be sold at auction so we drove down the then unmade lane on to a wasteland to view it.”

Anne admitted that it was a house “no one would take on in their right mind” but take it on they did.

“It would be fair to say we have done just about everything that a house would need and more to Field Place. It would also be fair to say it was a labour of love and the work that’s been done has been done with thought and great care because it was to be a ‘forever house’ to borrow a phrase from Phil and Kirstie.”

But now work commitments are set to take them elsewhere in the UK and abroad.

Scott was a pilot in the Royal Australian Airforce and then retrained as an architect, so the the work which was undertaken has been done to an unbelievable meticulous standard.

This is a rare property indeed. The core of the present house was built in the 1730s as a Yeoman’s cottage then split into two as residences for estate staff — the woodsman and the gamekeeper in particular. In 1738, Frederick, Prince of Wales and his wife, Princess Augusta acquired the estate attracting high society to what became — and still is — Henley’s fashionable and lively social scene. The Prince of Wales, father of the future George III, landscaped Park Place estate with specimen trees, many of which have survived and become monumental features in this landscape enhanced further by developers in recent times. Field Place now provides a high-quality character family house while combining many contemporary touches.

Anne added: “While we wanted a period property, we were cognisant of the need for modern amenities but never wanted them to destroy the house’s character, recognising that by being too precious about historic details it would be likely to end in tears and unnecessary costs.

“When we designed the house we could see what was coming down the line technologically speaking, and made allowance for it so we were ready and able to install Cat 5 data cabling to facilitate telecoms and computer use throughout the house without making dangling wires a blight on the internal landscape or destroying the historic features which we kept — fireplaces, an original iron stove, wood roof beams and original 18th century glass panels in what was once an external but now internal wall of the house.

“As for the kitchen, we are both keen cooks and wanted the best available appliances to work with which is why we opted for stainless Gaggenau appliances which are, for our purposes, more suited and economical than an Aga — often the range of choice for country kitchens.”

The conservatory dining area has a superb outlook over the fields.

There is a stone floor with underfloor heating. Throughout the remainder of the ground and first floors are solid white American oak floors, with further character provided by painted panelling and exposed light timber joinery and with impressive fireplaces in the dining room and the main reception, both working, with an original range in what is now the study.

The original 18th century core of the house has exposed beams and a feature wall in the upper bedrooms. Lighting systems, electrical wiring and central heating have been upgraded. A beautiful bespoke white oak staircase with wrought iron balusters has been created, and the bathrooms are of high quality white and chrome fittings.

Anne said: “It has been done to a very high specification and like a couturier garment, the quality is on the inside as well as the outside. Careful thought and great care has been taken with infrastructure to avoid building failures, high ongoing maintenance costs and the need to rip out parts of the house and start over again when our tastes and needs changed.

“We are not ‘doer-uppers’ who move every three years to climb the housing ladder. This is as high as we have ever aspired in a home and besides, we have too many possessions to want to move house and disrupt our lives that often. The benefit of occupying a property like Field Place as long as we have is that you really get to understand it, how it works and how you want to live in it. For these reasons whatever we’ve done had to endure time and usage and we’re happy to say it has.”

There is a 40ft glass mosaic-tiled indoor swimming pool set in a limestone deck with exposed flint wall panels in the surround, full air conditioning and heat recirculation/recovery system, electronic pool thermal, slatted safety cover, with integral shower/WC and changing area.

Anne said: “We are both keen swimmers and miss living on the coast so the swimming pool was a consideration from the get-go. A hole was dug for the pool, and the flints which came out of the hole were used to build the walls which are super insulated for low energy use and economy.

“This is an ideal family house and although we do not have children ourselves we do have a very large extended family with many members living overseas so the house is always full of people including our niece, Jessica and my sister, Marie, who are competitive wild swimmers so the pool is a draw card for their visits. The house has always worked well to accommodate this global family.”

The two-bedroom guest/staff flat above comprises a sitting room, kitchen and bath/shower room, centrally heated from the plant room below. The centrally heated double garage with two up-and-over doors has excellent shelving and workbench with storage beneath. Above is a studio/office with WC with potential to convert to a staff flat.

The drive is lined with silver birches and securely fenced on both sides, arriving at a parking and turning circle in front of the house. A raised informal area of garden to the east has a variety of mature trees and shrubs including willow and crabapple. The kitchen garden is surrounded by espalier apple and plum trees, and the gardens then run gently down to the south lawn overlooking neighbouring fields and woodland with a southerly aspect.

“We both enjoy gardening,” said Anne, “but don’t have as much time as we would like to spend on this garden. What we have planted offers year-round foliage colour — gold, silver and green — and for summer and autumn we rely on hanging baskets and pots.”

Anne concluded that it will be a real wrench to leave the property. “A house is not just bricks and mortar. In the end it owns you and not the other way around. It is a place filled with memories of people, our pets, the times we have had there when other stuff — good and bad — was going on in our lives.

“We do realise how lucky we have been to have had the opportunity to live in such a special place and hope that a buyer will come along who recognises and appreciates what Field Place has to offer and will want to make it their ‘ forever’ home.”

The property is available through Savills. For more details, call (01491) 843001.

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