To the manor reborn in Little Gaddesden
PUBLISHED: 17:44 19 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:42 20 February 2013
Creating a home from the wing of a manor house was a labour of love for Matthew McKenna and parents Peter and Jenny, as Pat Bramley learns
A GENUINE antique can actually cost considerably less than an imported reproduction or modern white lacquered MDF equivalent for sale in a discount store.
Of course, if its the real McCoy youre after for a bargain price, youll need to know your stuff. With expert knowledge and the skill to spot potential, you can furnish your home with pieces which never date and only increase in value. The trick is knowing what to buy.
Almost every room is graced by antiques discovered by Matt either on eBay, at auction or in a junk shop
Peter and Jenny McKenna live at Manor End, the Grade II* listed Victorian wing of the Elizabethan Manor House at Little Gaddesden.
Almost every room in their stately country house is graced by antiques discovered by their son either on e-Bay, in a general auction, charity shop or a junk shop.
Twenty-four-year-old Matthew says his love for antiques and historic houses has been with him as long as he can remember. My family are all artistic. My aunt and uncle are art dealers. My father project manages major construction schemes hes a master craftsman. As children, my sister Caroline and I were always being taken round National Trust houses and historic properties by our parents. They loved going to auctions and art galleries its what we did as a family.
Against that background, Matts initial career choice was to be a chartered surveyor but long before he completed his Bristol University degree he knew it was the design element of the course that interested him most. I have an intense passion for antiques, interiors and garden design. Ive long been inspired by David Mlinaric, David Hicks, John Fowler, Robert Kime, Nina Campbell, William Kent and George Carter.
Consequently after graduating last year, he didnt apply for a work placement to qualify for associate membership of the RICS. Instead he set himself up as a freelance interior designer and antiques dealer.
It helps enormously that the family home with its graceful proportions and period character makes the perfect setting to show off his finds in photographs. And his fathers considerable skills at restoration are invaluable.
Many of the antiques Matt discovers are the worse for wear when he buys them but once he gets them home he and Peter restore the inherent quality of the original. Usually its then sold at a handsome profit. Or it becomes part of the furniture in the McKennas home because they cant bear to part with it.
Peter and Jenny bought their present house five years ago. Before that they owned a handsome Edwardian house in Finchley for almost 20 years.
Before we bought our previous house, wed seen a property we wanted to buy in Little Gaddesden but the sale fell through so we bought the house in Finchley. It was unique, like this is, Jenny remembers, but we always thought wed like to live in Little Gaddesden. We used to come back for walks at weekends.
When Manor End came up for sale we were living in a rented property. As soon as we walked in we knew this was right for us.
It is a later addition to the Manor House which was originally owned by the Ashridge Estate. In the Victorian era it was the home of the estate manager, Colonel Wheatley, who had the new wing built to enlarge the living accommodation and incorporate the estate office.
The two parts of the Grade II listed manor are now separate entities and privately owned.
The only major change made to the structure by the McKennas has been the addition of an orangerie. It was designed by Matthew and incorporates a new entrance to the house and a 21st-century dream kitchen. It took a year to get planning consent for the extension because Manor End is Grade II* listed.
The massive old oak front door which leads into the new hall is about eight and a half feet high. Matt bought it from a reclamation yard in Yorkshire for 250. Fully restored, it looks as though it could have been there since the manor was built.
The black marble fireplace in the hall once belonged to Raine Spencer. It was given to the McKennas by Peters sister and brother-in-law who bought the Mayfair house which at one time was home to Countess Spencer, daughter of the late Barbara Cartland, wife of the late Earl Spencer, stepmother of Princess Diana.
The original half-glazed more ordinary front door is now an inner door leading through to whats known as the long hallway, at 40 ft. The parquet floor which extends the full length was relaid by the new owners and sanded.
All the original doors, all the broad pine floorboards uncovered when the previous owners carpets were lifted and pretty well all the existing wood in the house including the balustrade on the sweeping cantilevered stone staircase have been sanded and expertly polished to reveal the original quality.
The window shutters on the manors oak mullioned windows, upstairs and down, have all been refurbished
One of the most impressive fixtures inherited by the McKennas is the floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall oak bookcase in whats now the drawing room. In Col Wheatleys time, the drawing room was the estate office. The bookcase came from Ashridge House. It holds so much, all my books, Jenny says.
The window shutters on the manors oak mullioned windows, upstairs and down, have all been refurbished. When the shutters arent needed to keep out the cold, such as they were last winter, they fold into a concealed slot between the window ledge and the wall. When it snows, the shutters are pulled up on a pulley hidden in the window frame.
A pair of what look like white marble Grecian columns either side of an arch divide the hall from the kitchen arena.
I paid 50 for the pair, Mark announces. They were advertised on eBay by a seller who turned out to be a Dr Who fanatic. He had so much Dr Who memorabilia hed run out of space. The pillars looked like fake marble when I saw them but I could see their potential. They were used for a Dr Who stage set in the 1970s.
Upstairs in the guest bedroom is an antique French bed which must be Matts best bargain ever. He bought it on eBay for 49.50. It arrived in mint condition. Its 19th century, hand-painted with a finely carved and painted beechwood frame and beautifully upholstered in a fine silk fabric. The frame has naturally distressed with age which adds to its charm.
Jenny is pretty good at spotting bargains herself. A few years back when Winslow Hall was one of the stately homes which apparently briefly interested the Blairs as a replacement for Chequers, she went to a house sale there when the contents were being sold.
Up in a bedroom was an enchanting four-poster bed piled high with bundles of linen made up into lots. All the other buyers were rummaging through the linen looking for a bargain but Jenny was only interested in a tiny sticker on one of the posts at the foot of the bed. I saw it said 300. I couldnt believe it. I saw the housekeeper and said "Ill buy it". She told me the Queen Mother had slept in it when she came to stay.
The McKennas wont be selling Matts prize finds in a hurry, not unless he comes up with something they like even more, but they have decided to part with Manor End.
With their 19-year-old daughter planning to go to uni next year to study fashion and Matt with his burgeoning business, Peter and Jenny are taking stock of their lives. Which is why their five/six-bedroom house with grounds of one and a half acres is for sale for 1.55m through Fine & Country at Berkhamsted.