Tuesday, 28 September 2021

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OSSICLES, so named for the smallest bones in the human body, the ear bones, is tucked away on a forested

OSSICLES, so named for the smallest bones in the human body, the ear bones, is tucked away on a forested hillside near to Stoke Row.

Its previous incarnation was built — and christened — by a London doctor with love of history and a sense of humour.

Originally the site of an ancient thatched cottage, occupied by local farmer Mr Smallbone, when this abode burned down and the ruins were bought, and remodelled, in the Sixties by the good doctor, he paid tribute to the former owner by naming it after him.

“The term ‘ossicle’ literally means “small bones in the ear”,” said current owner David Gray, who bought the doctor’s house five years ago with a view to knocking it down and creating a new vision of Ossicles.

“The house had had its day,” said Mr Gray. “But it was the setting we fell in love with — it’s like you are in your own private forest, yet you never feel isolated. Walk 10 minutes and you’ll find three pub restaurants, plus it’s only 15 minutes to Henley or 25 to Reading by car. It’s a perfect mix of quiet if you want it, but noise if you don’t.”

Along with wife Antoinette, and the couple’s three sons, they hired a team of architects to work with them, rethinking the house from scratch.

“We have travelled a lot through business and holidays, and were really inspired by houses in the Far East and, especially, the US. We loved the idea of double-height rooms like you find in California.”

Today’s Ossicles is the ideal home for anyone who loves the countryside, but cannot live without modern luxuries. Built on three levels, the house breaks from tradition with open-plan living throughout.

Approached through electric gates with a gravel driveway sweeping up to the front of the property, the house is surrounded by more than half an acre of garden, which literally wraps around the house.

“We did a lot of work on the garden to make it like an extension of the house,” said Mr Gray. “Inside is brought outside and vice versa. It’s inside-out living.”

The Grays also focused on planting the boundary areas to increase privacy.

Mr Gray said: “The hedges are semi-mature at the moment. I liked seeing how they changed and grew every year.”

To mirror the outside further, the house was built with lots of natural materials in mind.

“Most of the house has either got marble flooring or wood,” said Mr Gray. “We wanted to use natural materials but still make sure it was built to a modern specification.”

A combination of three different systems — solar panels, air-source pumps [which use the outside ambient temperature as a starting point, so you only need to heat the difference in temperature] and an immersion heater — means you can get what you want for heating and hot water, whatever the season.

On entering the house at the large front door, you are first struck by the vaulted lobby from where you can see key aspects of the property, and glass walls which cleverly define the principal areas of the house.

The kitchen and dining room have both style and practicality, with walls of lacquered cabinetry and appliances, which are housed within a central island. A limestone terrace also runs the length of the dining and reception area which has a wall of glass doors which open completely.

Back inside the dining room, a marble staircase leads to a double-height cantilevered mezzanine drawing room, which has a balcony that runs along the length of the house. From here you can, once again, take in a view of the glorious garden with woodland beyond.

“This is my wife’s favourite spot,” said Mr Gray. “You get great views over the trees and with the balcony it’s so peaceful and relaxing.”

From the drawing room, a glass walkway gives access to the study.

“For me, this is the best room in the place,” said Mr Gray. “The study is always peaceful so I can get on and work. Plus I like the idea of the walkway being the only way in or out.”

Careful thought has gone into the interior schemes of these living spaces, and each room has been granted its own identity and style.

“I can only see symmetry,” said Mr Gray. “However, my wife has the ability to blend artwork, which we’ve collected on our travels overseas, and furnishings with the modern architecture.”

Like the drawing room, the master bedroom suite is also located on the upper level. Reached via a corridor that houses bespoke built-in wardrobes, the bedroom has a vaulted ceiling and private balcony as well as an ensuite bathroom.

The remaining bedrooms can all be found down on the ground floor, with two guest suites and two further bedrooms which are served by a family bathroom. Each of these bedrooms has a sliding glass wall that gives access to the garden, in all its natural splendour. As with the house, the Grays enrolled specialists to help with the design of this. “It was their idea to add the David Harber installation to the garden,” said Mr Gray. Those who have heard of David Harber know him from the Chelsea Flower Show, for his sculptures, sundials and water features.

There is plenty of discreet external lighting which means the outdoor areas can be used deep into the evening in milder months. There is even an integrated wireless sound system which plays externally — perfect for outdoor dinner parties and summer barbecues.

The Grays say they have more than made use of the house in this way, during their time here.

“For a couple, or for a family who love entertaining, the house is spot on,” said Mr Gray. “We’ve had so many get-togethers and everyone loves the terrace area with the overhanging roof. We must have had about 100 people here once, but it never felt squashed as there are so many areas to put them!”

Ossicles is on the market with Hamptons International at a guide price of £2,750,000. Call the Henley office on (01491) 572215.

By LUCY BOON, Standard property correspondent

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