Inside a stunning South Downs home in the Meon Valley
PUBLISHED: 09:44 09 July 2019
Ian Burnett 2018 for Jackson Stops
High in the South Downs National Park is a house with a view (or four)
Deep in the lush Meon Valley, midway between Winchester and Petersfield, is picturesque Meonstoke. It is already off the usual beaten track.
But then I go further - crossing the River Meon where children paddle in the clear waters that run beside the village green. Past The Bucks Head - a proper country pub. Down the High Street - a quiet lane lined with 18th and early 19th century cottages, classically symmetrical houses and the occasional thatched barn.
Round the corner - where the lane divides leading to the village school judged 'outstanding' by Ofsted. Over the old railway line - now a footpath and cycle track running from West Meon to Wickham. And up onto the downs. This is lovely. Simply lovely.
I am on my way to Stokedown, a country house situated high on the South Downs with views on every side: over the Meon Valley in one direction; across the rooftops of Meonstoke village in another; meadows on the far side; magnificent Old Winchester Hill to the rear. Wherever you look are far-reaching vistas of downland and wide skies.
Stokedown has been home to Peter and Pat O'Sullivan for about 25 years. When they first saw the house it had little on their wish list except views.
Pat recalls: "I said I want to look at countryside. I want a view."
Peter agrees: "We could always change the house, but not the outlook."
And so they did. Stokedown is a pretty house that looks older than it is. The tile-hung upper floor and high chimneys suggest that it was built in the Arts & Crafts style, however it was actually constructed in 1962 for a doctor (one of the first female GPs in Southampton, explains Peter) and her two spinster sisters. Their intention had been to build three individual properties on the site, but when permission was refused, they built one house divided internally into three units.
This meant Stokedown comprised myriad small rooms. Peter says: "There were three little kitchens with three little Agas, three little sitting rooms, three little bedrooms and three little bathrooms, with a guest bedroom…altogether there were 27 internal doors each with a lock and key!"
The first thing the couple did, long before knocking down walls and open-plan living became en vogue, was rearrange the accommodation to create big rooms more suited to family life. These included a hub of a kitchen/breakfast room, a sun-filled sitting room and a large family room with dining area.
Pat continues: "We had teenagers when we moved in, so we created a family home with spaces for teenage children."
The next thing they did was to make the most of those views. They built a spacious west-facing conservatory off the family room that opens onto a dining terrace. They added a south-facing 'garden room' style extension to the sitting room, which leads onto another dining terrace, with a balcony over it, where Peter and Pat often breakfast.
Then they converted the attic space into a light-filled master bedroom suite with wet room and a mini kitchenette, plus windows on all four sides. Two of these windows (facing east and west) are Velux Cabrio rooflights which open up and drop down to form an instant glazed balcony with side railings. Here you can lean out, draw breath and enjoy a bird's-eye view of the surrounding landscape of meadow, hillside and valley. It is the perfect grown-up retreat.
Another addition has been a separate annexe in the style of a weatherboarded barn built in 2000 when they bought the field to the side of the house (another field at the back came with the house). A family friend is currently staying there, although Peter did use it as a home office: "I worked a lot from home and ran my own consultancy business for five years. You couldn't get a better location for an office; it was idyllic."
He reflects: "We have loved this house and developed it over a period of 24 years, improving on it without destroying its personality too much."
They have added character, including woodburning stoves in the sitting and family rooms and cupboards custom-built by a small Winchester-based company in the kitchen/breakfast room, while being careful to preserve what they call "memories" of Stokedown's previous life, such as an original Aga and parquet flooring.
Peter smiles: "We've designed the house to suit ourselves, combining practicality with creativity."
There are indeed delightfully eclectic decorative details, such as Chinese lanterns and a disco glitter ball hanging in the otherwise traditional conservatory. Overall, the couple have created a rather special family house that allows for both sociable interaction and quiet contemplative corners.
Pat says: "We've created lots of big spaces as we have a large family and do a lot of entertaining. We have had 20 for Sunday lunch and we held a party here for 40 people when our daughter was off on her travels. We just rolled the rugs up, as the ground floor has tiles or parquet flooring throughout, and people danced..."
They have fond memories; this is a welcoming home with masses of personality. Walls are adorned with a montage of vibrant artwork including abstracts and landscapes by artist friends and drawings of family. It is decorated in a style that is best described as maximalist - packed with pattern and lots of interest.
On the first floor are four bright bedrooms with features such as sloping eaves and views (of course). They include a guest bedroom suite, another with (aforementioned) sunny balcony, one where the grandchildren like to sleep and there's also a generous landing which makes a pleasant study area.
The house feels as though it is filled with long, warm summer days. This is partly due to an interior scheme that is all the colours of a hot flower border with sunflower yellow walls and deep sofas upholstered poppy red. This approach links the house to the surrounding gardens, helped by the big windows and doors leading outside to three terraces for entertaining and relaxing, formal cottage garden, orchard, vegetable garden, wild flower meadow and paddock. The grounds seem to go on and on. There are nearly three and a half acres. Children can enjoy the swings hanging from tree branches while grown-ups can relax in the dappled shade of the orchard.
Yet this idyllic, peaceful, rural setting is not isolated. Peter and Pat can stroll to the Buck's Head in the village or walk along the old railway line to the Baker's Arms in Droxford. Bishop's Waltham is a few minutes' drive away; ditto Petersfield - "Just go over the hill and down to East Meon and Langrish and you're almost there," explains Pat. She comments that they had not known this corner of Hampshire was here before their first visit to Stokedown, despite living in Swanmore, just four miles away. This area is a bit of a secret - although the Meon Valley was included in this April's listing of the Best Places to Live by The Sunday Times.
Pat says: "Stokedown's previous owner, the doctor, was 94 when she died, so everything we did to the house was with the expectation that we, too, would be here until we were 94…"
However, Peter and Pat are moving closer to family - but they're looking for another version of Stokedown.
At the time of writing, Stokedown was on the market for £1,300,000 through Knight Frank, Winchester
- Favourite Space: Peter suggests: "The master bedroom in the attic is lovely with views across the South Downs to Old Winchester Hill. But we also love the conservatory and the garden." Pat adds: "We've grown this garden. It was just paddock when we came. There were no trees at all; we've planted about a hundred trees."
- Best Purchase: "The ride on mower; that's what I couldn't do without!"
- Favourite home store: "Molly's Den in Winchester is brilliant - we always find something. You will find very little that's brand new in the house. We are very environmentally friendly, so we tend to hang on to things."
- A tip for someone else undertaking a similar project: "My advice is live in your house for a while, get to understand it and then make any changes."
- What it's like to live in Fleet - Fleet, where the living is easy - we take a tour of the Hart district town