Take a peek into this beautiful Georgian home in Ware
PUBLISHED: 09:55 24 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:55 24 January 2017
Pat Bramley uncovers the story of a 15-year project to bring a seven-bedroom Georgian home in Ware into the 21st century
Fifteen years ago, the owner of Highfields Lodge in Ware wanted to be certain her seven-bedroom Georgian home would be in safe hands with its next owner.
‘She interviewed me,’ says Carmen Schofield-Bezer, recalling her first visit to the Hoe Lane property that she and her investment banker husband Russell were interested in buying.
‘The lady who owned it was probably in her seventies. She and her late husband had brought up their three children here. She actually gave birth in what is now my dining room but by the time we arrived she was here on her own with her two dogs.’
The house had been a part of the then-owner’s family for some time, as it was previously owned by her parents-in-law.
‘It was clearly a much-loved family home. She didn’t want new owners dividing it up into flats or knocking it about. I had to go to tea with her. She wanted to know what my intentions were. She wanted it in writing, so that’s what I did. I wrote her a letter setting out our plans.’
Carmen, Russell and their two children Isabella and Marcus were living in Much Hadham in a very different house from the grade II listed one they were viewing – a modern home built around 10 years earlier.
German by origin, Carmen had been a modern languages teacher before their eldest child was born. But a home in Ware would be coming home – it was where she grew up and she and Russell had married.
‘I love Ware. I’d always wanted to come back to live here. Highfields Lodge is opposite the secondary school I went to. I don’t remember noticing the house on the other side of the road when I was at Presdales, however – there was a high hedge which hid it.
‘We were very careful what we said when we spoke to the owner. She loved the house. She thought there was nothing which needed doing to it. But inside it was dated and a bit tired – you could see the rooms had been arranged to give different generations their own space. But the house just had a wonderful spirit and you could sense what you could do to make it beautiful again. And basically that’s what we did.’
The restoration has been a labour of love. ‘We’ve been working on the house 15 years non-stop’ Carmen explains. ‘Not a year has gone by when there hasn’t been a new project we’ve been working on. It’s been our passion.’
The couple were ‘enormously lucky’ when they embarked on the refurbishment to have the services of Carmen’s father, a builder and garden landscaper, to advise them on how to give Highfields Lodge both the style and amenities they wanted. First off, they tackled the major jobs of renewing the roof, the wiring and the plumbing, before turning to the interiors.
Carmen says she can visualise how a room will look when it’s had a makeover. But setting about achieving it can take months of research to source the pieces to give it the detail she’s after.
Out of the two of them, she’s the one for choosing the style and colour of the décor and materials for soft furnishings. ‘Within reason, Russell is happy for me to do whatever I think will be lovely. What he loves are the electrics and the gadgetry. Those are his department. He works long hours. He likes to come home to a lovely warm house, which is contemporary but at the same time comfortable and inviting.’
The seven bedrooms and four reception rooms have been renovated and the kitchen and bathrooms refitted by top craftsmen. There’s a new utility room, and an Amdega orangerie and double garage have also been built. But the standout new feature is the five-star leisure suite converted from a coach house in the grounds.
‘You couldn’t see it from the main house when we moved in because it was covered in ivy. It had previously been used as stables – we know that because of the hayracks. We’ve reused them in the garden,’ says Carmen.
Russell spotted the potential for an indoor pool when he first set eyes on the coach house. ‘He’d always wanted one,’ says his wife. She saw an ad in a magazine for the model they installed.
The pool is very high-end. The tiled floor can be raised to the level of the surrounding paved terrace. The water is drained as it lifts, so that when it reaches maximum height it dries off to make the perfect dance floor or function room.
Carmen adds that the moveable floor is also great for children or anyone learning to swim. ‘You can stop the floor at a midway point before it reaches the top and turn it into a shallow pool. The fitters told us most people use a pool for the first few weeks while it’s a novelty then forget about it and never use it again but we’ve had ours for about two years and we use it every day. We love it.’
Russell designed the lighting for the pool room and also the garden. ‘There are glass panels on the side of the pool. When you’re swimming on a level with the illuminated garden at night and the lights in the glass panels are on, it’s magical – an other-wordly experience.’
The pool area leads to a gym and also to a conservatory built by Jeremy Uglow. On the ground floor of the coach house is a well equipped kitchen. Upstairs is a sauna, bathroom and double bedroom, providing a self-contained annex as well as a leisure suite. ‘We’ve had 20 teenagers sleeping in swimming togs on that pool floor when it’s been raised for parties,’ Carmen laughs.
As full-time project manager throughout the refurbishment, Carmen placed her faith almost unswervingly in established local companies whose advice she trusts.
‘We put in a kitchen by one of the companies who spend millions on advertising but I wasn’t happy with it. I had it ripped out. The new one is by John Ladbury in Welham Green. I know his sons, David and Stephen, who live in Ware. David fitted our kitchen. Nothing was too much trouble. He did an incredible job.’
The new kitchen has cream-painted units, granite worktops and a red Aga with electric oven and hob attached so it can be used in summer when the main section is turned off.
Carmen also chose John Ladbury to build the furniture for the master bedroom. Lighting Solutions of Cambridge fitted most of the lighting in the main house as well as the coach house. ‘There’s mood lighting in some areas. The lights change colours. It can all be controlled from a mobile or an iPad – marvellous.’
Ware Bathroom Centre provided the new bathrooms. ‘They’re very knowledgeable and they have an amazing display in their showroom. That’s where I got the ideas for the different designs.’
The sofas for the drawing room and many other furnishings came from Fishpools in Waltham Cross. ‘They’re a family firm which has been established for 100 years. My daughter is friends with one of their granddaughters. They always give me really good advice. They tell the truth. When I’ve said “You know our house, do you think this will look good?” sometimes they’ve said, “No, Carmen, that’s not right. It won’t go.” And they let you browse if that’s all you want to do. They don’t hassle you.’
As for the path that circles the lawn at the back of the house, Carmen’s dad is the one to thank. As well as recommending a wide variety of fruit trees, he designed a circular path so his young grandchildren could ride their bikes round the garden without straying on to borders or falling off – good old grandpa.
After all this labour of love and 15 years as a family home, the couple are moving to New York for job reasons. Their youngest son Sebastian, who was born shortly after the move to Highfields, will be going with them. Isabella and Marcus, who are finishing their education in the UK, will be going out to join them for holidays.
Meanwhile the house on which the family have lavished so much time and money is for sale through Savills in Bishop’s Stortford for £2.25m.