Saturday, 25 September 2021

Property with a hint of romance

To celebrate February 14, Standard Property Correspondent Lucy Boon found three homes that famous literary lovers might have chosen for their happily-ever-afters. These properties are bound to melt your hearts, too.

The perfect place for Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy

IT IS a truth universally acknowledged... that a Georgian mill house with trailing wisteria is the recipe for Jane Austen-inspired romance.

Standing in the heart of Pangbourne, The Mill House, which dates from the early
1700s, is one of the town’s “secret” period houses, so called because it sits on a forested island, which has no
passing traffic.

Owner Kate Shirley-Quirk, who has lived at the house for the past 19 years, said: “You really would not know the house was there unless you were visiting. The River Pang divides into the main stream and the mill race, and we’re sitting in the middle of it.”

Kate raised her two children at The Mill House, which is also home to husband José.

"We bought the house from the Stone family, whose ancestors were the original millers. They’d lived here since
the 1860s and we loved the family connection and the history – it was part of the appeal of the house.”

There were originally three mills in the area, with this being one of them, and the actual mill workings are housed in the building next door which is owned by Thames Water.

“The house needed complete renovation when we first moved in – heating, plumbing, damp proofing, you name it, we did
it,” continued Kate. The result is a beautiful family home with modern conveniences, in keeping with its past.

Constructed of red clay brick under a clay tiled roof, the front - where the bridge accesses the property – faces south and has a lovely vegetable garden. To the side and rear of the house, the rest of the garden rolls out over the river, and is enclosed by numerous mature trees and shaped yew hedges, which give complete privacy from the other riverbanks.

“The garden is one of my favourite parts of the house,” said Kate. “We love to sit on the terrace by the greenhouse building and entertain in the summer. With the roses and other trailing plants, it’s quite a romantic setting.”

Inside, the house is teeming with character features that would be right at home in any period drama, including large sash windows, ornate plasterwork mouldings, wooden floors, and high ceilings. From the centrally positioned hall, which has polished oak flooring and half-panelled walls, you gain access to the study on one side, and the sitting room (which has a large bay window, giving views of the River Pang) on the other.

Alternatively, you can simply walk straight ahead to the heart of the house – the kitchen/conservatory, and the living room/dining room with its old oak beams and fine open fireplace which has a stone surround and hearth. “I love the outside, but inside this is a wonderful room,” said Kate. “We spend most of our time in here.”

The other place she also finds herself a lot is the kitchen – as you would with a family – which has a polished oak floor and is bright and comfortable all year round. “We have a gas-fired two-oven Aga, so it’s always cosy,” said Kate.

Apart from a utility room with a stable door to the garden, the kitchen also has French doors to a pretty modern conservatory, which has a flagstone floor and gives access to a herb garden and paved terrace which leads round to the gravelled area before the garage – which has the potential for converting into a home office.

Back inside, up the large original staircase, are two more floors, providing five decent sized bedrooms and two bathrooms. The bedrooms all have pretty views across the Pangbourne rooftops and the large, traditional windows let light flood in.

The potential continues here with two store rooms – one on each floor – being the natural choices for converting to two more bathrooms as ensuites.

“The drainage connection is even easily to hand for both, if you wanted to do this,” said Kate.

So who would be a good choice to take on the next stage of The Mill House’s unfolding story? “It would be great for a family,” said Kate. “It’s a good size so there’s plenty of room, and as the kids are growing up it gives them space for themselves. One of my children ended up having the entire top floor to themselves!”

The other great thing about The Mill House is that, despite it being a secluded oasis, it is right in the heart of the village, a stone’s throw from local shops and facilities, including doctor’s surgeries, a library and cafés.

“It was perfect for us when the children became teenagers and started wanting to go out without us,” adds Kate. “It meant we didn’t have to become a taxi service.

“It only takes two or three minutes to walk to the shops, or five minutes to the station [which has a direct link to Reading and London Paddington]. The station is close enough for convenience but not close enough to hear it.”

Playgroups and two primary schools are also walkable from the house.

Pangbourne is a selling point in its own right, being not only picturesque but also having a friendly, thriving community.

“It’s far enough away from Reading to have its own identity,” added Kate.

Which begs the question, why would you wish to leave such a perfect spot?

“We work near Oxford now, and we need to be closer – especially as the kids are growing up,” she said. It looks like The Mill House is on to its next chapter.

* The Mill House is for sale with Dudley Singleton & Daughter in Pangbourne, at a guide price of £1,365,000. For more information, call them on 0118 984 2662.

