Through the keyhole: Park Farm at Colwall
PUBLISHED: 13:08 14 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:59 20 February 2013
Park Farm was a dark and dangerous place when the Duddys moved in. Today it combines the best of ancient and modern, says Victoria Jenkins
Alison Reeves and her husband Keith Duddy bought the oldest house in the little village of Colwall on the Herefordshire border with Worcestershire when their youngest daughter Charlie was only a year old.
Historic Park Farm near Malvern was enormous and dilapidated and when Alison stepped inside she didnt quite share her husbands enthusiasm for the Grade II* listed property. It had been the Bishop of Herefords hunting lodge in around 1510 and later became the Bishops palace, she says. In fact the Church owned it right up until 1910 when it became a farmhouse. It was built of oak beams and wattle and daub walls, many of which were in terrible condition and it was very dark with lots of tiny rooms. An enormous hedge grew close to the house and it all needed a huge amount of work. I couldnt imagine what we were going to do with it.
Keith was particularly keen on the enormous 6000 square foot Victorian barn from where he could run his business, i2i.digital, a television company. So in 2001 the couple bought the house, barn and two adjoining cottages and moved in with their three daughters Georgia (now 18), Harriet (now 16) and Charlie (now 11).
Well, says Alison, it was the barn we moved into first, as it had some habitable rooms and we converted it for the business. That took 10 months and then we moved into the one side of the house that was habitable although unlovely. Then we gutted and rebuilt the north wing of the house which was dangerously derelict and had been so for 150 years. Having done that we moved into it and renovated the unlovely other half.
The north wing was the oldest part of the house and the biggest part of the project as the whole section had to be taken down and rebuilt. This involved lifting the timber frame by nine inches as it had collapsed. First the builders replaced the rotten roof timbers with new green oak grown in Gloucestershire, which meant the roof had to come off.
And it stayed off for 18 months because Keith was also restoring a 1930s narrow-boat for a TV show, so he pulled the builders off the house and had them work on the boat instead, says Alison.
When the roof was finally back on they discovered the huge inglenook chimney was unsafe and had to be taken down and rebuilt. Modern stud walls were also removed to create bigger rooms that were more sympathetic to the original layout.
Once the major structural work, was done the Duddys could then move into it and begin work on the other part of the house.
From the start Keith appointed a project manager, Lester Hartmann, with whom he had worked on several projects for television and he and Keith also designed many of the interior features such as the stunning main staircase and the very contemporary kitchen and bathrooms.
In fact, almost nothing has been left untouched in the six years it took to renovate the entire building. The house was insulated, plumbed and re-wired according to the latest specifications and a new oil-fired central heating system put in.
Staircases were added, oak floors were laid throughout and all new oak window frames, designed to resemble the originals were fitted where required. In some cases the existing original windows were repaired to the requirements of English Heritage.
We even had a new water main put in and, as Keith hates to see cables, all electricity and phone lines were brought in underground, says Alison. I sometimes wondered if the work would ever end. I recall one day going into the garden and shrieking at the sky at the endless delays involved. It was like living in a war zone. I also wondered what effect it was having on the children but they all love the place now.
The new kitchen is curved and ultra-modern and made of chestnut by Lester Hartmann but Alison can recall when this space was derelict with just a mud floor. Likewise the original two bathrooms were grim now there are five altogether, all very contemporary.
Various discoveries were made during the renovation. An old well was found in the front garden when someone nearly fell down it and another in the utility room. A bakers oven surrounded by lots of little clay pipes was unblocked and one day a dowser arrived and said he had divined ancient walls in the fields, possibly going back to the 1100s.
The house is now altogether lighter with the addition of skylights and glass panels. Walls both inside and out are of lime plaster and simply painted with limewash and the contemporary touches in the bathrooms, the kitchen, the staircases and the cinema room make a very interesting contrast within such a traditional house.
Living in an old house need not feel like a museum as if it is to remain valued, it should also remain relevant, says Keith. That doesnt mean throwing out the original features because a modern design ethic can be easily applied to a house of this vintage.
With so much oak in the house coloured walls could look fussy so weve covered all the walls in a neutral and traditional limewash. This gives them a slightly parchment feel and we have introduced colour by way of the furniture, paintings and curtains.
We used to live in a very comfortable barn conversion but we brought very little of the furniture with us, says Alison. As we have oddly-shaped windows I had new curtains made, plus some internal shutters made with fabric panels.
Keith made a television programme on architecture which featured his wonderful home which is now on the market. Called Building The Ultimate House, it is still broadcast regularly on The Discovery Channel.
- Hartmanns of Malvern, for bespoke cabinetry, staircase and other joinery, can be contacted on 01684 212054.
Park Farm with 2.44 hectares (6.03 acres), is available through Knight Frank for a guide price of 1.3million. The whole, Park Farm, outbuildings and cottages, in all about 5.4 hectares (13.4 acres), has a guide price of 2.5million. Tel: 01905 723438.