PROPERTY OF THE WEEK
Two refurbishments in six years have left this house twice-blessed, writes Harriot Lane Fox
illey Place near Farnham in Surrey has been completely refurbished not once, but twice in the past six years. Richard and Victoria Church were on holiday and only a few miles of carpet short of moving into their newly done-up home when a phone call came to tell them it had gone up in flames. They had to start all over again.
It had been in a state of complete disrepair when they bought it. “The roof was a disaster; when it was raining, you could have had a shower in any of the top rooms,” says Richard. “And there was nothing like central heating.”
The previous owners had run a much-loved nursery school in the billiard room. Russell Hill of Lane Fox, who is handling the sale, was a pupil and remembers singing “this is the way we clean our teeth, clean our teeth, clean our teeth” in the freezing 1950s’ loo block built on the end of the house. The Churches replaced that with an orangery as part of their first, nine-month refurb.
The second took a great deal longer, as they had to wrestle with insurers and conservation officials. Willey Place is hardly your average family home. The oldest part dates from the 17th century, with a chunk added on every hundred years, so that it now spans 11,000sqft. It is also Grade II listed, despite Richard’s attempts to get it taken off the register.
“We didn’t think there was anything of particular merit,” he says. “A lady from English Heritage came along simply to justify why she wouldn’t delist it. She pointed out a fine example of a regency fireplace in the dining room, which was a copy we’d put in six weeks earlier.”
The lady wouldn’t be swayed and, rather than downgrading Willey Place, she added several more features to the listing, including the fake fireplace — what an endorsement for the manufacturer.
The rules were just as strict when it came to the re- refurb. The blaze was contained in the tall middle section of the house, so the family’s furniture, which was stored in the drawing room to the side (one of nine reception rooms) was fortunately undamaged. But the flames took the walls back to bare brick. English Heritage specified expensive lime plaster over all three floors. The advantage of having to make good and rewire is that the Churches have been able to install broadband and a housewide sound system, unusual in a listed building.
They have also gained a splendid 24sqft bonus bathroom/dressing room for the master bedroom. There were two blocked-up windows high on the garden wall of the drawing room, which English Heritage claimed were never intended to be used. Wrong again. Peeling back the firedamaged exterior render revealed proper brick window linings. The Churches were allowed to open them up, then lower the drawing room ceiling and put the void above it to good use.
The two-and-a-half-year building project must have been exhausting but it seems to have whetted Richard and Victoria’s appetite. They and their three boys are moving a mile down the road to another listed wreck. This one has a recording studio in the garden which has been used by Status Quo and Robbie Williams.
Willey Place has six bedrooms and four bathrooms. There is also a three-bedroom annexe and a onebedroom staff flat. It is set in 10.9 acres (4.4 hectares) and has an ornamental kitchen garden, outdoor swimming pool, hard tennis court and astroturf cricket net. It is under offer, with a sale price of £2.85m through Lane Fox (01256 702892; www.lanefox.co.uk).
Second time lucky: a fire ruined the first attempt to modernise Willey Place