The perfect place for… Snow White and Prince Charming

Once upon a time, a beautiful princess drove over Henley bridge and kept going for about, ooh, not more than five minutes, when she came upon a pretty ancient village on the Thames. Here, she found the ideal place for her and Prince Charming to live happily ever after. The End.

Okay, so we’re kidding. That’s not the end by far, as there’s far too much to say about our next property, in Hurley, which like Henley is full of history, including its medieval former monastery and ancient hostelry Ye Olde Bell.

As if named by Snow White herself, Rosette Cottage is a beautifully presented, three bedroom cottage built in 1898, which has been extended and decorated to make it fit for a queen (not a wicked one, hopefully). The wow factor of the property has to be the large kitchen/ breakfast room extension at the back of the house, with bifold doors out onto a gorgeous, large south-facing garden.

“We moved the kitchen from the side to open up the back of the house and create one that overlooks the garden,” said owner Ani Driscoll, 34, who has lived at the property with her husband Ben, 35, and their two young children for the past five years.

“We wanted a big open kitchen with lots of storage and an area great for entertaining.”

The kitchen area has been tastefully done with beautiful features, including a large oak effect glass lantern roof and a slate floor, which is never cold underfoot thanks to under-floor heating. To cook there’s a large range oven, granite work surfaces and a large island topped with walnut end block. Despite all this, there is still plenty of room to put a dining table and chairs and a sofa.

“We made the extension into our dream kitchen,” said Ani, who spends a lot of time in this part of the house.

“With two little ones it makes things much easier as there is enough space for you to be getting on with things while keeping an eye on them.” In fact, space is one thing there is plenty of downstairs.

The largest room after the kitchen area is the beautiful sitting room immediately on your left as you enter the hallway of the house. It’s full of character features such as an attractive, curved bay window and exposed beams in the ceiling.

“We love the original sash windows and the fact they are double-glazed is another bonus,” said Ani.

“The fireplace has a traditional Victorian surround and when the stove is lit the room is super-cosy.”

The Driscolls were careful to preserve the exposed brickwork behind the fireplace and along with the extension, this is the bit they are most pleased with. “We love it,” continued Ani.

“At Christmas the lounge is the place to be. You’ve got the fire burning, stockings and sparkly lights, with the tree in the window. But in the summertime the kitchen is wonderful; sat on the sofa with the bi-fold doors open listening to the birds sing outside. It’s so peaceful.”

A dining room also lies off the hallway. This room also gives access to a study to the side of the house and a downstairs cloakroom, as well as to the impressive kitchen at the back, as we’ve already detailed.

“We kept the dining room where it was originally,” said Ani. “However, you could easily change things around and turn it into a family room or snug.”

Upstairs, there’s a family bathroom, with another interesting feature its original internal stained glass window, which looks out on to the landing.

“The house is full of character features like this,” adds Ani.

“There’s a coal bunker with its original bucket outside and we even have the original iron lock and front door key. I still use it!”

Opposite the bathroom is the attractive master bedroom – a room perhaps more fitting for Sleeping Beauty than Snow White, with lots of light, space, built-in wardrobes and the original, pretty cast iron fireplace.

Little princesses may prefer one of the other bedrooms, which also have their original fireplaces and look out over the garden. This is mainly laid to lawn and has a large stone patio, as well as a separate courtyard/entertaining area at the side of the house, sheltered by trees and shrubs.

If the Driscolls were to stay, they say they would have replaced the garden shed, at the back, with a home office as there is plenty of space to do this. “It would mean you could then use the study for something else – a TV or utility room, perhaps,” said Ani.

The other area with possibilities is the double garage at the front.

“We use it for storage,” said Ani, “as we always keep our car on the drive, which is big enough for three cars at least.” Which is good news if the seven dwarves come for a visit – presumably in a minivan!

And having gone ‘hi-ho, off to work we go’, they won’t have to traipse their dirty boots through the house, either, thanks to handy side access and a secure side gate.

The Driscolls say they would stay at Rosette Cottage if they could.

“We don’t really want to leave this idyllic cottage,” said Ani, “but we need more space for our growing family. We’ve got one more, big family move in us and we figured we’d do this now before the kids go to school.”

When they go, Ani and Ben hope to stay local. “Out of everything it’s the location that we love,” said Ani.

