Home of the Month: Sparrow Hall at Forty Hill
PUBLISHED: 13:03 11 June 2010 | UPDATED: 16:55 20 February 2013
When Julie West found the home of her dreams she set about transforming it into an interior designer's paradise, no expense spared, as Pat Bramley discovers
BUYING a Grade II listed 18th century Hertfordshire farmhouse has turned out to be life changing for Julie West.
The former PA to a prime ministerial adviser at the Cabinet Office discovered she gets far greater satisfaction out of using her perfectionist standards to project manage an interior design job than she enjoyed in her earlier life when she was on first name terms with some of the great and the good in Whitehall.
The only down side is that she suspects it cost her her marriage.
Julie was 31 and had worked as a civil servant since she was 18 when she left the Cabinet Office and bought her first house, a four bedroom Victorian property in Palmers Green. I took a small job in an estate agency and it was through that that I met Ian, she says.
Ian was a foreign currency trader based in New York. His career was on the up. We had a fabulous wedding at Hanbury Manor.
Their first home together was a five bedroom detached house in half an acre opposite a golf course in Winchmore Hill. Having lived in the area for a good many years, Julie had admired Sparrow Hall at Forty Hill long before it came up for sale.
I always liked it. I had a feeling about it. I kept my eye on it, wondering if it would come on the market. Eventually it did. It was being sold by the developer who bought it from a couple who had lived there a long time. When I heard it was for sale, I couldnt wait. I was so excited.
Julie has always loved old houses and Sparrow Hall was everything she hoped for. To find out about its past, she had a meeting with a historian and shes seen the early documents and original plans.
In 1757 the front elevation of what had been built as a timber farmhouse was refaced in brick. For many years the house was owned by the church. Julie says, Ive heard that at one time it was used by a vicar who had a parish in the City. He travelled out by coach, hence the coach house. I dont know if its true.
By 1963 the clergy were being moved out of rambling rectories into modern houses which cost less to run and the church duly disposed of Sparrow Hall. Since then it has been in private ownership and the extensive amount of land which belonged to it in the old days has now been whittled down to an acre.
For Julie, buying the house was just the start. Although the interior had been redecorated by the developer, she and Ian didnt move in for 18 months.
First, as she says, she wanted to reinstate the period features and give the house back its integrity and make the interior really modern and contemporary. A blend of old and new.
Inside it had all been painted white. White washed from top to bottom. Theyd painted over the original oak window shutters and oak doors, even the light switches. The beams in the early farmhouse part of the house were coated in black gloss paint. All the fireplaces had been blocked up but you could see the possibilities. You could see the potential and at the time we had the money to do it.
The first priority was to ensure the essentials were state-of-the-art. The house has been re-wired and re-plumbed. We completely rebuilt the chimneys because they had been blocked up and were filled with rubble. We had to fit a whole set of new chimney pots to comply with the latest regulations.
I spent hours and hours traipsing around bathroom centres and Fired Earth centres looking for bathroom suites and tiles. There are 205 square metres of travertine young marble floor tiles in the hall running through to the kitchen and laundry room.
The kitchen, like the three bathrooms and everything else, has been refitted to Julies unequivocal only-the-best-will-do standards.
Mark Wilkinson provided her with a personal adviser to ensure the hand-built units in the kitchen, media room and laundry room were created exactly to her specification. Bev from Mark Wilkinson was wonderful she was pristine but down-to-earth.
Julie has nothing but praise for many of the specialists she commissioned. Strippers of Barnet got rid of the white paint and restored the original oak shutters and doors and fittings to their former beauty and Elizabeth Stewart in Potters Bar made the amazing curtains and blinds to dress the windows. In the kitchen, the silk blinds scattered with Swarovski crystals cost 7,000 for starters.
The original floorboards in the principal reception rooms were repolished to give a hardwearing sheen and the ceiling coving was replaced for about 30 a metre by a specialist. The design reflects the remodeled contemporary setting rather than the age of the house.
Most of the fireplaces are new. The only originals are the handsome fireplace in the hall and two cast iron surrounds in a couple of attic bedrooms. The white marble fireplace in the master suite and the white limestone new models both downstairs and in four of the other six bedrooms on the two upper floors were all bought from Chesneys upmarket showroom in Holloway Road.
Julie is pleased with them. They look real. You wouldnt know they werent log burning except you cant smell the wood smoke.
Although builders came and went, Julie says the one chap who stayed with her from the start of the job to the end was her electrician Juno. Hes a young chap who had just started his own company in Cheshunt. He was brilliant. Juno designed the lighting effects which injected an element of theatre to the furnishings and dcor chosen for their classic elegance. I love classic design, Julie enthuses, but I like it to have an edge, something up-to-date, a surprise.
The LED lights beaming down on a granite worktop in the kitchen and shining from behind the tiles in a glass walled walk-in shower in an upstairs bathroom are a touch unusual when they radiate a rainbow of tiny stars. The stars go through a subtle change of colour from red to blue to green they transform the room.
Most of the chandeliers that light up Sparrow Hall as well as most of the furniture bought for the house came from department stores such as John Lewis but one of the chandeliers, the one in the library, was handmade by a friend who owns a specialist shop in Crews Hill.
It was Elizabeth Stewart, the curtain maker, who found the solution to what to put on the walls of the library when they didnt have enough books. She discovered a wallpaper design that filled the space perfectly: the effect is shelves full of books from ceiling to floor.
The idea was that wed have the wallpaper until wed collected enough books to put up shelves. But of course it never happened.
Julies marriage is now in the past. Shes philosophical. Both of them have moved on.
Julie adds, I enjoyed doing the house so much and I learnt so much I dont want to let it all go to waste. My new partner is a builder. Were thinking of taking on projects together as well as me doing interior design commissions on my own. So thats alright then. And the house, as she says, is a show home, albeit for someone else.
Sparrow Hall at Forty Hill, Enfield is for sale through Statons in Brookmans Park for 2.25m http://www.statons.com/