Visiting a stunning house in Hale
PUBLISHED: 10:22 19 October 2015 | UPDATED: 10:22 19 October 2015
(c) Chris Cooper
Visiting an unfamiliar corner of Hampshire, Emma Caulton is tempted by a life of solitude in a woodland wilderness
Just when you think you know Hampshire you discover somewhere new. In this instance Hale - in one of the county’s furthest corners where the New Forest abuts Wiltshire. It is delightful. A quiet lane opens onto a picturesque green fringed by a row of thatched cottages and a Victorian building housing the village primary school.
I am here in search of a house. The directions take me down a narrow bridleway, a long way down. In fact the house is right at the end, where the track drops into woodland before turning to reveal a lawned glade overlooked by what could be described as the contemporary equivalent of a Hansel and Gretel house, clad in Douglas fir, sitting in dappled sunshine. Enchanting.
Before I have parked I am met by owner Ann Cox and her inquisitive dogs, Bella and Rosie. “I could hear you coming,” Ann smiles. With nothing else except birdsong to interrupt the stillness, I expect she could.
Ann and her husband, David, bought the house eight years ago for them and their four teenage children. Unsurprisingly, it was the location that appealed: “We bought it for the setting, but there was loads to do.”
The grounds were overgrown and the house had been divided into two flats. It all needed work. Lots of work.
“We did absolutely everything: replumbing and rewiring, we moved walls and knocked walls down. This was lots of little rooms. It was all rejigged,” Ann indicates to the airy, light-filled, open-plan living spaces on the ground floor. Rooms flow into each other. The central dining hall opens onto the spacious kitchen/breakfast room on one side and the sitting room on the other. In turn the sitting room opens onto a new, south and west facing orangery overlooking the gardens.
They also installed underfloor heating throughout the ground floor and converted the integral garage into an inner hall with cloakroom and a ‘snug’ (or television room) as Ann considers it important to have private spaces within an open plan design. This renovation work uncovered a well under the floor of the hallway which they have had opened, lit and topped with glass as an unusual and distinctive feature.
Throughout the house Ann and David have juxtaposed old pieces of furniture against white walls and charcoal grey stone floor, achieving a seemingly effortlessly stylish look. In the dining room is a lovely old polished oak table and in the sitting room there is a distressed leather Chesterfield and a Victorian corner cupboard, while in the orangery comfortable rattan loungers are mixed with a church pew and an industrial-style low wooden coffee table on wheels. In the kitchen a glossy white handle-less kitchen appears to float in the space and contrasts with a rustic pine kitchen table, traditional woodburning stove and another attractively battered deep leather sofa.
Fun and quirky elements include a heron ‘mobile’ bought in Portugal that hangs from a massive oak beam in the kitchen area and a faux deer’s head up on the wall – a light-hearted nod to the Forest environment.
The house can be opened up to the garden with doors from the kitchen/breakfast room opening onto both the south-facing terrace that runs across the front of the house and, a fairly new addition, a south-facing veranda which wraps around the house to the east, so you can sit outside and breakfast in the morning sun. At the back of the kitchen, a utility room and boot room have been practical additions, and useful for containing the clutter of everyday life.
An oak and glass staircase heads upstairs where the master bedroom suite is as chic as one in a boutique hotel. A contemporary four poster bed takes centre stage against a richly coloured wall hanging while the bedroom is open to the en suite bathroom which has a luxurious oval-shaped freestanding bath tub in front of a Juliet balcony, big walk-in shower with rainfall showerhead, an old linen cupboard and a colourful Charleston-esque screen (if privacy is required). There are four more bedrooms, including a guest bedroom suite, and a family bathroom
However Ann’s favourite room is not the indulgent master bedroom, but the orangery: “I think it makes the house. You’ve got the views and it is practical for the dogs.” The room is used all year round: “In winter it is lovely in here with the underfloor heating and woodburning stove and it captures any sun there is.”
Doors from the orangery open onto a sunny terrace where the family often enjoy a barbecue. It certainly is a lovely location for al fresco entertaining with views across the naturally landscaped gardens.
The house is surrounded by gardens – altogether an astonishing 16 acres of mixed woodland.
“Everything you see is ours,” says Ann. “You can ride straight on to the Drove from here.”
When they arrived the woodland was dense and overgrown and in desperate need of management. “There were huge Douglas firs and it was thick with wild rhododendrons. The Forestry Commission came and gave us their opinion and advice. They were really helpful, assisting us with grants to help us clear trees and rhododendrons.”
Now grassed paths curve off invitingly in all directions from a central lawned area, disappearing among the birch, beech and buddleias, and butterflies flit through the air. It is a wonderful place for children to build dens and play make believe. There is apparently a dishevelled treehouse in one corner. Ann recalls their teenagers enjoying numerous parties with no neighbours to disturb.
“You could have a jazz band here and no one would complain.”
Having moved from London, Ann explains how much she enjoys the wildlife.
“I love deer - I’ve even seen a white hart [of legend and countless pubs] in the grounds. I don’t see deer as pests, but as wildlife to be enjoyed. Anyway, you can plant shrubs and flowers they don’t eat such as box, hydrangeas and lavenders.”
Charming and useful outbuildings include a weatherboarded barn which has been converted into a home office and old stables which provide storage and workshop space and an extra outdoor ‘room’ which has been used as a retreat from the main house by Ann and David’s children and their friends.
But with their children having all moved on it is time to “downsize life” as Ann puts it. So all this could be someone else’s - either as a family home (“it’s good for children and there is a sweet little village school”) or the perfect away-from-it-all holiday pad in your very own woodland paradise.
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