Emma Caulton visits the home of Mr and Mrs Baird in the glorious Meon Valley
PUBLISHED: 11:14 26 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:14 26 March 2014
After receiving an offer they couldn't refuse, Mayhill Farm's owners didn't expect to be downsizing again…Emma Caulton visits their home in the glorious Meon Valley, just far enough away from the madding crowd
“Isn’t this madness?” declares Jan Baird. Well, yes, maybe it is. Only three years ago Jan and her husband, Ceanan, downsized to Mayhill Farm, a quintessentially old Hampshire farmhouse slumbering down a single track lane in the gentle folds of the Meon valley.
They redecorated throughout and introduced some interesting features, like installing a super new electric Aga in the kitchen/breakfast room and opening up the inglenook fireplace in the sitting room and having a woodburning stove fitted. In short they did all those sorts of things that they had wanted to do with the intention of staying there forever.
“Then a dear friend phoned us up out of the blue and asked if we would like to buy their property: a perfect little 16th century three-up, three-down cottage with 55 acres of land which is what we had always wanted as Ceanan has a light aircraft and he had always dreamed of landing it outside the kitchen window,” explains Jan.
So they are downsizing all over again. To me it does seem a little crazy. Maybe downsizing, getting rid of the extraneous detritus accumulated through the years, honing in on the few essentials that matter, is cathartic. And maybe, after you’ve done it once, downsizing becomes easier. But leaving Mayhill Farm when they’ve made it such a comfortable home? I am a little non-plussed. Surely this is perfection?
Charm and character are words that are often overused when describing a period house, however Mayhill Farm does charm and character in abundance, as well as cosiness, quirkiness, and chic-ness.
In current interior designer parlance Mayhill Farm is decorated in a modern farmhouse style; perhaps that is because Jan used to be in the interior design business, and it shows. The colour schemes throughout the house are those lovely natural Farrow & Ball neutrals - creams, greys and stones - that create a sense of airiness, light and calm, harmonising with the wide views over gardens, woodland and fields rolling to the horizon on every side.
“Everywhere you sit in the house there’s a view. A lot of people would love a view like that!” exclaims Jan, pointing to an eiderdown of patchwork fields smouldering gold in the setting sun beyond the sitting room window.
Originally built in the 17th century, over the years this colour-washed and weatherboarded Hampshire farmhouse has been very sympathetically built on. It may be a few hundred years old, but Mayhill Farm is surprisingly well adapted to the demands of 21st century country life, comprising a series of flexible living spaces.
The entrance hall with stone floor and exposed beams has a faux library door at the end which leads to a good-sized boot room and cloakroom (“Who would have thought the pair of us could accumulate so many coats?” smiles Jan) and French windows at the side opening onto a courtyard garden room with vine-covered loggia sheltered by a high clipped yew hedge. Jan and Ceanan hold lunch parties here: “You would think it was the south of France in summer.”
There’s an open-plan kitchen/breakfast room which features a cosy sitting area, a quirky part-vaulted ceiling above the kitchen area (which provides wall space for big, dramatic oils of Highland glens painted by Jan and Ceanan’s artist son, Hamish) while the breakfast table is perfectly positioned in a garden room with views on all sides. There’s even a cellar, so dry it’s carpeted, that is used as a utility room where Jan cleans her tack in comfort.
The formal dining room and spacious drawing room with wide inglenook fireplace open off an inner hall, which is home to a hidden bar, complete with sink, that’s perfect for mixing and pouring when entertaining, avoiding the need to traipse to and from the kitchen. I do like these civilised comforts.
A further door leads through to another series of rooms. There’s the sitting room, which Jan refers to as the snug (because it is) with woodburning stove and plumped-up cushioned window seat which Jan had built into the bay to make the most of the views. There’s also a good-sized study, with room for big his and hers desks facing each other. Along with a tucked-away shower room, these rooms could be easily annexed for an elderly relative; or a son or daughter returning from university. Although there’s more than enough room up the stairs which rise alongside the knobbly uneven painted brickwork of the old chimney to a landing with exposed beams and a delicate pale blue French toile de joie wallpaper.
Up here is a generous upper landing, four well-proportioned bedrooms including master bedroom suite (window seat in the bay in the bedroom and freestanding bath tub on claw feet in the bathroom) and guest suite with stylish shower room. There are two more bedrooms (one with a dressing room off it, which could be converted into yet another bathroom), family bathroom, masses of storage space and lots of lovely details such as beams, bays and sloping eaves.
Mayhill Farm’s appealing quirkiness continues outside. The house has not one, but two driveways. The front drive leads to the paddock and stables and the back drive leads to the garages. The gardens and grounds encircle the property and approach two acres including a small orchard and a formal garden full of lovely smelly plants like viburnums, philadelphus, phlox and roses (Jan is a keen gardener and reels off their names with pleasure). A couple of quaint old outbuildings add even more character and provide useful service as a garden shed and woodstore.
Listen and you can only hear bird song. The single track lane that runs past on the other side of the hornbeam hedge is more used by dog walkers and horse riders than cars. “You often hear the clip-clop of hooves,” Jan muses.
In one direction is Droxford, described by Jan as: “A lovely old Hampshire village with an excellent pub.” Turn right out of either drive and you will reach Swanmore, with a good butcher, village store and post office, and you’re just five minutes from Bishop’s Waltham’s coffee shops and boutiques. Yet Mayhill Farm is settled into a lovely stillness, an away-from-it-allness.
Jan reflects: “We bought the house as we wanted to downsize, but Mayhill Farm isn’t as downsized as we realise we wanted. All these rooms are lovely, but we don’t use all the space.”
I can understand, but it still feels a little crazy. Could you give this up? I’m not sure I could.
Mayhill Farm is on the market for £1,550,000 with Knight Frank, Winchester, 01962 850333.
Hamish Baird’s Snowdonia Project artworks can be viewed at www.hamishbaird.com