Inside a beautiful hidden house just outside Winchester
PUBLISHED: 15:52 17 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:53 17 August 2017
Down a lane with legendary status lies a hidden house that looks much older than it is. Emma Caulton visits Landseer, which feels so rural yet lies on the edge of Hampshire's capital city
A leafy canopy towers over a steep lane edged by banks overgrown with greenery. Yet this heavily wooded road of rural charm is not in a remote corner of Hampshire’s countryside, but just a mile from Winchester city centre. This is Sleepers Hill, considered one of the best roads to live in the city (helped by its status as a private road, which has allowed residents to preserve its character) and said to take its name from a local legend that claims King Arthur and his knights sleep under the hill, to awaken at England’s hour of need.
Back in 1871 this was an area of open downland. Then a few grand Victorian houses were built along what was a no-through lane running uphill. After the lane was connected to Romsey Road more properties were built, and there are now 100 or so houses on Sleepers Hill and the closes, drives and tracks off it. Not that you’d know. Tucked away from curious passers-by is an architectural assortment of the classic and the contemporary, the conventional and the idiosyncratic, some with an on-trend mid-century aesthetic, others paying homage to the past.
One such is Landseer. There’s not a glimpse to be seen of the house from the road – hidden behind high hedges and reached along a private driveway and through electric gates opening onto an enclosed courtyard. This is a country manor house in the city and built in the Arts and Crafts style – red brick and tile hung with Lutyens-esque steep roofs, tall chimneys, dormers, gables and square bays. Design details include an arched window here and square turret there. However, despite its appearance and name (Landseer was not only the surname of the artist, but the middle name of architect Sir Edwin Lutyens), the house is not a period property, but was built just 25 years ago.
“It is only in the gardens that you fully appreciate the grandeur of the house,” says owner Sophie Allen, as we stand on the lawns surveying her magnificent home.
The family moved here six years ago. The location was the draw: “We moved to Winchester for schooling – our two young sons went to Pilgrims and my younger daughter went to Twyford. I was very specific; I wanted to live this side of Winchester to avoid the one-way system.
“The attraction was that it’s a real family home: wonderful for young children growing up, with a swimming pool and a garden you can play cricket in, yet you can still walk to town. From a teenager’s perspective that’s perfect as children want to roam free and Winchester is such a safe place to live.”
With five children – Sophie has two older, grown-up daughters – what they also needed was a house with space; Landseer has plenty. The house has been designed across three floors that make the most of the slope of the land and its elevated position. Two entrances open onto an impressive galleried reception hall with turning staircase and double height windows. Off this hall are the kitchen, dining room and drawing room. So far so traditional. However, these principal rooms – all leading onto each other, all south-facing, and all with views over the gardens to St Catherine’s Hill – are, in effect, above ground level. Below is a lower ground floor, built against the hillside, with two bedrooms and a sitting room with French windows onto the gardens. Above is the first floor proper with four bedrooms, full of character with sloping eaves and oak beams, including master bedroom suite which features a glamorous en suite bathroom – completely refurbished with huge walk-in shower, limestone tiling, his and her basins, double-ended tub and spacious cupboard disguised behind a spa-style door screen.
Reflecting on the layout, Sophie explains: “It’s a feature of many houses on Sleepers Hill. Most have sitting rooms on the ‘first’ floor so that you can look at the views. Others may think it is strange to have bedrooms downstairs, but the best views are from the first and second floors.”
And why not? Contemporary properties frequently play with the conventions of house design to accommodate modern lifestyles and expectations. With bedrooms both above and below, Landseer has provided the spacious, flexible accommodation the family needed. When they moved here, the younger children, then aged six, eight and ten, had bedrooms upstairs, while the rooms on the lower ground floor were used for guests. Fast forward a few years and the older two, now teenagers, have moved downstairs: “Downstairs is where the teenagers are; they like living downstairs.”
That’s unsurprising when the two generously sized bedrooms (one with arched window) not only share a sitting room, but each has a boutique shower room with glossy grey tiling – designed by Sophie along with her eldest daughter, who is an architect. This lower floor, which also includes a mini kitchen and cloakroom, could easily be a self-contained annexe if required.
It is, as Sophie suggests, the floor in the middle where the family gather. They can take in those views, perhaps seated at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, looking out of the wraparound window and across the treetops. The kitchen is where they spend the most time. It is much as it was when they moved here: a stylish mix of materials and colours, including light woods, granite worktop and oversized island unit, one side a striking chilli red. They have, however, installed a gleaming coal black AGA – “I come from an AGA family, and when you are an AGA family, you’re always an AGA family.”
The kitchen opens onto the dining room with solid oak floor, big, custom made dining table and doors onto a sunny curved balcony. “We’re a large family so we need a big dining space and massive table as there’s quite often 12.”
They opened up the fireplace, installing the woodburner from the adjacent drawing room – replacing that one with a much larger stove from Kingsworthy Foundry. The drawing room itself, a couple of steps up from the dining room, is both grand yet cosy with a patterned rug across the oak boards and deep sofas in shades of warm reds around the fireplace.
Adjacent to the drawing room is an office which doubles as music room for Sophie’s son – a chorister at the Cathedral who needs a designated space to practise. In turn this leads to a double-height, light-filled, galleried atrium connecting the house to a studio with kitchen and shower that extends over the double garage and double carport, and tends to be used as extra guest accommodation.
Round and about the house are the landscaped gardens, enjoying complete privacy and seclusion. Here, Sophie’s additions include a well-planted herb garden and a dining terrace with chiminea, an outdoor fireplace that was another purchase from Kingsworthy Foundry and also serves as a barbecue.
As we pause, Sophie herself marvels: “We’ve all this space and a house and garden not overlooked by anyone – yet we’re a mile from Winchester’s city centre.”
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