Through the Key­hole: a cou­ple’s dream for­ever home

After years run­ning a huge 16th Cen­tury manor house, Alan and Sue Elmes wanted to down­size. Sort of. CHRISSY HAR­RIS went to see their very be­spoke coun­try home…

Devon Life - - Inside - PHO­TOS: Matt Austin

Wind­ing Wood, near Axmin­ster in East Devon is a bucket list house. With its beau­ti­ful in­door swim­ming pool, mod­ern kitchen and break­fast room and yards of un­der floor heat­ing, it has been de­signed to in­dulge its own­ers. And boy do they de­serve it.

Alan and Sue Elmes spent the best part of a decade restor­ing and main­tain­ing a Grade-ii* listed El­iz­a­bethan manor house in nearby Hawkchurch.

They loved Wyld Court but it was year-long-round back­break­ing work, stok­ing dozens of log fires and main­tain­ing all 8,000 square feet of the his­toric build­ing, where King Charles II is said to have spent the night be­fore flee­ing to France after the Civil War.

No one could blame the Elmes for want­ing some­thing a lit­tle more suited to their needs as they headed into their six­ties.

So they built their dream home from scratch.

“We just thought, well, this is our for­ever house and we just wanted what we felt we needed now,” says Sue, 61, ex­plain­ing the de­ci­sion to sell up and start afresh. “We wanted enough bed­rooms for our fam­ily, a nice sit­ting room, kitchen, din­ing room, study and that’s it.”

And a lux­u­ri­ous in­door swim­ming pool?

“That was one of the most im­por­tant things,” says Sue, laugh­ing. “We had an out­door pool at our old place but we prob­a­bly only used it about three times.”

“Yes, I’d be run­ning round try­ing to heat it up while all our friends were in en­joy­ing the wa­ter!” says Alan, 62.

“And I’d be there serv­ing tea and cake,” adds Sue, ad­mit­ting con­stantly en­ter­tain­ing was tough go­ing some­times.

Now, ev­ery morn­ing, Sue makes a cup of tea in her mod­ern kitchen and takes a dip in what is quite pos­si­bly the most in­cred­i­ble in­door pool I’ve ever seen, com­plete with seat­ing area and stylish fin­ish­ing touches, such as the art-deco in­spired win­dow.

When they’re not swim­ming, Sue and Alan say they spend a lot of time in their study, the small­est but cosiest room in the house, over­look­ing the gar­den, which is sur­rounded by acres of wood­land in this idyl­lic spot.

Up the grand wooden stair­case are five per­fectly fin­ished bed­rooms – just enough space for the cou­ple’s two daugh­ters and grand­chil­dren Char­lie, six, and Jack, five who live nearby but love com­ing to stay now and then.

On the top floor is Alan’s ‘man cave’, as he calls it, a state of the art cinema room with big, soft chairs and a gi­ant screen.

The whole house has been built with com­fort in mind – and there’s not a log burner in sight.

“Yes, we don’t do real fires any­more,” says Sue, re­call­ing the days at Wyld Court when she and Alan used to haul wheel­bar­rows full of wood around to keep the place as warm as pos­si­ble.

“There were mo­ments when it was amaz­ing and we do miss it in some ways but we re­alised we couldn’t be there for­ever,” she adds. “So we’ve gone from one ex­treme to the other.”

The cou­ple built Wind­ing Wood after look­ing around East Devon for the per­fect plot. They came across a bun­ga­low on a three-acre site in the grounds of a for­mer school.

They fell in love with the shape and size of the land and de­cided to go for it, with a view to knock­ing the bun­ga­low down and build­ing a new house to­wards the end of the gar­den, on the site of some ex­ist­ing ten­nis courts.

After some stress­ful months try­ing to se­cure the sale, the Elmes were good to go and set about work­ing with an ar­chi­tect to de­sign their per­fect home.

Sue and Alan lived in the bun­ga­low for 18 months while the build took place.

“Have you ever been on hol­i­day in a car­a­van?” says Alan, who

‘Alan al­ways says that we’ve gained 20 years by mov­ing down here, and I think he’s right’

“It’s nice at night, too be­cause all the lights that come on,” says Sue. “We’re re­ally pleased with it. Last sum­mer, we were work­ing hard in the gar­den and it was lovely to come in here and cool off, with the doors open.”

ad­mits they strug­gled with their rather cosy liv­ing quar­ters. “Well, it was like that. But for months and months.”

“It was pretty mis­er­able,” says Sue. “But at least it was warm….”

The cou­ple’s builder son-in-law Wayne Fowler did most of the hard graft, along with project man­ager and lo­cal crafts­man Mervyn Fisher.

“He was great,” says Alan, who spent years run­ning a suc­cess­ful lo­gis­tics firm in Lon­don be­fore re­tir­ing to Devon in 2005.

Alan ad­mits he found the much more re­laxed pace of life down here hard to ad­just to at first and had strug­gled with pre­vi­ous build­ing projects. Wind­ing Wood was eas­ier, he says, thanks to his top team.

“Merv is well known lo­cally and he doesn’t take any pris­on­ers,” says Alan, who was project man­ager through­out the build.“i told Merv from the start: you tell me what you want and when you want it I will sort it,’” says Alan. “It was bril­liant. Wayne was great, too.”

The cou­ple moved into the Ge­or­gian-style Wind­ing Wood in Au­gust 2016 and are mak­ing the most of their new, very low main­te­nance lifestyle.

“We’re start­ing to set­tle in and en­joy it now,” says Sue, adding that there are plans for a hot tub in the pool area and the gar­den still needs some work. But there’s plenty of time for all that.

“Oh we’re not go­ing any­where,” she says. “Alan al­ways says that we’ve gained 20 years by mov­ing down here, and I think he’s right.”

This is cer­tainly a well de­served for­ever home.

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