WHAT MY HOME MEANS TO ME Annabel Croft
Once Britain’s top female tennis player, Annabel, 51, won Junior Wimbledon before retiring from the sport at just 21. Now a TV presenter, she lives near Kingston, Surrey, with husband Mel, 55, and their three children
WHERE I LIVE
When we first viewed our house 18 years ago, we couldn’t get through the front door because it was swollen shut. The property had been let out to students who’d left a tap on and flooded it! It sat in an acre of land but was overgrown – the grass was waist high. We saw its potential though, so decided to buy it.
Originally it was a 1960s four-bedroom property and because of the damage, we wanted to pull it down and rebuild. The insurers, however, insisted on making the house habitable before selling to us, so for three years we lived there without changing anything, even though it smelt of damp. We came back from holiday once to find a mushroom growing out of the carpet. It was so cold we had to buy portable radiators and put them in the kitchen when the kids were eating, then carry them up to the bathroom when they had a bath!
People always laugh when they hear that we had a tennis court laid before we tackled the house, but there was method in the madness. The kids could then play tennis after school or ride their bikes around the court, which was particularly useful during the building work.
It took 10 months to rebuild the house into a Georgian-style six-bedroom property. We put our hearts and souls into the rebuild and although there’s still work to do, I love it. It makes me proud that we took it slowly so we had time to think about it. Visitors always say it feels tranquil. The rooms flow well, but I still think of it as a work-in-progress and won’t be happy until I get to the end of the ‘to do’ list.
We have good friends who are artistic and have a stunning home, and I’ve learned a lot about interiors from them. Also, when we first moved in, I spent a couple of days with a local designer who helped us choose our colours. We’ve gone for soft, muted creams and lovely big statement pieces, such as mirrors and chandeliers.
I’m always on the lookout for over-sized lamps. I’ve bought Timothy Oulton ones in the past as they’re quite quirky. The one I’ve got my eye on now is a feather lamp by A Modern Grand Tour (above). It’s theatrical and expensive!
Julian Chichester is another favourite designer.
Because I travel widely I’ve picked up quite a few knick-knacks along the way. We brought a coco-de-mer fruit back from our honeymoon in the Seychelles. It’s really beautiful and sits in the middle of our coffee table.
I like to have a full, open house. There are often lots of pairs of shoes by the door and I don’t know who’s coming or going. The children – Amber, 24, Charlie, 21, and Lily, 20 – know they can bring friends back to stay. Then Mel and I get to listen to all the young conversations!
We’re an active family and often go running together or go to yoga classes. The children started playing social tennis from an early age and we all play together. I know I’m lucky to have my own tennis court – it’s not used as much as it once was, but I like to go out there and practise serves on my own. It takes me back to my childhood when I used to go out with a bucket of balls. It’s therapeutic too.
Timothy Oulton lighting, such as this Bark pendant, is a favourite, as are Julian Chichester pieces, which include these elegant chairs
Annabel loves alfresco dining and Mel bought her wicker furniture for her birthday. A feather lamp is on her wishlist. Having a tennis court was a priority