With its rock star-meets-manor house credentials, Joanna and Mark’s family home is a celebration of luxe grandeur
Once a secret hangout for cool Sixties creatives, Joanna and Mark’s manor house flat still boasts a good-time vibe
Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix partied in our living room and Rod Stewart wrote Maggie May in one of the bedrooms, so it would be a crime not to throw a Christmas party here,’ says Joanna Shipton. She and husband Mark live on the ground floor of a rambling Hertfordshire manor house that was a hush-hush hangout for cool creatives back in the Sixties. Pop art greats including Peter Blake lived here. Ken Russell wanted to film Women in Love here, but was turned down in order to preserve the secrecy of this particular bohemian enclave. Think a more discreet version of Keith Richards’ country pile, but minus the police raids.
‘We bought it from the son of the artist Barry Daniels, one of the original free spirits who founded the Danad Design collective and made everything happen here,’ says Joanna. ‘It definitely feels as if an air of creativity is still floating around in the ether.’ Remnants of the lives of previous inhabitants – from paintings to furniture – were still piled up high in all the rooms when they first visited. ‘It was hard to see past it all, but slowly, the place revealed itself, like a hidden gem,’ says Joanna.
When it came to finding a style to suit the house’s glam back story – not to mention the older architectural flourishes added by Sir John Soane in the 18th century – Joanna and Mark called up Camilla Kelly, who runs The Mint List Interior Design. ‘We had a lot of fun together,’ says Joanna. ‘Camilla has an eye for sourcing pieces that exude a grandeur that fits in with the surroundings, but without going at all “National Trust”.’
The sheer scale of the ballroom-like spaces was initially daunting. ‘We moved here from a more “normal” house and our style was more slick, contemporary furniture,’ says Joanna. A few pieces were invited along on the short road trip to their new home, but, overall, Joanna and Mark’s style needed a total rethink. Textures needed more depth; furniture needed added stature. And the overall effect needed to be cast through a more glamorous filter.
‘Camilla helped us to turn what could have been several cavernous spaces into a cohesive flow,’ Joanna says. The family’s central space is an open-plan living room with a dining area, united and softened with rich velvets, a gleaming étagère and layers of lush curtains. Large-scale Tom Dixon pendants add a sense of drama that suits the high proportions.
Then there’s the children’s zone: a vast nursery space the couple wanted their kids to share, rather than carving it up into separate rooms. But they also didn’t want it to feel like a draughty Victorian dormitory. Camilla’s solution was to define three cosy spaces with scaled-up headboards and a cool illuminated initial over each bed. A shared play area is there for when they want to hang out together. ‘It’s a dream room for kids,’ says Joanna. ‘I can already imagine them all waking up on Christmas morning…’
This will be the family’s third Christmas here and 24 are invited for lunch. ‘It really is a fab space for family gatherings,’ says Joanna. ‘Last year, I cooked for everyone, but this time, everyone’s bringing one dish, so hopefully, I’ll escape potato duty. I must have peeled 150 potatoes last year.’
Just as well for Santa’s imminent arrival that the original fireplace surrounds have been restored, along with the period mouldings. But the house’s grand entrance, designed by Sir John Soane, is the architectural star, with stately Ionic pillars that were prototypes for his design for the Bank of England. ‘That view of the entrance from the long drive had us hooked from the start,’ says Joanna.
Given its Grade Ii-listed status, the couple have ‘left the architecture to speak for itself.’ Joanna says: ‘With a house like this, you feel as if you’re looking after it for the next generation.’ And finding out more about its past lives has been part of that pleasure. In the basement, Joanna and Mark found stacks of paintings left by the artist Barry Daniels and asked his son if they could have them framed. Hanging in a row beneath ornate 18th-century cornicing, these drawings are a perfect homage to the house’s creative past. ‘When you walk in, you can feel that good things have happened here,’ says Jo. ‘Now we’re here, I reckon there are plenty more good times to come.’