Property of the month - Living history

PUBLISHED: 10:51 23 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:02 20 February 2013

The formal gardens circa 1905

The formal gardens circa 1905

Contemporary living in a converted country house is a lifestyle we would all aspire to. At Balls Park near Hertford, City and Country Group have breathed new life back into the manor house and estate buildings...

DESIGNER Liz Freeman has always had a passion for interiors and fabrics. At just 39 years of age shes owned her own interior design business, Lizzie Lou, for the last six years. As well as taking on projects for private clients, more recently Essex-based Liz has been involved with the restoration of one of Hertfordshires most significant country houses Balls Park just 10 minutes away from Hertford.

City and Country Group, also based in Essex, specialise in the restoration of period properties. Just a quick glance at their website and you can see the stunning redevelopments of such buildings as the listed Warley Hospital on the former Brentwood Hall Estate and the 19th-century union workhouse, Old St Michaels, in Braintree.

The Balls Park Estate consists of the mansion itself, built in the mid 17th century, as well as a Coach House (1710) and The Stables (1902) all currently undergoing restoration to create 40 stunning apartments and two detached homes, Red Lodge and Lime Cottage.

So how did Liz come to work with City and Country? They approached me last year. Its a small world, interior design, and they had heard about previous projects Id worked on, she explains.

Balls Park isnt the first development she has been involved in with the company. Between Warley Hospital, Old St Michaels and Balls Park, she has put her own unique stamp on around 36 new homes so far.

Liz has a real enthusiasm for old buildings, and thrives on working with all their characterful quirks: I love all the original features in properties such as those at Balls Park and I think City and Country do a fantastic job in preserving those features.

Its great to work alongside a company who cares about restoration and who are passionate as well."

Back to life

Many of Britains beautiful old buildings are in need of rescuing. Most have great historical significance and are of unique architectural design. Balls Park is no exception, describes Liz: Some of these old buildings are in such a state when we get them, were not only keeping them alive, but were transforming them into something even better. It would be such a terrible waste if companies like City and Country didnt do this these buildings would just fall down. Thats whats so exciting about working with them.

Wood panelling, original sash windows, original 18th-century ironwork, solid oak 17th-century doors and decorative brickwork are just a few of the original features Liz can take her inspiration from: I often go on certain features in a room such as a really striking fireplace or stunning window, or a decorative ceiling perhaps. Also, the size of the space is going to affect what you do to it too.

Mass appeal

When it comes to designing the interiors for the properties at Balls Park, compared to those for private clients, Lizs approach is very different. Does she have a preference? "I love working
in both scenarios I get to work with some great people.

I dont have free rein at Balls Park, as we have to appeal to a potentially large market and with my private clients, I have to take their tastes into account.

To achieve that perfect interior, Liz often goes for a more neutral look: We wouldnt put a heavily patterned sofa in a showhome, because that could narrow down the number of potential buyers. We like to keep our interiors on trend which is such a pleasure to do when I come to dress them.

Liz has a book full of trade contacts she can call on for the more unique items she uses to add those final flourishes to the rooms.

Whats also important to Liz is using local businesses: The stunning ceiling light in Coach House 6 is from Period Style Lighting on Hertfords London Road, we also went to Hertford Glass for a gorgeous bespoke glass table top in the same apartment. The amazing hand-built kitchens we installed are from local company John Ladbury in Welham Green.

Living the dream

For many Liz has the dream job: taking a blank canvas which already has period character, and transforming it into a space that is opulent, stylish and in touch with modern living: The part I do is the icing on the cake really. Obviously I add the furniture and accessories, but the buildings at Balls Park very much sell themselves.

Balls Park - a potted history

Balls Park is one of the most significant mid-17th-century houses in Hertfordshire. The house was constructed by Sir John Harrison, a wealthy financier and customs official, between 1637 and 1640, perhaps to the designs of Nicholas Stone, the kings master-mason.

In the later 18th century, the house passed to the family of the marquesses Townshend of Raynham in Norfolk. Lord John Townshend initiated more changes; possibly roofing over the courtyard as a saloon or atrium in the early 19th century.

In the 1880s it was let to the Faudel-Phillips family, who purchased it outright in 1901. The estate offices and surviving stable block were built in 1902. In the early 1920s Sir Benjamin Faudel-Phillips commissioned the Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer to enlarge the house by removing a series of service buildings and constructing a new west wing, mirroring the form of the mansion. The coach house was also remodelled at this time.

In 1946 the estate was sold and converted into a teacher training college. It remained an educational hub for over 50 years, before closure in 2002 as the Hertford campus of the University of Hertfordshire.

Liz's top tips for restoring a period home

Look at what features the room has and home in on them. Perhaps there is a fantastic fireplace in which case you would obviously use it as the primary focus.

Your property may be rather prestigious, with that stately home feel, but the last thing you want to do is live in that environment, so I would always try to make a home a home. Just because it happens to be a very formal place, doesnt mean it has to be very formal living.

Play with the scale of your period house. Older houses often have lovely high ceilings, well proportioned rooms or large windows, so really have fun with them.

Dont be scared. When you see a period building thats quite overscaled it can be quite daunting to imagine what is going to go in it. You have to be brave and think about how exciting it can be because you have all that freedom and space its beautiful anyway, youre just enhancing it.

To find out more about Liz Freemans interior designs contact her at Lizzie Lou, Old Harlow, Essex. Email or call 07905 6114544

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