Home of the month: A Hitchin home apart
PUBLISHED: 15:34 21 July 2014 | UPDATED: 15:34 21 July 2014
clive tagg 2014
A couple with a keen interest in design have turned two former Hitchin cottages overlooking parkland into a luxurious family home. Pat Bramley visits
The large house standing in its own grounds on the southern edge of Hitchin started out as two farm cottages that belonged to a local landowner. In 1998, the property came on the market and was spotted by a Hitchin couple with two young daughters.
The two cottages had been combined to create a four-bedroom house set in nearly three acres and still surrounded by parkland that was there when the cottages were built.
It had the makings of the perfect family home for city worker Jonathan Marsh and his wife Carolyn.
‘We bought it for the location,’ Carolyn says. ‘The setting is the first thing people comment on when they come here for the first time. You don’t find many houses overlooking parkland and a lake. The outlook is fantastic.’
She admits she was less enamoured with the house interior on first acquaintance. ‘My husband went to look at it and came back and said the décor wouldn’t be to my taste. The house was immaculate but the interior was very 70s. There was an open-tread staircase and the paint colours weren’t what I would have chosen, various things like that.’
The Marshes took the plunge and bought the home and the first job they tackled was the kitchen. ‘We had £10,000 left over for improvements. We had to do something with the kitchen; we needed to change the avocado suite in the bathroom – there was only one bathroom – and we wanted a family room downstairs.’
Carolyn adds, laughing, ‘My friends call the family room the West Wing. We use it all the time. It was the children’s playroom when the girls were little. It’s the everyday room now.’
During the 16 years they have spent at Queenborough, the couple went further to create extensions, improve-ments and changes to the layout to create today’s fabulous family home.
The kitchen has been altered twice – once when it was refitted after they moved in and subsequently when it was extended by knocking down a study to create an L-shaped kitchen-breakfast room with double glazed French doors opening on to the terrace and garden, which fill the place with light.
Carolyn says they never wanted a conventional fitted kitchen. ‘We had base units built with granite tops but I didn’t want wall units. I like freestanding furniture. We have a freestanding dresser which matches the kitchen units and an oak table which can seat eight – 10 if I put in the leaves. The freestanding furniture came from Habitat.
‘When there’s just Johnny and me here, which is most of the time now as the girls are in their 20s, we pretty well live in the kitchen.’
Carolyn embarked on a retail career before she married and had children, training at Harrods by working in the food hall. For a while it was she who packed the Harrod hampers with all those goodies for which the Knights-bridge store is famous.
Against that background, she has a gourmet’s knowledge of ingredients, but she’s somewhat dismissive of her efforts in the culinary department. ‘I have men friends who are better cooks than me,’ she laughs.
And while her butcher’s block on wheels is indispensible, she adds, it’s not for chopping meat. ‘It’s my office. I keep my radio on it. I pull up a chair, sit down, have my coffee there and organise my day.’
After Harrods, she worked for Bonhams helping to organise auctions, which she says she found interesting.
Since she’s been a mum, any time not taken up with home-making, looking after the family’s two dogs and keeping on top of the garden has been largely given over to voluntary work, including 12 years at a local hospice. And masterminding successive building projects on the home front has been pretty much a full-time job.
What was a four bedroom house when the Marshes bought it has been extended to the limit allowed by planning regulations. ‘We’ve gone up into the roof, replaced a conservatory with an oak room and maximised the footprint of the building.’
Not counting the additional accommodation in a four-room annex, there are now five bedrooms and four bathrooms in the main house, including the loft bedroom with free-standing bath. ‘One side of the roof space has become the fifth bedroom. The other side is a gym. Johnny has his rowing machine up there. I think just going up there and looking at it makes him feel fit, I don’t think he rows far,’ Carolyn smiles.
Two of the first-floor bedrooms are en suite – the couple’s master suite has a walk-in closet as an extra amenity.
As with much of the furniture in the house, there’s a story attached to the chaise-longue in their bedroom: ‘My husband went out to buy a newspaper and came back with a sofa.’
Downstairs, what had been a UPVC conservatory has become an oak room. It was built by a West Midlands company called Nationwide Oak, recommended by friends. ‘The solid roof is much better,’ Carolyn explains. ‘We’re very pleased with it. Johnny sold the previous conservatory on eBay.’
As well as building the heated outdoor pool, they also converted a stable block into a one-bedroom annex for guests. ‘We built it originally for my in-laws when they came to stay from their home in Cotswolds. It gives visitors their own space if they’re here for any length of time.’ The annex has its own kitchen and shower room. The sitting room and bedroom both have vaulted beamed ceilings and oak floors.
Carolyn gives her husband most of the credit for the innovative design of the remodeled areas of the house and the stylish décor.
‘He has a good eye, he can see things, he can work out how things will look. Neither of us likes matching stuff. I know brown furniture is not fashionable now, but I do like old furniture.’
She is particularly fond of things that have been handed down from parents, pieces like their drinks cupboard. ‘My father-in-law was a director of Aristoc. In his office was a corner cupboard that had been a wardrobe which he’d converted into a drinks cupboard. Now we’ve got it. I love it.’
A love for family heirlooms has passed on to the couple’s daughters – ‘they are currently putting stickers on items that have been in the family for years,’ Carolyn explains. ‘Staking out their claim to ownership of pieces they particularly like with labels saying “This is mine” and “This is yours”.
They’re doing it because some of the familiar treasures might soon have to go, as their parents plan to downsize.
‘I love it here,’ Carolyn says, ‘but we no longer need all these rooms. As I say, we live in the kitchen when there’s just the two of us. We don’t need all this space.’
Queenborough is for sale through Norgans in Hitchin for £1.75m.