How to spot the real deal

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Historic Homes -

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

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