Look inside this art inspired home
PUBLISHED: 13:23 29 July 2020 | UPDATED: 13:35 29 July 2020
Photography credit: � Jonathan Gooch
Inspired by an art gallery yet designed to accommodate music, Little Burn in Sway is a rare find in the New Forest
“You have to do it once in a lifetime.” David Pratley chuckles. “But I don’t think I’d recommend doing it more than once!”
David is referring to building his home, a modern structure in two parts with the original build in red brick and the later addition clad in aged cedar – designed by architect David Wild who taught at the Architectural Association and influenced a generation of modernist architects. It is an unexpected find in the New Forest village of Sway. But this is a house with an unusual story.
It is also a story in two parts. The first half is about David’s late wife, Linda Fredericks, artist, teacher and founder of ArtSway. In brief Linda, with her first husband and three daughters, swapped London for the New Forest decades ago. She became head of art at Arnewood School, New Milton, and Five, Little Burn, built in the 1970s in the grounds of an Edwardian country house, was her home.
Linda leased old stables locally as a studio and, following divorce and after taking early retirement, she founded the acclaimed contemporary art gallery ArtSway (now SPUD), engaging the modernist architect Tony Fretton to refashion the stables into an exceptional gallery space which attracted national attention. Architect David Wild was one of those sent to review Tony Fretton’s work for the Architectural Review. Impressed by Linda’s achievement he offered to design something for her – which led to him drawing up plans for a property in Linda’s garden.
The second half of the story is David Pratley’s. Working as an arts management consultant, David met Linda in 2006. He was widowed and Linda long divorced and as they got on well, they decided to make a home together with David moving from London to Linda’s home. However, as Linda’s house was quite small, they needed to extend. She already had David Wild’s excellent plans which the architect revised as a property adjoining Linda’s home, and the process of building the present house began.
David explains: “So our house is half red brick, that’s the old house dating from the 1970s, and then the cedar clad building next door, the extension, is the new house that we completed in 2010. When we were undertaking the building work we took the opportunity to go right the way through the old house – new services, new plasterwork and new engineered oak flooring, which unites the two buildings. So it is as though it is one house, but there are two and they are dated 40 years apart.
“We took on builders, highly recommended, who went bust within two weeks of beginning the project. We had a wonderful foreman called Tony and I remember him coming up to us and saying, ‘I shouldn’t be telling you this, but you may see equipment disappear off site. I think the firm is going into administration. But, if you would like to employ us directly, we’d love to continue working on the project’. So, they did. Linda took over as project manager with daughter Sadie as interior designer. They ran the whole scheme. They were here every day and I’ve got photos of the house every day it was being built.
“It looks well. It looks handsome. But it is a TARDIS. You have no idea of the space inside by looking at the outside. You’ve got to get in the house to really understand its scale.
“We had to do very little structurally to the old house, but we reconfigured that space so I got a much bigger kitchen. What we wanted from the new house was a studio for Linda - now the dining room. I wanted a den - now the study. Most particularly I wanted a big room in which I could house a concert grand piano because I had become a pianist in my retirement. So that accounts for the big A-frame room upstairs. It was to be a room for entertaining and for evenings, but also a music room for me.”
The result is a house that is a very personal project, inspired by an art gallery and designed to accommodate music. Features include that light-filled living-music room with its pitched double-height ceiling and a mezanine conservatory opening onto a secluded dining area. There’s also a study in blue with linear window, likened by David to the window on a liner. This detail was inspired by an episode of Poirot where David spotted a clever “slit of a window” that allowed a bookcase to be positioned above as well as below the window. The choice of decorating in vivid blue was taken from an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
“It was a special exhibition, I think of Gainsboroughs, and so they painted the gallery afresh and it was this blue. I thought that is stunning! I wondered if I could get away with it as it’s a small room, but there’s so much by way of books and things, I think you can live with it.”
The house still succeeds in combining old and new, including Scandi ‘60s designer furniture, Ikea storage units and grandfather clock.
“Linda wanted it to be modern and so in the process I had to dispose of most of my furniture. I’d had two Georgian houses – so you can imagine the furniture – that went to the daughters and we mostly started again with very simple, plain pieces.”
For David, it is the memories that are particularly treasured.
“I will always look back on the house as the place where the grandchildren grew up in holiday time. We had a beach hut at Hordle Cliff and we used to spend days and days down on the beach. It was a busy house filled with happiness; we always had friends round, and I was the cook.
“Linda was the gardener. She was a plantsman and the garden is a real treasure. We had a lovely district nurse who used to visit and I remember her coming into the front garden about this time of year and saying, ‘It feels like I’m coming to France every time’. I can’t think what it was that it reminded her of, but it was not Sway, Hampshire.”
In a nutshell
Favourite room: “The music room. I’ve never had a room which is that big and that light. Top lit, side lit, and you just sit there playing the piano and it is as though you’re in heaven! I feel completely lifted up.”
Best purchase: “The Steinway piano. When I started relearning the piano I took part in a masterclass and played a Steinway concert grand piano. It was a completely new experience - as though there was a cloud of sound somewhere above the instrument! I said to my music teacher that it was amazing, and she replied, ‘why don’t you buy one?’ I said, but they cost a fortune! She said, ‘We don’t buy new, we buy pre-loved’. So there began a year of going around the country finding pre-loved Steinways.”
Couldn’t live without: “My bed. I was sent to work in Chester and we were staying in a new hotel. I came downstairs in the morning and said to my colleagues that was the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had! Will you excuse me, I just need to strip the bed and find out what make it is. And that is what I ordered!”
Favourite store: “Much of the storage is Ikea. Linda said we haven’t a fortune to spend; choose a few things that really matter and we’ll spend money on those. The rest we should do as cheaply as we can. It worked out brilliantly.”
A tip: “Choose any of the following. Don’t imagine you can rebuild while living in the property. We rented somewhere for nine months and thank God we did! Always make sure you’ve got 10% more than you think it is going to cost. Never be thrown by events such as your builders going bust as there’s always a way through. Look after your neighbours. Our neighbours were fabulous. It didn’t matter if we needed the road sealed off because something was arriving on an articulated lorry, they worked round it.”
Little Burn is on the market for the recent price of £595,000 with The Modern House