Magnificent Mansion Makeover
11:59 15 November 2012
The opportunity to refurbish and redecorate an elegant Regency villa in the Wye Valley proved an irresistible challenge, as Sharon Chilcott reports
Exciting and daunting: that is how estate manager Paula Owen describes the project to bring Wyelands, near Chepstow, back to life.
The fact that it was someone elses money she was spending was an enormous responsibility. She was also very aware that the end result needed to appeal to a discerning clientele.
Yet she could not resist indulging some of her own tastes and preferences and, as a consequence, Wyelands has the ambience of a loved, cared for private country house, rather than a venue for corporate events and private hire.
Its the first time I have been given carte blanche everything that went into the house was my choice. The only difficult thing was that I had to imagine what everybody else was going to like you cant please all the people all the time, but by keeping with tradition and setting out not to shock I have tried to achieve an understated elegance, said Paula.
Paula and her husband Tom arrived at Wyelands Estate in May, with a remit to refurbish the whole house and to redecorate half of the rooms within three and a half months. They were recruited to the project by the propertys owner, Paul Bailey.
Paula was fresh from employment as estate manager at Rise Hall in Yorkshire, a Grade II* listed mansion which was the property star of the Channel 4 programme Sarah Beenys Restoration Nightmare. This programme followed the ups and downs of the TV presenters endeavours to restore the sadly run-down property and turn it into a venue for wedding hire, private house parties and corporate events.
Although on a much larger scale, the idea for the commercial use of the property was similar to the concept Paul had developed for Wyelands, which he had bought four years previously, originally with the intention of living in it himself. Earlier this year, he started advertising for a couple to manage the estate. He had an idea of what he wanted to do and he had seen us on the TV programme. He interviewed us and everything fell into place, said Paula.
I worked at Rise Hall for 18 months, working 18 hour days overseeing the restoration. It had 97 rooms and I thought that this would be downsizing to something more manageable but there was not a stick of furniture in this house when we arrived and, given the tight timescale, it has not been straightforward. I started by trying to buy things over the internet, but 50% of it would arrive broken or damaged or the wrong size manufacturers dont give the customer service they used to give. In the end I turned to local suppliers to get better quality items and I bought all the sofas, the wallpapers and curtains from Laura Ashley. Paul is Welsh through and through and would like us to source everything we possibly can from Wales, so the fact Laura Ashley are based in Wales was perfect, plus they offer good quality and they managed to meet our delivery times.
Paula and Tom had their work cut out turning Wyelands around in time for the official opening on September 6, and before that, for a trial run, when Paul invited a party of golfing friends to stay, including West Indian cricketing legend Brian Lara and former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, who praised the great hospitality he received.
We redecorated and refurbished the hall, the stairs and landing, three bedrooms, the drawing room and the dining room. The previous owners had adopted some interesting colour schemes pink in the drawing room, peach in the dining room and a fabulous toothpaste green in the front hall! When I first saw it I was mortified, said Paula.
Wyelands is an attractive neo-classical style villa built in about 1819 for George Buckle, a banker who later became High Sheriff of Monmouthshire. The architect he engaged to design it was Robert Lugar, known for the grand castellated mansion Cyfarthfa Castle, in South Wales. Later that century, Wyelands was owned by another High Sheriff of Monmouthshire, the South Wales iron and coal master John Russell, who in 1856 bought the neighbouring Piercefield Estate. By about the 1860s the property was owned by The Reverend Robert Vaughan-Hughes and it was still in his family in the 1960s, lived in by yet one more High Sheriff of Monmouthshire, this time Brigadier Gerald Birdwood Vaughan-Hughes.
The property is built mainly of Bath limestone and has an imposing columned entrance porch, with an enormous six-panelled door leading into a large tiled hallway, which has two large Ionic columns. The villas original features include beautiful sash windows, the main staircase with its cast iron balustrade and mahogany handrail and marble fireplaces with neo-classical detail. It also boasts beautiful cornicing, but Tom does not believe this to be original, suggesting most was replaced in the 1980s when the property underwent an extensive refurbishment. Around the same time a magnificent covered swimming pool was added, its orangery-style design in keeping with the rest of the building.
The property now provides luxurious accommodation for parties of up to 20 adults and guests can also have the use of a lodge on the estate which sleeps two adults and a child. For family get-togethers with children, up to 22 guests can be catered for in the main house. Downstairs theres a comfortable drawing room, richly furnished with wine-coloured sofas and drapes and next door theres a formal dining room, which can also be used as a boardroom for meetings. Paula had the 16-foot mahogany dining table made especially for the room, determined to be able to seat 18 guests in comfort. In so many stately homes they have to put chip board tops on the tables to extend them, she said. I wanted to avoid that. The table, with its matching chairs, was the single most expensive thing we bought for the house.
Wyelands also has a spacious kitchen, which will easily accommodate a houseful of guests for breakfasts and informal meals. The kitchen, which leads into a garden room, has a bright and airy feel and is furnished with light-coloured hand-built cupboards. Guests can choose to cater for themselves, or, if they prefer, Paula can prepare meals for them, using local produce from the nearby Newhall Farm Shop at Chepstow Garden Centre. Upstairs, there are eight individually-designed twin and double bedrooms, six of them en suite. There is a further bedroom downstairs, with a pretty tiled fireplace, where Paula was able to incorporate a favourite Laura Ashley wallpaper, Tatton, which she had used in her own Victorian terraced house in Yorkshire. I liked it so much, I had to use it here somewhere, she said.
The house stands in 300 acres, with around 30 acres nearest to the property providing a tranquil backdrop of landscaped lawns and parkland, dotted with well-established ornamental trees. Here, Tom can arrange clay pigeon shoots for guests and he has other plans for the use of the grounds. The estate was used as the Chepstow showground just after the Second World War and we would like to use it again in some way for large events for the local community, he said. Other plans include transforming an unused tennis court into a covered area for events and conferences. It would also provide another option for wedding receptions, currently accommodated in the house and in a marquee on the lawns.
Managing this grand estate is a lifestyle Paula and Tom clearly relish, yet it is in stark contrast to their previous careers they met when they were both working for the Royal Airforce, where they were responsible for refuelling battlefield helicopters!
Get the Lifestyle
Celebrate the festive season in luxurious country house style theres still availability for a large group of friends or family to enjoy a Christmas break or a private New Years house party at Wyelands. The house and grounds can also be rented exclusively throughout the year for private house parties, corporate entertaining, business meetings, residential business events, management training, team building weekends and photo shoots.
01291 408062 www.wyelandsestate.co.uk