PUBLISHED: 10:34 16 September 2007 | UPDATED: 14:51 20 February 2013
Actor Colin Firth would be surprised to see the transformation of his grandparents' 19th century cottage in West Wellow, close to Romsey...
Steplake Cottage was a small house in extensive grounds when Dawn and Rory Heatley fell in love with it six years ago.Now, following two major transformations, it is a five-bedroom family home and it is very difficult to tell where the 19th century building ends and the 21st century extensions begin.
That's because Dawn and Rory seem to have total empathy with this beautiful setting and the integrity of the property they bought from the grandparents of actor Colin Firth. "We were told when we bought the house that it was built in around the 1880s and was originally a two-up, two-down cottage," says Dawn. "We were living in Buckinghamshire and had been on holiday to Burley and loved the area."It was in fact the only house we were sent by the agents and what I liked about it was the box hedge leading to the front door.
It had a symmetrical, traditional look. "We discovered that the vendors, who had been living here since the 60s, were Colin Firth's grandparents, and they had been missionaries. "Last summer I was in the garden and heard someone say 'Hello' and it was Colin's mum and dad and sister. They had been visiting the New Forest and decided and see what had happened to the cottage. Colin's sister said she remembered playing in the orchard."
Although Dawn and Rory, a mechanical engineer, have made many changes, when you catch your first glimpse of Steplake Cottage you see a traditional New Forest home. Even the original front door has been retained, with its charming porch, to maintain the integrity of the whole, although in fact it now does not lead into the house.
Private and quiet with quite stunning views, the property is actually situated between the A36 and A27, close to the village of Sherfield English, with excellent road links to Romsey, Salisbury, Southampton and Winchester .
"Looking back, it might have been easier to have knocked the cottage down and started again!" says Dawn. "We were very pleased with the work which the architects Guion and Brown did on the first extension and the second extension, which Graham Ash architects did for us in 2005, added a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom, which again helped the house to flow really nicely.
"I wanted to combine classic with contemporary," she adds. "You need contemporary to make your life work."
The couple transformed the former sitting room into a spacious and attractive kitchen, adding a sun room with French doors onto a terrace. They look out onto an immaculate and charming combination of formal and traditional English country garden, with plenty of places to sit and enjoy this lovely setting.
The kitchen is now the natural place where guests and family congregate. Custom-made by Southampton-based Flambards, it includes a range cooker in the fireplace, a microwave in the island unit and granite tops from nearby Landford Stone.
Dawn is a self-confessed bargain-hunter and much of the furniture in the house has been sourced and decorated by her. The kitchen table was originally a four-seater and has been extended by Rory.
She works part-time for Laura Ashley and an oak display cabinet from there fits beautifully in the kitchen. The patterned kitchen window blind is another Laura Ashley item.
"People are going back to colour and pattern, they are getting fed up with cream walls," she says. "I like wallpaper and it has really come back into fashion now."
Dawn sourced the oak floor in the kitchen and sun room from John Lewis, a store where she has also bought several items of furniture, appreciating the company's quality and reliability.
The nearby spacious utility room contains similar custom-built units to the kitchen, while the large reception hall has an elegant floor which appears to be stone but is in fact ceramic tiles.
The attractive sitting room, with Sanderson wallpaper and Laura Ashley curtains, has comfortable family furniture, re-covered in Laura Ashley fabrics and a Laura Ashley rug.
Like the formal dining room, which contains Ducal furniture from John Lewis, it has a fireplace sourced from a reclamation yard which has been stripped and restored by Rory.
The elegant drawing room is very light and airy with triple-aspect windows and breathtaking views across the orchard.
Says Dawn, "When we did the first extension there were no windows looking out on the orchard and I wanted window seats. I love this room."
The simple granite fireplace, from West Country Fires in Southampton, and the combination of John Lewis and Laura Ashley, tone well with the view outside the windows and make it a restful and very calm place.
There are French doors to another terrace.
Downstairs there is also another excellent feature to this adaptable home.
The guest bedroom, which has dramatic Nina Campbell wallpaper as a feature by the bed-head, boasts its own en-suite with walk-in shower and tiles from Porcelanosa in Southampton.
Dawn and Rory installed a new staircase to lead to the first floor, where the master bedroom looks out over the garden. Here again, there is an excellent combination of furniture and furnishings from Laura Ashley and John Lewis. Leading from the bedroom is a dressing room and then a very large ensuite with a huge bath and walk-in shower.
Another bedroom is used as a study by Rory, for his computer - and it is also where he plays his guitars!
Seventeen-year-old daughter Aimee's room boasts Laura Ashley print curtains with toning paint from the same company on a feature wall and she has the use of the double-aspect family bathroom, with views of the orchard, next door because sister Emma (15) has her own ensuite in her room.
Apart from the delights of the interior, the 1.5 acres of grounds are a gardener's, horse-owner's or family's dream, with not just the immediate garden but also a large orchard/paddock.
"It was a cottage garden when we arrived," Dawn says. "There are daffodils and bluebells still from that time. We took everything else out except the box hedge and the fruit trees. Even in the winter the garden is nice because there are lots of evergreens and grasses.
"We love it here, but we want to go into the Forest. Our elder daughter is off to Brockenhurst College and although it is fantastic here it is time to move on. If we could pick up the house and move it we would, but we would also like another challenge!"
Steplake Cottage is available through Penyards with a guide price of £1.3m. For more information tel: 01962 860300.
Architects: Guion & Brown Ltd, Twyford, tel: 01962 717200 (first extension) ; Graham Ash Architects, Romsey, tel: 01794 518706 grahamasharchitects.co.uk (second extension).
Kitchen: Flambards Kitchens and Joinery, Braishfield, tel: 02380 321918.www.flambards.com.
Granite worktops: Landford Stone, Landford, Salisbury, tel: 01794 324232, www.landfordstone.co.uk.
Furniture and some floor coverings: John Lewis, West Quay, Southanpton, 023 8021 6400, www.johnlewis.com.
Furniture, furnishings and some wall-coverings: Laura Ashley, (Southampton 02380 682720, Winchester 0871 223 1431), www.lauraashley.com.
Other carpets: Crusader Carpets Landford, Salisbury, tel: 01794 323904.
West Country Fires, Southampton, tel: Tel: 02380 333 818 , www.westcountryfires.co.uk.
Porcelanosa, Southampton, tel: 0870 8110 500,