Home of the month: When size is everything

PUBLISHED: 10:12 21 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:10 20 February 2013

Rear of house from garden

Rear of house from garden

Scale is everything with a cavernous interior space to fill, as Harry and Jennine Nugent found with their Harpenden home. Pat Bramley talks to the couple and their interior designer...

GETTING the proportions right is absolutely the key to success if youre furnishing a cavernous space like the open plan living area in a converted barn.

The Grade II listed building that has become the drawing room in Harry and Jennine Nugents Harpenden home measures 52ft by 19ft.

One of their custom-made black velvet sofas is five metres long, the other is four metres. In the room they dont look over large, its all a matter of scale, points out Lannis Spiro, the interior designer commissioned by the Nugents to help source craftsmen and companies who specialise in making furniture to order.

Everything in here is bespoke. Nothing is standard, says Jennine. She doesnt class herself an interior designer but she is as near as dammit.

Before her children were born eight-year-old Alfie and Jake, four-and-a-half she worked for her fathers company, a leading supplier of hats, gloves and scarves to high street shops.

More recently she has been concentrating on product development for celebrity florist Kenneth Turner, helping the firm diversify into body lotions and luxury touches for the home such as scented candles and other tasteful bits and pieces that raise the bar.

My background has always been sales, marketing and design. I hadnt designed an interior before but while we were working on the barn I was doing interiors for restaurants so I was gathering some expertise.

Jennines brief to me, says her South African-born design mentor based in Mill Hill, was that even though the space in the barn was so overwhelming she wanted it to be homely and comfortable, somewhere you could relax and take your shoes off.

The sofas were handmade by a craftsman Lannis rates highly who has a workshop in the East End. Transporting them was a problem. He brought them here in segments. You couldnt have got the finished sofas in a lorry. They wouldnt have gone through the door.

It was the same with the outsize ottoman coffee table with the soft mole-coloured top big enough to stretch out on. The square wood base is covered with seven metres of green and purple glass beads, each one handmade by furnishing trimmings specialist Wendy Cushing in her London studio.

Wendy and her team came here to stitch them on, Lannis remembers. They might have been damaged in transit if the ottoman had been delivered with the beads already attached. We couldnt risk it.

The listed barn with its cathedral like ceiling originally built in the 1700s was only one part of the property bought by the Nugents about ten years ago.

It formed part of a farm complex which included a brick and flint cottage with a stable attached and the archway through which the carts had rumbled into the farmyard.

Jennine says everything was in a pretty bad state. The barn was being held up by scaffolding. The cottage had been lived in by the family who worked the land. By the time we arrived it was very run down.

There was planning permission to convert the barn but we wanted to alter it because the layout wasnt right for us. We had hoped to add a mezzanine floor but the planners wouldnt let us. Because it is a listed building they insisted the structure should remain very much as it was, even though it would have fallen down if it hadnt been converted. In the end, a lot of the changes we applied for went through on appeal.

Today Annables Lodge, named after the lane where it stands in a garden landscaped by a company called Instant Landscapes, is a brilliant amalgam of barn, cottage and stable fused into one to create an enviable six/seven bedroom country house built for a perfectionist owner.

What was once the cart opening has become an impressive entrance hall with large glazed windows front and back and an incredible front door which swings open on a pivot instead of hinges. I first saw one like it in South Africa and just loved it. We had ours made exactly like it by a specialist joiner. Its so wide you could get a horse through it. Opening the door on a pivot doesnt restrict the space.

I was determined to get what I wanted. As far as possible I wanted to use reclaimed materials. I was quite picky, Jennine admits.

They commissioned an architect to draw up the changes to the original plans and asked Harrys brother, Paul Nugent, to project manage the build.

Paul, a project manager by profession, hired Peter McCurdy as main contractor to rebuild the barn. He was well qualified to work on a listed building having previously worked on the restoration of The Globe Theatre.

Jennine adds, He took me to see other barns which had been restored, not so I could tell him what I wanted but so I could point out what I didnt want, such as straight beams. I wanted our beams to be curved, not straight. They had to look natural, as though theyd always been there.

Peter took sections of the barn away with him in stages so he could do the bulk of the work off site. The council wouldnt have allowed him to take the whole lot down in one go and rebuild it like you would an ordinary building because of the listing.

The wood floor with the intricate pattern in the barn came from Czechoslovakia. It was all laid by hand. The team who did it put it all in with pegs. I dont know what the wood is. It has an amazing smell.

The dining area with the contemporary dining table which can seat 18 that rule about proportions crops up again is raised on a dais from the rest of the room with little rectangular lights set into the step. Originally I had an idea of dividing up the space of the main living area by importing a tree trunk with lateral branches stretching out so you could see through the gaps but it would create a division. Unfortunately it just wasnt feasible but the dais does the job. Its like a little dance floor.

When I was young, in my parents house it was like you always knew you were in the dining room because the sofa had its back to the dining table. I wanted to recreate that in a different way.

While the major rebuilding work was underway she and Harry lived in rented accommodation for six months.

The conversion of the ancient buildings made the project much more time-consuming than it otherwise would have been. It influenced the design of the floating chrome, steel and glass staircase. It was made to the Nugents specification by Philip Watts in Nottingham. I saw one like it when I was working on the interior of a restaurant. The heritage experts wouldnt permit the barn model to become a permanent part of the structure. To overcome the restrictions its rooted in place on cladding by a steel runner attached by spines to the staircase on which the glass steps are bolted.

The end result makes a contemporary feature. Jennine is particularly proud of her custom-made wiggly handrail by special request its not straight and the glass balustrade.

What was the stable in the old days is now a bespoke five star dream kitchen, again made to the owners design. The table in the breakfast area was one of the originals in a Luton hat factory Jennines father Reg Denby was a pioneer of blocking for big occasion hats.

The original stable stall dividing the kitchen from the breakfast room were preserved to show its provenance but there are admirable practical features too like the chiller and larder encased in matching tall cabinets either side of the American fridge/freezer. When it was finished, the keen cooks pride and joy was hailed as one of the most beautiful French kitchens of the year.

The influence of French design crops up again in the first floor guest suite.

The bed was custom made by Belle Maison, a company which specialises in copying French beds. The Neisha Crosland fabric covering the padded bedhead and the frame at the foot of the bed is a contemporary take on chinoiserie with sprays of white painted flowers and corn on the cob with a matching design duplicated in metallic foil.

Memories of Jennines childhood crop up in the garden where a laurel hedge has blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and even strawberries woven into it.

I wanted my children to have the pleasure of walking along the hedge and picking berries as they go, as I did when I walked along the lane near our house when I was a kid picking blackberries from the hedge.

She adds, as though you hadnt guessed, Im passionate about old buildings and creating a sympathetic contemporary design that sits comfortably within an ancient structure.

It was the most glorious project, enthuses her interior designer. We all fell in love with the barn and just wanted to stay there.

Annables Lodge is for sale through Savills in Harpenden for 2.25m.

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