Sunday, 19 September 2021

Home is tucked away like author’s best-kept secret

A STONE’S throw from Henley town centre, the 17th/18th century Thames-side Fawley Court is a

A STONE’S throw from Henley town centre, the 17th/18th century Thames-side Fawley Court is a rather magnificent and imposing stately home that offers premium hospitality experiences during Henley Royal Regatta. Locals know it well.

But nestled in its grounds is a lesser-known three-bedroom house that started life as a summer house to the estate before developing into stables and later being repurposed to become a rather charming residence.

Despite parts of the house being Grade II-listed, White Cottage is ultimately an unpretentious and comfortable single-storey family home.

It’s been that and more for writer Anna Pasternak, who has lived here with her daughter Daisy for the past 10 years.

If you’re thinking you’ve heard the Pasternak name before, you’re not wrong. There’s impressionist painter Leonid; Nobel-prize winning novelist Boris, who wrote Doctor Zhivago; renowned philosopher Josephine; and professor of biochemistry Charles; as well as prize-winning Anna, who you may know from her book Princess in Love (about Princess Diana).

It was while living at White Cottage that Anna worked on her latest work, Lara: The Untold Love Story That Inspired Doctor Zhivago, due to be published on September 1.

Doctor Zhivago, the book about a Russian physician and his lover that was made into the classic 1965 film starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, did not tell the full story of the true relationship that inspired it, according to Anna, whose great uncle Boris would say of his former lover: “Lara exists. Go and meet her.”

Thus, Anna has spent the past 10 years researching the heartbreaking life story of the Russian poet and writer Olga Ivinskaya (“Lara”), who she believes to be an unsung heroine.

The majority of Anna’s book was written in the office annexe of White Cottage, which is accessed externally from the side of the property. This makes it ideal for working from home or for use as an occasional fourth bedroom.

Anna says she will especially miss this room when she moves, as it holds fond memories as “a quiet and peaceful place to work from, with its climbing trellis of old-fashioned yellow roses on the outside wall.”

Anna, Daisy and husband Andrew Wallas are selling White Cottage after deciding it’s “time for something larger”. However, the house is far from small at 1,812sq ft/169sq m.

Immediately adjacent to the office you’ll find the 18th century wooden front door. This opens to reveal a homely country-style kitchen (Aga-aficionados will be happy) and dining room, which forms the heart of the house.

To one side of this is the main living room, which is a light, airy space which has an immense amount of character thanks to its high ceiling and sash windows. A cosy wood-burning stove offers extra snugness in colder months.

Adjacent to this room is a double bedroom and a bathroom, plus a second bedroom that’s accessed via a small stair. This tucked-away single room comes with its own “living room” beneath — the ideal teenage set-up.

The final — master — bedroom can be found completely at the other end of the house, and this comes with its own wet room bathroom. Seen as somewhat a separate segment of the house, the master suite is accessed via what is probably the best bit of the house — the “folly”.

Used by Anna as a second sitting room or snug, this characterful hexagonal building has a high ceiling, sash windows and an abundance of decorative plasterwork, thanks to Fawley Court’s original master carvers. Today a wood-burning stove for the winter and French doors to the garden for the summer mean it’s a great place to curl up with a book.

“There is something eccentric about an English folly,” says Anna. “It’s one of the reasons I chose the property in the first place. People who want to go slightly against the grain love a folly because it is so different.

“As the folly was Grade II-listed, I couldn’t do any large-scale structural alterations to White Cottage. But with the help of my late mother [interior designer Audrey] we decorated it in a country-modern style which works well with the rest of the house.”

The plasterwork ‘trophy panels’ of the folly were created by Christopher Wren’s pupil Grinling Gibbons.

“Gibbons invented the trophy panel,” says Anna. “It’s essentially a free-standing carved tableau somewhere between a painting and a sculpture, with trademark garlands of daisy flowers.”

Talking of daisies, Anna’s daughter says it’s the outside which she’ll remember most about her time growing up here — especially the swing from the large oak tree.

“The views of the estate are also magnificent,” adds Anna, who says this is made even more special by the knowledge that the grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown.

She notes that there are some “outstanding mature trees” in the grounds, including a laburnum she particularly loves.

The majority of the White Cottage garden is made up of lawn, although there is also a sizeable deck terrace which, along with the folly’s French doors, can be accessed from the kitchen as well as from the side of the house.

In total, you get a third of an acre of garden here, and the lawn could be utilised further if you moved/removed the flowerbeds, which essentially cut it in half. Doing this would also mean you’d see more of the pretty, rural views beyond.

White Cottage is one of a small sprinkling of private houses situated to the north of Fawley Court, and all of them are hidden down a private lane.

“This is a very sheltered position,” says negotiator Victoria Knight from Savills, which is marketing the property. “Despite the garden centre next door and your close proximity to Henley, you really wouldn’t know this house was here.”

Anna agrees, saying: “White Cottage is like a best-kept secret. When I had friends to stay from London, they couldn’t believe that you turned the corner from the garden centre — which looks like a dead end — and there was this perfect little lane with a hidden gem of a cottage.”

She adds: “I won’t ever forget the stillness of the cottage and that view from the folly up across the landscaped parkland to the hills of Fawley in the distance.”

Much like the story of her great uncle and Olga Ivinskaya, White Cottage will always have a place in her heart.

White Cottage, Fawley Court, Henley. Guide price: £1,275,000. For more information call the Henley office of Savills on (01491) 843000.


Bedrooms: three/four

Bathrooms: two

Reception rooms: three

Other: separate office with WC, utility room, garage, drive parking for two cars with more parking on the lane outside, pretty garden

Style: Christopher Wren-styled folly with later additions

Land: 0.3 acres

House: 1,812sq ft/169sq m

Guide price: £1,275,000

Agency: Savills on (01491) 843000

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