“Hurley is fantastic. From the house it’s a half mile walk to the local shop, farm, church and river, and it’s just beautiful walking around there. There’s even a cafe at the lock in the summer months to sit and watch the boats go by.”

All in all, this property is what dreams are made of.

* Rosette Cottage is on the market with Savills at a guide price of £750,000. Call (01491) 843001 for more information.

The perfect place for…Romeo and Juliet

For our next property, it’s not in fair Verona where we lay our scene, but the home of yours truly, the Henley Standard. With its bustling community, decent schools, train link to London and a certain yearly regatta, Henley’s hard to beat as a location to live. And like Shakespeare’s starcrossed lovers, once you see this spanking new stable conversion – aptly named The Old Stabling – you’ll be full of love. It’s even got its own Juliet balconies, from which to perhaps hear, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” from the garden below.

Owner Noel Bransdon, 43, bought the house two years ago with a view to reconfiguring the inside.

“The property was originally two stables which had been converted into a house, but it had had its day and needed a bit of an overhaul,” said Mr Bransdon.

He instructed his team of designers to set about reworking the house, bringing it bang up to date, while keeping the same, traditional style of the structure, which was already covered in white clapboard.

“We changed the wood for a higher-quality, thicker plank,” said Mr Bransdon. “We also wanted to increase the property size by building over the Seventies single storey extension.” And that’s exactly what they did – although it wasn’t without its ups and downs.

“We certainly had to be creative!” said Mr Bransdon. “The large copper beech in front of the house has a TPO [tree preservation order] so we had to call in a tree specialist. It’s such a beautiful tree, so this was very important to us, too. In the end we managed to solve what was quite a tricky problem – namely carrying out our refurbishment without compromising on the design, whilst also not damaging the tree.”

In fact, it’s the finished result of the new first-floor extension – which forms the master bedroom – which Mr Bransdon is most pleased with.

“When we managed to get planning permission to build on top of the existing ground-floor extension, that opened up a whole load of possibilities,” he said. “It meant we could incorporate a vaulted ceiling with upstairs views out on to the garden.”

This design is also what inspired the Juliet balconies. “We wanted to bring as much light into the upstairs as possible, so adding balconies with glass doors really made that possible. It meant we could create a wonderful spacious feeling under the constraints that we had. Plus it’s just lovely to be able to look down on to the garden terrace – should you spot your Romeo or not.”

On the front elevation of the building, the designers also uncovered an arch in the external wall which had been filled in. They were able to replace that with a specially cut window which straddles the two floors. “Now because of this, not only is more light let into the master bedroom, but also as you sit in the lounge you can see straight down the drive,” said Mr Bransdon. “It still gives me a lot of pleasure to walk up the drive and see that window.”

Along with the master, which has its own ensuite and walk-in dressing area, upstairs also has a family bathroom and two more bedrooms.

Downstairs there is loads of space with a family room for you to share, and a living room for you to get some privacy – and all of it with underfloor heating. These rooms also share a log-burner for extra cosiness on chilly days, plus there are three sets of double doors which open on to the garden terrace for summer entertaining.

Naturally, the terrace can also be accessed from the kitchen, which has marble work surfaces and Shaker-style units. “You won’t see any ultra-high gloss here,” said Mr Bransdon. “We tried to keep the décor modern, but with a nod to the traditional. I think we’ve given it a look which matches the style of the building.”

Interestingly enough, planning regulations meant that they weren’t allowed to add a wooden floor to this part of the house.

“They said it should ideally be tiled, so we went for porcelain tiles in a walnut-textured finish. It’s hard to tell the difference between them and real wood – it’s amazing,” said Mr Bransdon. Back outside, apart from the large lawn garden, which offers privacy thanks to a selection of mature trees and hedging, there is also a smaller, rear walled garden, which houses a separate store building.

There is also a single garage, attached to the house, which opens on to the gravel driveway. As you’d expect, this offers plenty of parking – gold dust in Henley, as anyone who lives here knows. The driveway is accessed from the Fair Mile through an electric five-bar gate.

Now with a massive 1,732 sq ft of modern delights wrapped up in a delicious slice of character, close to the town centre, The Old Stabling is a fine example of stylish, contemporary living at its best.

“It would probably suit a couple looking to downsize and professional couples who don’t want much upkeep,” said Mr Bransdon.

“Or maybe, thanks to the completely flat walk, even a pair of lovers who would like to get to the shops arm-in-arm!”

* The Old Stabling is on the market with Knight Frank at a guide price of £1,395,000. Call (01491) 844900 for more information.

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