Home of the month: A house of two halves
PUBLISHED: 01:16 25 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:15 20 February 2013
Blending Elizabethan splendour with the 21st century is no mean feat but has proved a success for this Digswell home, as Pat Bramley discovers...
PAUL and Jacquie Kasperczaks 16th century house in the Hertfordshire village of Digswell Water is one of the most photographed houses in the county. But if their whizzkid son fulfils his promise of becoming a world motor racing champion a whole new crowd could gather at the gate to snap pictures of their heros childhood home at some point in the future.
Ben is only seven right now but already hes been tipped by race commentators as a future Lewis Hamilton. Its no flight of fancy on the part of proud parents.
At the age of just three-and-a-half he became the youngest sportsman in Britain to attract sponsorship when Motorsport World signed up to pay his expenses on the go-karting circuit for the next five years.
Even though at that time the mini speedster still needed stabilisers to ride a two-wheeler, officials at Hoddesdons Rye House racetrack watched in awe as three year old Ben handled his petrol powered kart like a seasoned driver.
Its the same track where the Stevenage born Formula 1 champion began his competitive career in a kart at the ripe old age of seven.
Four years on, Bens fame has spread. In February the Wall Street Journal ran an article with a video about Hertfordshires latest prodigy.
Two weeks later, a team from ABC News flew over from the States to interview him.
The primary school pupil takes it all in his stride. His two older brothers, Tom and William, and his sister Natalie have all more or less left home. Tom is working in London, William is a portrait painter of some distinction and Natalie is at uni studying psychology.
When we visited the Kasperczaks at half term, Jacquie was moving Ben into a new bedroom which she was in the process of redecorating before sticking up a fresh batch of press cuttings and posters of her youngest sons favourite sport.
The Kasperczaks ( Kasperjacks) moved to Digswell Water three years ago from Potters Bar. Pauls late father came to England from Poland in the Second World War. Paul is a landscape gardener. So far hes never been back to his fathers native country.
We found Maran House on the internet, Jacquie says. The Grade II listed homestead on Hertford Road was built in the 1500s as three workmens cottages and converted into one in the early 1900s.
In the 1980s Paul and Jacquies predecessor doubled the living accommodation by replicating the scale and shape of the Elizabethan original in a modern extension at the back.
The old and new parts are linked by an entertaining room on the ground floor and minstrel gallery above. The length of the minstrel gallery and first floor landing leading to the bedroom wing added in the 1980s is 64ft.
The layout of the house, looking at it from the air, is like a capital I.
Jacquie remembers how the possibilities excited her when they came round to see it the first time. 'What attracted us was that it needed lots of work. It was very pretty but it was a work in progress.
The previous owner had lived here for many years and hed done a beautiful job, everything was good quality, nothing was bodged, but its like most things, they have their time and after a while they look tired. When we turned up, the curtains were drawn, the garden was overgrown, it all looked rather depressing.
Despite that, she pictured what a beautiful place it could be after it had been refurbished and they were both enchanted by the crystal clear waters of the River Mimram chalk stream which cuts through the grounds. I love old properties. Potters Bar was the only modern house Ive ever lived in. I never buy a house unless it needs work.
At a rough guess she reckons shes lived in ten houses, all but one of them old, since shes had the wherewithal and expertise to do them up.
Not surprisingly, with Paul being a horticulturalist, they initially ploughed most of their energies into restoring order out of disarray in the garden, creating beautiful lawns that blend naturally with the surrounding Green Belt landscape.
The focal point of the 1.7 acre plot is the river, criss-crossed by two bridges. Jacquie reports, At first we used to get a few wild mallards but since weve been here weve had Oriental runner ducks, geese, peacocks, cockerels, all sorts of pretty ducks. I collect the eggs and incubate them.
She admits that when shes watching over her brood, the thought sometimes comes into her mind that shes a saviour, then she bursts out laughing if I tell friends that theyll say Im mad!
Almost everything the Kasperczaks have done in the garden and in the house has been a joint endeavour. Jacquies talent as a home-maker is turning into a commercial venture. Im two-thirds through redesigning the interior dcor of a friends house because shes seen what Ive done with mine. Thats very satisfying.
She says her main objective is always to create a comfortable home. I quite like the L-shaped white sofa in the gallery lounge because you dont have to sit up straight on it.
I love antiques, Ive spent many happy hours scouting round antique shops looking for something that will fit in.
When you find it, youre chuffed to bits. We have pieces here I bought in a sale in Finchley 30 years ago. Old and new blend well together. All the furniture here is a bit of this and a bit of that.
This and that it might be but the overall effect of the dcor and furnishings in the four reception rooms at Maran House is country house elegance.
But white and cream upholstery with a family? How does she keep it spotless? Apart from a tank full of goldfish, they also have two German shepherd dogs and a fluffy cat that likes to curl up on a comfy bed.
Homelife is me, Jacquie admits happily. homelife and I love animals.
I put washable throws over the chairs. When theyre dirty they go in the washing machine.
Until a few months ago I had older children and their partners living here. You cant be fussy when you have a houseful. Its very much a family home.
I like things to be light and pretty, white walls and cream curtains. I tend to prefer plain curtains and introduce colour in things like cushions and paintings. I like glass topped coffee tables because you can see through them, its not like a solid mass on the floor.
Jacquies style of furnishing is as effective in the setting of a 16th century room with heavy beams and leaded light windows as in the 80s extension where big windows open up the living area to the garden and the space is filled with natural light.
The kitchen with its green tiled floor and oak units is still the 80s model they inherited when they bought the house but theyve recently refitted three of the four bathrooms.
There are six bedrooms in the main house, three in the old part, three in the new and a further bedroom in a ground floor annexe which Jacquie says Tom regarded as his lair before he moved to London.
Since the exodus of the older children, the family has been reduced to just three of them at home. Thats one of the reasons theyre considering selling. Jacquie explains, Ben will be competing in a higher league this year after his eighth birthday. Hes already been to race meetings abroad and the travelling will increase. Obviously we want to be with him but a house like this needs looking after, time wed really rather be spending with Ben.
Were not pushy parents the passion for karting is all his but we are keen to support him. She adds with a grin, But unless the right buyer comes along, well probably stay. We do love the house.
Maran House in Hertford Road, Digswell Water, ten minutes walk from Welwyn North Station is for sale for 2.1m through Bryan Bishops Welwyn office.