How to spot the real deal
Shopping for an architectural gem? Arabella Youens discovers what classic characteristics to look out for
For the first time since it was completed in 1724, the Grade I listed Ombersley Court in Worcestershire has been launched to the market. It is a rare beast. Not only is this bracket of listing special ( just 2.5 per cent of all listed buildings in England are of such “exceptional interest” to be classified Grade I) but this marks the end of nearly 400 years of ownership in same family.
Now that Lord and Lady Sandys have died leaving no heirs to their 27,000 sq ft home, the search is on for a new family to breathe life back into this sleeping beauty of a house.
Crispin Holborow of Savills, which is selling the 39-acre estate for £3.5million on behalf of the executors, says he can only recall “a handful of occasions in a career spanning 30 years” that he has managed the sale of such a unique property.
It is a time capsule that has had few alterations. The interiors include rare examples of Regency Chinoisserie and there is a bedroom named after the Duke of Wellington – the second Baron Sandys was one of his aide-de-camps at the Battle of Waterloo.
As any period country house owner knows, buying a listed property is not without its caveats; the higher the grade, the greater the running costs, and the more involved Historic England becomes.
But despite the enormous costs – made more burdensome in 2012 when then-Chancellor George Osborne abolished the zero rating for VAT on listed building alterations – Holborow insists that there are a number of buyers whose desire for an architectural gem will be dimmed by nothing in their pursuit for property perfection.
It’s about “curb appeal”, says Philip Harvey of Property Vision, who has several clients interested only in Grade I or Grade II properties. “Listed status is a stamp of approval that it’s part of a special club of the finest properties in Britain.”
For today’s top-end buyer, a property’s appeal increases if it comes to the market intact. “Ombersley is an example of a house that can only be explained architecturally through the narrative of acquisition, aggrandisement and adaptation for a single family – and that’s remarkable,” says specialist decorator Edward Bulmer, who regularly works with historic houses.
This rise in interest for the “real deal” is also reflected in the decorating of large country houses. Henriette von Stockhausen, a Dorset-based interior designer who runs VSP Interiors, is currently working on three Grade I listed properties and one Grade A (the Scottish equivalent). “One thing I’ve noticed in the past few years is that the younger generation of buyers are much more respectful of the architectural heritage of the house,” she says. “Rather than ripping everything out and starting again, as happened in the past, the trend seems to be more about restoring and keeping original character instead of making it look like a revamped country house hotel.”
The characteristics of what makes up an architectural gem are, of course, somewhat fluid. Desirability is broadly alterations might be considered valuable depending on who undertook them, when and why.”
Another aspect to consider is the position of the property; it should be facing the right way to take advantage of the best light, usually south west. “Rarely would the best properties be built in areas that are waterlogged – these were the days before damp courses,” says Luke Morgan of Strutt & Parker, whose office has just launched the mainly Elizabethan Grade II listed Wyld Court in Hawkchurch, Devon, for £2.25million. It shouldn’t remain on the market for long. “There is an incredibly healthy market for unique architectural gems with kudos that surpasses buying a house purely for practicalities,” Morgan says.
Grade II listed Broadfield Court in Bodenham, Herefordshire, went under offer a month after coming to market with Knight Frank at £1.5million. The impressive 14thcentury house had “a great sense of arrival in 27 acres of private grounds, and had retained its period features, giving a huge amount of character to the rooms”, says agent Peter Edwards. “It offered the country house dream.”
Centuries past: Ombersley Court has been in the same family since it was built in 1724