Abbey Cwm Hir Hall's magnificent decorations

PUBLISHED: 00:16 21 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:20 20 February 2013

Abbey Cwm Hir Hall's magnificent decorations

Abbey Cwm Hir Hall's magnificent decorations

The splendid Christmas decorations at Paul and Victoria Humpherston's home, The Hall at Abbey Cwm Hir, have a dedicated following, with visitors returning year after year, says Sharon Chilcott<br/><br/>PICTURES BY SHAUN THOMPSON

Pictures by Shaun Thompson

The splendid Christmas decorations at Paul and Victoria Humpherstons home,The Hall at, Abbey Cwm Hir, have a dedicated following, with visitors returning year after year, says Sharon Chilcott

IT IS a unique experience. There is probably no other private home in the country in which all 52 rooms, each individually decorated for the festivities, are open to the public gaze. And this year, visitors to The Hall at Abbey Cwm Hir near Llandrindod Wells, Powys, are in for a particularly sumptuous surprise. For the first time, owners Paul and Victoria Humpherston have adopted a Victorian theme, which sits particularly well with the Victorian Gothic Revival mansion.

Christmas starts early in the Humpherston household; the decorations are unveiled for public scrutiny on November 1, but in the months before that theres a flurry of activity as every room in this imposing mansion receives a festive make-over. No sooner is one season over, on January 6, with only a break for Christmas Day itself, than Victoria is planning the next. Shes already decided on a Gothic theme for 2012. Not only that, she also gives this imposing property an equally impressive seasonal make-over every Valentines Day and Easter. And at any other time of year, even without its seasonal trimmings, visual treats abound in this wonderful and historic property, the culmination of years of hard work and the unique and very personal expression of its owners creativity and interests.

The couple moved into the property 14 years ago, and after an army of Radnorshire builders and craftsmen had completed the renovation work, Victoria, a team of local ladies and a skilled painter and decorator set about all 52 rooms. They rag rolled walls, re-gilded the rococo ceilings, stripped white gloss paint from some of the original iron fireplaces, hand painted intricate designs and friezes onto the walls and shutters, made new curtains and soft furnishings and gave each room a unique and individual style. Many of the rooms are themed some reflect particular periods, others use transport, the seaside or schooldays as their inspiration and the snooker room celebrates the Arthurian legend. The Christmas decorations are devised to complement the style of each room.

Preparing the enormous house for the festivities is a similar triumph of teamwork, carefully masterminded by decorator-in-chief, Victoria, whose fertile imagination proves as inexhaustible as her energy. Yet she shuns the title of "creative genius" which her husband is all too ready to give her. "Its a real hands-on effort. I am helped by a team of close friends from the village, all volunteers, and we all roll our sleeves up. We all work together and we all get on well we sing from the same song sheet we are all in tune with the hall and how it should be dressed for Christmas and this year we have really achieved a wow factor."

The decorations are mainly handmade and always different. This year rich Victorian garlands and lavish ribbons abound, theres decoupage, decorations galore, hand-made figures depicting the Twelve Days of Christmas, and lavishly loaded Christmas trees wherever you look including a quirky recycled tree, a beautiful crystal tree, one decorated with hand crocheted ornaments, another with knitted items and the Bah, Humbug tree!

"People enjoy coming and picking up ideas and seeing how you can make something from nothing. For example, I have just turned a pair of trousers that didnt fit into Christmas puddings. Thats why Townswomens Guilds and WIs love coming here," says Victoria.

Set in 12 acres of landscaped gardens and grounds, The Hall nestles amongst the tranquil countryside near Llandrindod Wells, boasting such an idyllic location and such splendid architecture that its no surprise that Victoria and Paul were entranced the moment they set eyes on it. Built in 1834, it is acknowledged as one of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. Its stunning features include imposing marble fireplaces, wonderful Gothic windows, original shutters, bell pulls and window catches, detailed plasterwork and a beautiful decorative Minton Hollis tiled floor in the entrance hall.

However, not only was it an enormous undertaking to renovate and redecorate a property of this size and importance, the couple were then faced with the expense of maintaining it, to say nothing of the eye-watering central heating bills. With not a penny of public money to support its restoration, Paul and Victorias solution to funding its upkeep opening every single room to the public was both pragmatic and characteristically creative.

It all came about one Christmas: "We had been retired for two years and then the boiler broke down and it was going to cost a lot to repair. A friend in the village suggested we open the house and share the Christmas decorations with the pubic," says Victoria. "Paul was not convinced anyone would come but our feet didnt touch the ground we had to turn people away. Once we had got the boiler fixed, people kept ringing and begging us to keep it open. We felt almost guilty living here just the two of us, once the children had left, so thats what led to us opening the house all year round."

Since then they have shared their intriguing collections of antiques and curios, Victorias wonderful interior design ideas and their seasonal celebrations with thousands of visitors from home and abroad. The Grade II* mansion has also featured in 10 TV programmes over the past four years.

Tours of the house and gardens are available by appointment all year, except Christmas Day, and these are very much a family affair. Says Victoria: "Paul is front of house. I tend to stay in the background, but it is very rewarding to hear all the oohs and aahs as people go round!"

Christmas at Abbey Cwm Hir Hall starts on November 1 annually, and lasts until January 6. Year-round guided tours for groups and individuals can be booked by phoning 01597 851727. The hall is also available for small meetings, training courses and VIP

Abbey Cwm Hir Hall, Abbey Cwm Hir, near Llandrindod Wells,

Powys, LD1 6PH.

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