CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hertfordshire Life today CLICK HERE

Creating a home from home in Stanstead Abbotts

PUBLISHED: 10:52 19 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:55 20 February 2013

A stylish bathroom

A stylish bathroom

Antonia and Neville Reeve transformed a run-down 400-year-old farmhouse into a modern, welcoming and spacious home from home, as Pay Bramley discovers

ANTONIA Reeves is an Alastair Sawday type of landlady. Shes the calibre youd expect to meet if you select a b&b listed in the travel authors highly esteemed Special Places To Stay books.
What shes absolutely not is the old-fashioned stereotypical battleaxe, the butt of jokes in summer shows at the end of the pier.
Over the past 20 years, the range and style of bed and breakfast establishments has expanded as much as any sector of the travel industry.
In the old days the b&b market was mainly limited to providing budget priced holidays for working class families in seaside resorts and theatrical digs for touring actors in provincial towns. Today there are about 20,000 b&bs in Britain and the choice of overnight accommodation is huge, from lofty four-posters in a castle to a comfy divan in a former farm labourers cottage.
Antonia and her husband Neville, a retired fund manager in the city, are newcomers to the business of welcoming paying guests to their 400-year-old farmhouse at Stanstead Abbotts.
In their first three months after starting in April they clocked up 30 letting nights not bad going considering most of the bookings were the result of local recommendations.
We moved here seven years ago but weve lived in the Hertford area for 17 years, Antonia explains. Previously we had a house in the centre of Hertford which we bought as a wreck and renovated. It was in a most awful state when we found it but we brought it back from the brink.
Ive always loved houses. My backgrounds in property. My parents were both involved with property. Ive never been frightened of buying a wreck. I can see beyond the decay if the shape of the house is there. I think its lovely if a house still has its integrity.
The previous owners of Newlands were the parents of schoolfriends of the Reeves two sons.
We got to know them through the children. They invited us to a drinks party and I thought wow, what a wonderful old house. They re-roofed it and carried out necessary repairs on the exterior walls but after two years they moved on. One day I saw the house was for sale. We were so pleased to be able to buy it.
At that time, in 2003, the interior of the 17th-century farmhouse hadnt been touched for 30 years. Although the structure was sound, inside the decor was still as it was when it was last decorated in the 1970s by their friends predecessors and as for the six acre grounds, the skeleton of a very beautiful garden lay hidden under at least two decades of weeds.
None of that mattered to the Reeves. Antonia couldnt wait to get started on a sympathetic makeover.
Im not an interior designer, she says, I just know what I like. I love renovating old houses and restoring their integrity but it is a full-time job. You do have to be there. Fortunately she is able to give each of her projects the attention it needs because since shes had the boys she hasnt gone back to her previous career in educational administration, shes been a full-time mum.
When they bought Newlands, there were eight bedrooms and three bathrooms over the two upper floors, now there are seven bedrooms and six bathrooms five ensuite.
But until 18 months ago they had no thoughts of turning over three of the rooms on the first floor to bed and breakfast guests. A chance trip to visit a friend in France last year made Antonia think shed like to give it a go.
As she explains, I went to see a very good friend Ive known for 20 years who has moved to Provence and is doing b&b and it just looked such fun.
She also had at the back of her mind that her sons Rowland and Gil, now 18 and 16, will soon be taking off. I dont want the two of us to be rattling around in a huge house. I want it to continue to be like it is now, full of life with lots of people coming in and out and enjoying it and having lots of laughs. I thought if I started b&b in a small way, maybe in three years time when the boys probably wont be living at home as much as they are now I could have built up a nice little business.
By May last year when the decision was made, all but the middle floor rooms had been sorted. I hadnt been able to work out what to do with the bedrooms on the first floor. There are two staircases and it had always flummoxed us. We couldnt think what to do to give the rooms a purpose but once wed decided that three would be set aside for guests it all came together.
Decor and furnishings are English country house style with the odd quirky feature for a surprise because as Antonia says anything cutting edge contemporary or minimalist wouldnt be in keeping with the period character. A lot of the furniture is mahogany, pieces that have been in the family for generations or something that has caught her eye in an antique shop or junk shop.
I dont normally splash out on expensive stuff none of it is terribly precious, more shabby chic, thats what I like, something you can use and enjoy, although I did make an exception for the two table lamps in the drawing room because they make a focal point. I got them and a few pictures and various other bits and pieces from Cromwells in Sawbridgeworth. The three large matching sofas in the drawing room came from John Lewis.
Having two staircases turned out to be a blessing. The main stairs from the limestone flagged entrance hall take you up to the first floor guest suites and from there theres a further flight up to the boys rooms and their bathroom in the attic.
The second staircase leads to Neville and Antonias master suite and the fourth bedroom. Although the owners have a dressing room and the attic rooms are fitted with Ikea furniture for the boys, the guest rooms with their fireplaces and big comfy beds are also furnished with large Victorian wardrobes bought from an antiques warehouse in Suffolk.
Downstairs, the drawing room and dining room are mainly for the guests although the family use the rooms when there arent any visitors. When there are, they confine themselves to the morning room, breakfast room, study and games room. The drawing room looks out onto the garden - its the most relaxing room in the whole wide world, Antonia declares blithely.
For 40 per person per night or 50 if you stay in one of the double bedrooms with an en suite bathroom instead of a shower room, youre free to wander through the garden and use the tennis court and in the evening youre welcome to help yourself to a drink in the drawing room where theres an honesty box. In the morning, theres a continental or full English breakfast and guests also enjoy home made jam and marmalade served in pretty glass dishes.
Antonias friends have since told her they thought shed hate opening her home to visitors but I absolutely love it. Weve had such delightful people. I just want them to feel at home here and enjoy the house and garden and relax.
Shes hoping her application to be included in Alastair Sawdays Special Places to Stay 2011 edition will be approved by the inspectors. Theyre very choosy, she says nervously. Ive heard most applicants are rejected without even an inspection and of those that are inspected only a small minority are accepted.
No special places in Hertfordshire are listed in the 2010 edition.
Hopefully that will be rectified if Newlands passes muster with the judges. It certainly should.


www.newlandscountryhouse.co.uk

0 comments

More from Homes & Gardens

15:42

The property is in the village of Benington near Stevenage

Read more
November 2018

A ready-to-move-in house is the last thing this Bishop’s Stortford couple want. Serial renovators, they’ve had the vision to take on three tired homes, including this latest project, and make them into something remarkable

Read more
November 2018
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Listed for its architectural and historical importance, this mansion is for sale through Strutt and Parker

Read more
November 2018
Monday, October 8, 2018

A 16th century farmhouse gave a father and daughter the chance to both fulfil childhood dreams

Read more
October 2018
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

As we head into Autumn, the change in season is all around us. From the leaves on the trees turning burnt orange and fiery red, to dark mornings and nights bookending our days. As we put the clocks back an hour to battle the darkness, here’s some top tips on how you can keep your home warm and costs down this Autumn.

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Nine bedroom Georgian country house for sale

Read more
September 2018
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Ten years in the making, this remarkable home in the former orchard of St Albans Cathedral is as bespoke as a property can be. It had Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud reeling

Read more
September 2018
Friday, August 31, 2018

Rural energy provider, Calor, gives some top tips for homeowners wanting to make their houses cosy and warm in time for the colder months.

Read more
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

How to tackle one of the most invasive plant species in the UK has resulted in innovative solutions, writes Charlotte Hussey of Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust

Read more
August 2018

Owned by the same family for generations on the historic Moor Place estate at Much Hadham, Yew Tree House and its current remarkable owner are full of stories

Read more
August 2018

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search