Home of the month: A Tudor manor mews home near Sawbridgeworth
PUBLISHED: 08:33 28 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:17 20 February 2013
Nick and Helen Fletcher's mews house has every conceivable gadget, tucked neatly away in its Tudor surroundings, as Pat Bramley discovers
THREE years ago city-based high flyers Nick Fletcher and his wife Helen gave up their home in the smart sets property hotspot of Islington to buy a mews house in the 40-acre grounds of a Tudor manor house in Hertfordshire.
The move was key to the development of Nicks career plan.
Having graduated from university with a degree in electronic engineering, his first job was designing electrical systems for trains. By 2007 he had spent three years as a leading light in a corporate strategy consultancy and as a sideline he had been doing up houses.
He says he cant remember a time before now when there hasnt been a renovation project on the go. In the 18 years I was at home with my parents we lived in five houses we extended. Ive done two more since Ive been with Helen, one to live in and one we sold before we moved out to Sawbridgeworth. Having finished that, we thought it would be crazy not to do it again.
Next time, though, there was much more riding on the outcome. It wouldnt just be a contemporary living environment theyd be creating. The next renovation project would give Nick the opportunity to give up his job as a management consultant and start in business on his own, selling all the kit you need to have a house which can be programmed to function on a daily basis the way you want it with almost no effort by the owners.
Ive always been interested in home technology. Ive been hooked on it since it was in its infancy
The property they planned would have all the high tech wizardry embedded in the walls to turn it into an intelligent house. It would be a proving ground for the 21st century clever stuff which enables with-it people like the Fletchers to draw curtains and switch on lights in their home at the touch of a button on their mobile phone even if theyre on the other side of the world at the time.
Ive always been interested in home technology, explains the entrepreneur, Ive been hooked on it since it was in its infancy. Ive always had a home cinema.
Having taken the decision to set up a business, the first step was to move out of London and find a place to renovate in Hertfordshire, far enough away from the metropolis to enjoy a different lifestyle but still an easy commute for Helen to travel to the London office of the wine company where she is a director.
They decided Sawbridgeworth was where they wanted to live before they started looking for a property.
Fortunately for their long term ambitions, the house they found wasnt listed,
otherwise they wouldnt have been allowed to knock down the inside walls to bury the clever clogs wiring to make the gadgetry function.
The Fletchers two storey mews home was built in the early 1980s as an extension to the listed stable block when a Grade II listed manor house and outbuildings on a private estate were being split up by a developer into apartments and houses. Theres a planning stipulation that changes cant be made to the exterior appearance of our property but inside we could do whatever we wanted.
Its perfect for us, Nick says. The residents share 40 acres of grounds with a lake and tennis courts but we dont have the worry of the maintenance its great.
While the work was being done on their new home, the 30-year-olds had to experience the manorial lifestyle in quarters which were rather too close for comfort.
Most of the time they were living in one bedroom, washing in a bathroom which had been given priority rating for a re-fit and eating meals they cooked on a two-ring camping stove in the utility room.
Originally there were four main rooms and a corridor downstairs two reception rooms, the kitchen and a long thin room which was a study, explains the chief motivator for the re-fit. The rooms were small and boxy and quite dark. There was also an integral garage and the entrance.
Outwardly our home doesnt look any different from somewhere just like it but without the technology
What we were looking for was much more open plan and clean lines. We knocked the four rooms into two and even these are fairly open plan because the kitchen is linked by a wide arch to the living room.
We moved the soil pipes as part of the changes to the layout so we reconfigured the rooms on the first floor too to make the master bedroom larger but we still have four bedrooms and two bathrooms as before.
He adds, By the time wed finished, there wasnt an interior wall in the building that hadnt been rebuilt or demolished.
No-one walking into the house for the first time would guess its a showpiece for a level of home technology which one day will be commonplace in new houses and change the way we live.
Nick has three main criteria when he designs a high-tech package for those who want a house that will be in its element in tomorrows world.
The technology must be hidden away. You dont want to see lots of boxes and wires and clutter. Outwardly our home doesnt look any different from somewhere just like it but without the technology.
Secondly, the controls must be as intuitive as possible. The Crestron system we use is mainly touch screen and the icons are simple. You dont need to be an expert in technology. Some are touch screen panels and some are remotes.
Thirdly it must be an integrated system. We have just one light switch in each room and that incorporates a heating control as well as a dimmer for the lighting. There are no room thermostats cluttering up the wall space.
For cost and fuel economy, the cottage is divided into four zones for heating and lighting. Only areas currently being used are on a comfortable setting.
The living room in their mews cottage includes a 46in flat screen TV and a 120in movie screen, both of them hidden until theyre needed
The overall package installed by Nicks company includes CCTV security, energy management and lighting with different settings for work, relaxing, parties, family absences and nights.
In the master bathroom the colour of the lighting can be switched to match your mood, anything from soft off white for early mornings to a romantic rosy glow for a candlelit soak when theres a rom-com on the telly.
Nick and Helen agree the bath is the best seat in the house when you want to stretch out and watch a film without being interrupted. Hundreds of their favourite DVDs, TV programmes, CDs and videos are stored on an Adagio Media System which via another bit of kit can then transmit the offering to built-in speakers and screens in any of the other rooms in the cottage.
Its not surprising, given Nicks support for the home cinema industry over the years, that the living room in their mews cottage includes a 46in flat screen TV and a 120in movie screen, both of them hidden until theyre needed.
A picture on the wall rises up to reveal the TV. For the Odeon experience, the studio-sized screen drops down from the ceiling. Films are shown from a projector which rises up from a sideboard.
Helen whos expecting their first baby in August is only sorry they deliberately chose not to have a built-in telly in the master bedroom when they were designing the entertainment system.
The wine buff says she wasnt a particular fan of home technology before she met Nick but now shes won over. Her husband says her reaction is pretty typical. Most men are excited by the idea of home technology but their wives need persuading. They can be a bit standoffish at first.
I liked my iPod, stereo and TVs and stuff but I hadnt thought much further than that, Helen confesses. But now Im glad weve got it. Its really cool. You can have a nice Saturday in and download a film.
I like being able to use one switch by the front door to turn all the lights off when were going out. Theres also one switch to turn all the lights on and off downstairs or upstairs. Its useful when you go up to bed at night. Theres one switch at the top of the stairs to switch all the lights off downstairs saves you going from room to room.
Nick says one of the advantages hes most pleased with is being able to turn the house lights on as he drives up on winter evenings.
Hes pleased with the way the venture is progressing. He founded ClearSphere with a business partner in 2007 and now there are three of them. We formed the company at the beginning of the recession. We dont know what the so-called good times are. A lot of our orders come from developers of high end properties. People love that we live in a house with all the stuff in it.