Two historic houses for the price of one
Not one, but two historic properties; EMMA CAULTON visits a Georgian house and secret 17th century cottage in a walled garden
“We feel this house in our bones,” say David and Teresa Sinclair. We are standing in what is considered one of the finest rooms in Titchfield. That’s no mean feat in an historic village that dates back to the 6th century and is stuffed with listed buildings. The room is certainly grand. Imagine the setting for a ballroom scene in a Jane Austen novel. This is classic Georgian: large and light with an Italian Carrara marble fireplace topped by an ornate mirror and a pair of wide, nearly full-height sash windows adorned by elaborate architraves of reeding and lion’s head roundels with original working shutters.
The room faces south-west with views over lawned gardens and when the sash windows are raised right up Teresa remarks how the room feels as though it is outside. She adds: “When the sun comes round and in through the windows the room is ablaze!”
Even on an overcast day the quality of light is extraordinary. The ceiling is high. Very high. High enough for a chandelier. For Teresa and David all that airiness, light and wall space makes this room perfect to showcase, gallery-style, their collection of modern art – striking originals and prints mostly by contemporary artists of repute.
“We are not afraid to mix modern and antique and I don’t think you should be!” comments David.
This is The Georgian House, so called as it was built around 1810 to 1820 - the elegant Georgian wing of a much older Jacobean property, St Margaret’s Priory.
The Sinclairs bought the house 14 years ago. At the time they had been looking for a house in Titchfield for about five years. Teresa recalls: “Nothing was suitable. Even though we lived just outside Titchfield and David worked in Titchfield, we had no idea this house was here; it’s so tucked away. When we came round the house, we thought ‘wow’! We fell in love with it immediately. It was everything
we had wanted.”
That was before they discovered the exquisite woodwork around the windows which had been hidden by heavy curtains. Teresa remembers: “When we moved in the first thing we did was take the curtains down; it was very exciting to reveal this original detailing.”
With the shutters in working condition, there was no need to replace the curtains – hence the principal reception room really does have the feel of a gallery. Walls have been painted in Farrow & Ball Strong White - a colour that shifts perpetually from cream to pale grey-green and cloud blue depending on the light.
The next project was the plumbing and the removal of “eyesore” water pipes running along the skirting boards and through the elaborate cornicing.
They found a traditional fifthgeneration craftsman plasterer specialising in restoration
(Paris Mouldings) in nearby Stubbington. David smiles: “The pipework has disappeared and the renovation work is perfect – this is probably the most pleasing of all the things we did.”
The goal was always to keep this Grade II listed property as it was; or rather a better version of what it was. These are not modern lookalike cast iron radiators, but the genuine article, refurbished, sandblasted and recoated (“the heat from them is amazing!”). Old lino has been lifted and pitch pine floors have been restored or repaired with reclaimed boards. The kitchen/ breakfast room is traditional with a farmhouse table and Aga, while the formal front door opens onto a welcoming reception hall with old boards, views over the courtyard rose garden, comfy sofa, desk and turning staircase lined with made-to-measure bookshelves, designed by David.
The grand style continues upstairs. On the first floor the galleried landing is large enough for a piano and there are two well-proportioned double bedrooms, again with high ceilings, sash windows and working shutters. The master bedroom particularly impresses, featuring original panelling, ornate plasterwork and cast-iron fireplace. If some pieces of furniture, such as the dressing table, look comfortably at home it is because they are a legacy from the previous owner. Teresa explains: “The pieces were especially made for the room, so we have kept them; they’re very (fashionably) retro.”
David and Theresa have turned the second bedroom into a spacious study with his and her desks and a sofa. On this floor there’s also a shower room and a bathroom with pitch pine boards, attractive cast iron fireplace with old Delft tiles and a lovely panelled cupboard. Stairs go up to a second floor with two more generously sized double bedrooms which Teresa fondly recalls being filled with happy teens.
All the bedrooms face southwest and have garden views. Those gardens are as special as the house: secret walled gardens approaching three-quarters of an acre with striped lawn, borders spilling over with flowers, rose garden and a sweep of gravelled
drive. A path meanders through wild woodland with mature trees which is carpeted with crocuses and bluebells in spring. In summer a wisteria with spectacular white pendants clambering over a corner of the house fills the air with scent.
Extras include a large cedar shed with double doors hidden among the trees and a cellar with barrel ceiling reached from the rose garden. But the most extraordinary ‘extra’ is an enchanting brick and timber-framed cottage among the herbaceous borders. David describes it as: “A sweet-looking building. It looks like a smile - with two eyes and a mouth.”
Built in 1640, the cottage is called the Coach House although its original purpose remains a mystery – however an architectural historian has commented that the use of bricks were a sign of wealth at the time. When the Sinclairs bought the house, this cottage was falling down, but they restored it as guest accommodation in 2009 and received a Fareham Society Restoration Award for their efforts.
They repaired and restored the exterior with handmade bricks and redesigned a simple gardener’s lean-to as a hallway and bathroom with limestone flooring. The mix of old and new continues with a new staircase handmade by a local carpenter, old gnarly exposed beams in the bedroom and reclaimed floorboards in the sitting room hiding the original cobblestones underneath. The recycled wall sconces were sourced via eBay from a Glasgow pub while the old front door was found nearby in Emsworth. The result is charming.
As we stand on the lawn, looking back at the cottage among the flower beds and the house with its striking modillion cornice and castellated parapet, Teresa and David reflect: “We have lived life to the full here. Moving will be a wrench.”
ABOVE RIGHT: The principal reception room is a favourite with its original plasterwork, grand marble fireplace and the well used cast-iron and brass grate.Mixing old style and modern art in the traditional kitchen-breakfast room with artwork and Aga adding bright colourThe reception hall with old boards and made-to-measure bookshelves; the low radiator, which fits perfectly under the sash window, was moved from an upper floor
LEFT: Old and new timbers are mixed together in the bedroom in the eaves of the 17th century Coach HouseRIGHT: The family bathroom has pitch pine boards, panelled cupboard and fireplace with old delft tiles, which were possibly brought to Titchfield by Dutch engineers working on the Titchfield ‘canal’ in the 17th centuryBELOW RIGHT: The master bedroom features impressive panelling and pasterwork, high ceilings, cast iron fireplace and furniture specially made for the roomBELOW LEFT: The ‘informal’ entrance from the rose gardenBOTTOM LEFT: An enchanting 17th century timber-framed cottage hidden in the walled gardens