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Life in the West Wing

PUBLISHED: 11:37 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:07 20 February 2013

Practicality was the reason for choosing a large square ottoman instead of a coffee table in the drawing room: ‘We chose it because we like to put our feet up’

Practicality was the reason for choosing a large square ottoman instead of a coffee table in the drawing room: ‘We chose it because we like to put our feet up’

Finola Goodwin tells Pat Bramley why living in a mansion wing in Loudwater is so appealing

IT was eight years before Finola Goodwin found a flat she wanted to buy. After spells of living in hot spots abroad and then in rented apartments back in England, she went to see a duplex for sale in the west wing of a mansion on the private Loudwater Estate in south-west Hertfordshire.
As soon as I walked in I knew I wanted it. Id spent eight years looking for this. There was lots of wood everywhere, pine panelling probably added in the 70s which wasnt my taste but other than that it was perfect.
Buying a flat in a large country house which has been divided up has considerable advantages. One is the stately home setting, usually acres and acres of rolling parkland. Another is the uniqueness of your particular slice of the building. And thirdly the rooms are usually large, certainly large enough to accommodate treasured old pieces of furniture handed down through the generations.
Six years ago when Finola discovered her apartment at Loudwater House, it was the elegant proportions of the reception rooms which sold it to her.
At entrance level, the duplex has a dining hall, Mark Wilkinson kitchen and a sunny drawing room with long windows overlooking the grounds and lake.
On the lower ground floor are three bedrooms, en suite shower room, main bathroom and a second kitchen with French doors opening onto a private patio.
The mansion has had a chequered history. It was originally built about 1810 but following a fire in 1899 much of it was destroyed and rebuilt in Regency/Georgian style in the early years of the 20th century.
As a family seat for the landed gentry, it has been the country residence of an MP, two governors of the Bank of England and a Scottish aristocrat, Panmure Gordon, who owned it from 1890 until 1902 when he died.
Gordon was a keen plantsman. He planted the rare trees which still grace the grounds and established the lake, principally to impress celebrity friends such as Emperor Frederick of Germany. One of the highlights for visitors was a trip round the lake in the hosts boat carriage.
Although the house was rebuilt following the blaze, by 1924 it had been split up into apartments and much of the land had been sold to architect James MacNamara who built the Arts & Crafts style houses which helped to put the estate in the headlines in 2002 when a survey found there were more millionaires living in Loudwater than in any other community in the country.
The priority for Finola and husband David after moving into their newly acquired home in the west wing was to get the place re-wired and replumbed and install up-to-date central heating before redecorating the rooms on the lower ground floor to give them somewhere to live while they worked out what to do with the main living area upstairs.
But soon after their arrival Finolas chance meeting with a neighbour led to her new friend taking on the job of project manager when the neighbour turned out to be an interior designer.
Kate is an American but like me shes of Irish descent, Finola explains. I grew up in Dublin in the 70s, Kate comes from Chicago but her parents are Irish so we had an instant bond.
Id been saying all along I wanted to paint the pine panelling because I hated it it was a 60s look and this is a classical Georgian building but everyone had told me You cant paint that wood, then I met Kate and she immediately agreed with me.
Painting the wood and the upper walls of the dining hall two shades of cream made a huge difference. But it was only the start for a revival of the age of elegance in the main part of the flat.
What had been built-in bookcases braced with rods of steel and wood fronted fitted cupboards on three walls of the room became arched display cases and glass fronted cabinets for Finolas large collection of crystal.
Tiny lights inside the cabinets shine down on shelves of sparkling wine glasses, candlesticks, bowls and vases collected on her travels. One cabinet is full of Waterford glass. She also collects Tipperary Crystal by the Irish artist Louise Kennedy. Not everything is top drawer. One set of shelves in an arched display holds three green pottery jugs bought from a charity shop. We put them there temporarily when the room was finished and theyre still there, Finola laughs.
Kate gave me a lot of ideas and sourced the craftsmen and designed the lighting and she shopped around for furnishings but there were many items we chose together. Sometimes we disagreed and I insisted that I had what I wanted. I didnt want to live in an apartment furnished by somebody else.
I would have liked to have had no central lights, just diffused concealed ceiling lighting and lamps but in the end we decided to have central lights too though we hardly ever use them.
Before the new lights could be fixed, Kate drafted in a specialist in period plasterwork, Gerald Nesling from Chalfont St Peter, to create the ceiling roses and period cornices in the dining hall and drawing room. The man who has worked for the Queen at Windsor Castle in the past turned out to be a bit of a find.
He also gave advice on the depth of the skirting boards in Georgian houses and had the bright idea of insetting a scene of horsemen in plaster relief into the wall where the stairs from the dining hall lead down to the lower ground floor.
The plaster relief was made specially for them by craftsmen at the Watford-based plaster work company Hutt Lobb. It is a miniature of a much larger work they were making for the British Museum.
The rooms evolved, Finola says, but if you ask me what Im most pleased with its the oak strip floor in the dining room. I wanted stone initially but I was advised that it would be too heavy for the structure so I decided on wood but I was very particular about the floor. When I was in Sri Lanka I went to a big old golf club which had the most magnificent polished floors. I also saw lovely wooden floors in paradores in Spain. That was what I wanted, not the new wood floors we see here. Kate found this. Its a beautiful colour.
As client, Finola stuck to her guns at least twice when her interior designer advised against a policy decision.
I wanted a blend of old and new in the way we furnished the flat. I wanted it to be a comfortable home, not a show place. We mainly bought new furniture specially for the flat but I did have a few oak pieces of furniture my grandmother had given me. Kate said I couldnt put oak in here but I said wed have to fit it in somewhere. We did and the contrast is good with the pale furnishings.
The owner also held her ground when the designer was horrified by Finolas insistence on a patterned carpet for the drawing room. I insisted I wanted a patterned carpet. I like patterns. The two-tone Rococo swirls on the Llewellyn Bowen Brinton are a homely touch in a New Age context, just as the graceful dark wood nest of tables on spindly legs and the elegant dark wood plant stand by Theodore Alexander are stylish modern versions of furniture with a practical purpose.
Finola says theyve been enormously happy in the West Wing. The neighbours are all lovely. When the weather is good everybody goes out on their patio. There are lots of dinner parties. Its brilliant.
Unfortunately a business move means Finola and David are selling up. No 1 West Wing is on the market through Savills in Rickmansworth for 785,000 which includes a share in the freehold.

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