Something old, something new
PUBLISHED: 10:38 12 February 2009 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013
Our properties, even in the current economic climate, are still likely to be our biggest asset, but just how do you realise that? Boys Hall in Willesborough held a total lifestyle change for its owners
Boys Hall in Willesborough has been a family home for nearly 400 years and when Marcus Collings bought it in 2003, his intention was very much to keep it that way. He first set eyes on an advert in The Sunday Times for the property in 2001, but it was two years later before all the papers were signed and life begun in his new home.
While Marcus knew that each room needed updating, it soon became apparent that a lot of other 'hidden' work was also required; updating the plumbing and replacing the oil tanks to name just a couple. These updates took place in 2003 and 2004 and he then began the remodelling of the kitchen and the interior decorations in 2005.
As Marcus approached his 40th birthday, he started to re-evaluate the 'important things in life', and found himself at the beginning of a new career path far removed from the daily commute to see his clients. Instead, he decided his clients should come to him.
May 2006 saw a new project beckon. Marcus had already realised the historical importance of Boys Hall and had taken time to research the Jacobean architectural era. The original panelling still exists, as do the ornate fireplaces and even some of the furniture is thought to be original to the house.
Jacobean interiors were heavily influenced by the work of architects and craftspeople in Europe, with the heavy use of oak and ornate carving both on decorative panels, doors, staircases and furniture. Today, Jacobean furniture is highly sought after by Americans and is difficult to find in the UK, but there are plenty of good 19th-century copies around.
In an effort to find out more about the history of Boys Hall, Marcus placed an advert in the local paper, and got many varied responses. One Sunday morning an American couple, visiting Ashford and researching their family tree, knocked on the door.
They had with them a photo of their family during a 19th-century hunt at the front of Boys Hall. An excited Marcus happily showed them around their ancestral home. Upon their return to the USA, the couple sent a copy of the original photo as a thank you for the hospitality they received. This now proudly hangs in the Willesborough Hall.
For the first time, Marcus started to feel as though it was time for Boys Hall to meet its public, it had been hidden for too long. It took nine months to obtain planning consent for the change of use, but during that time restorations continued and the training of staff commenced, along with an active marketing plan.
Today, Boys Hall is still a family home, or at least part of it is. Marcus is now the successful resident and manager of this delightful Jacobean property, a venue for weddings and receptions, corporate and private events, Sunday lunches and four-star rated accommodation.
The landscaped grounds are an added bonus, although a mere three acres still exist of the original 1000-acre estate. Keeping true to its heritage, Marcus sources fabrics, artwork, and furniture as close to the likely originals as possible, and maintains high standards of professionalism and service in introducing Boys Hall
to the public eye.
Marcus dreamt of owning a country estate, but it was changing circumstances, a bit of 'get up and go' and a realisation that he was already in possession of his next career move, that led him to become a modern-day entrepreneur.
For more information, tel: 01233 633 772.
At the other end of the country, Miriam Fletcher of Doocot Design introduced me to Fenton Tower, a conversion of a rather more elaborate nature. Fenton Tower was a ruin in East Lothian, 20 miles from Edinburgh, until its owners Ian Simpson and local farmer John Macaskill painstakingly restored it.
With guidance from Historic Scotland, the restoration and conversion took 20 years. As an A-grade listed historic building, the fabric could not be affected, which actually had the advantage of heating and power being able to be installed under the floors, showing that modern technologies can indeed be integrated with historic conversions.
Fenton Tower now provides a business for Ian and John in the form of luxury accommodation for a 'get away from it all' break.
For more information, tel: 01620 890089.
A barn conversion nearer to home may be of interest to many readers, especially those with horses. We hear a lot about barns being converted for residential use, but MKA Projects Ltd has been involved with the exciting redevelopment of a concrete framed barn for the relocation of equine veterinary practice, Milbourn Equine in Ashford.
This former wheat storage barn had become pigeon infested, but now it is home to state-of-the-art facilities for equine care. MKA Projects managed the project, putting together the professional team of architects, engineers and contractors, managing the conversion process from pre-planning right through to completion. All costs were closely monitored by the quantity surveying team at MKA Projects.
Kent is awash with period properties, especially those of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Malinda Henderson, a specialist in antiques and collectables, advises the following if you want to obtain some authentic pieces in keeping with your period home.
1 Take time to research the era of your property both for architectural details, interior and furniture design.
2 Your research will help you decide what you want to achieve in your home and what you might like to buy and therefore help you set a budget for each piece. Expect to pay significantly more for a Georgian piece than a Victorian or Edwardian piece - the older it is, the more expensive it will be.
3 Start your search for your pieces and be thorough. Ask lots of questions of antiques dealers and auction houses, they love to talk about their subjects. Inspect carefully what you want to buy and if you can obtain any provenance, you will love the piece even more. Be prepared to travel to view and buy and make sure you get a receipt for any purchases that you make.
4 Make sure your investment is insured. While lower-value items are likely to be covered automatically by your standard contents insurance, larger items of furniture may need to be itemised.
More information can be found at the British Antiques Dealers Association or by contacting Malinda on 07954 139220.
The Architectural Store, located in St John's Road, Tunbridge Wells, specialises in fully restored and useable reclaimed fireplaces from the late Georgian to Edwardian eras.
Owner Nic Bates says he has something for everyone with a period property, including lighting, original door furniture, garden ornaments and decorative salvage. To see a selection of his stock, contact Nic on 01892 540368.
If you are now thinking about converting your property, begin by talking to your local planning office or professional advisors. If you are thinking of a 'change of use' for your property, for example your spare rooms to B&B accommodation, or flats within a Georgian home back to a single residency, you will need planning consent. In these circumstances, you will also need Building Regulations Approval, which refer to the technical compliance of your proposed scheme.
Interiors editor Julie Stevens looks at the best kitchens on the market