'My parents had a home in France for more than 20 years, but as they got older and four grandchildren arrived, the family made the emotional decision to sell up,' says the owner. 'We decided we wanted a UK base - a holiday home to escape to. The family are scattered throughout the country, so it needed to be somewhere we could all easily reach.'
Cornwall proved to be a little too far to travel to on a regular basis, so on the spring bank holiday in 2014, the owner and her parents visited Devon and made appointments to view 10 properties over two days. 'We looked at everything, from knock-down-and-start-again houses to New England-style beach properties,' says the owner. 'This seven-bedroom house was the last one we visited.'
When the owner and her parents arrived for their viewing, they were immediately impressed by the handsome facade of this Grade II-listed Georgian building. A former estate manager's house, the property had stunning views over the Torridge valley and was located in an idyllic spot. Plus with seven bedrooms, it had plenty of space for the owner and her husband, her parents, her siblings plus spouses and children to all get together.
'The woodland drive and the tree-lined approach covered with spring flowers sold the house to us,' says the owner. 'I'm a bit of a romantic and I thought this was a dream home. You just get a feeling and I knew this was the one. We had originally wanted something right by the sea - and this wasn't - but it's still only 10 minutes by car from a beach.'
3/9 Living room
When the family looked around the house itself, they fell in love with the beautiful original features. 'We loved the natural light from the panelled windows,' they say. 'And although it's a big house, it doesn't feel overly grand and we liked that.'
The previous owners had lived there for three generations. 'The house hadn't received much love since the 1950s and was decorated in heavy colours with lots of floral fabrics,' says the owner. As the building is listed, the family decided to employ a local architect, who specialises in listed buildings, to renovate it.
Work began in early 2015 and took almost six months. 'Some days there were 20 people working on the house - it really was a team effort,' says the owner. Part of the work included moving the kitchen back to its original location in the annexe. 'It was a dim room before, so moving it made it much more sociable and also opened up the back of the house, improving the flow.'
5/9 Dining room
When it came to the decor, the family were keen to use easy-to-live-with neutral tones. 'We wanted the house to be light and relaxed, but true to the Georgian aesthetic - not too precious or fusty,' they say. 'The house has Adamesque fireplaces, cornicing, chandeliers and silk curtains, so we wanted a classic look that was comfortable.'
In the dining room, the curtains and chandelier came with the house. A large table provides plenty of space for 12 or more diners. 'For me, a house is a home when it's filled with family, friends, music and laughter,' says the owner.
6/9 Main bedroom
The layout of the property had to be changed upstairs to suit modern living. 'The house had the old tradition of relatively few bathrooms for the number of bedrooms, so we installed several en suites and there are now five bathrooms for the seven bedrooms,' says the owner. The paintings above the bed are by the owner's grandmother.
7/9 Guest bedroom
There's a similar colour scheme in this room to the main bedroom, but stripes and a cobalt-blue headboard make the look a bit bolder. The pictures are prints reproduced from a Victorian naturalist book.
On top of the structural and decorative work, the house was also replumbed and rewired to bring it up to date. The old heating system was from the 1930s, so the family are very happy that the house feels so cosy now. However, not everything has been modernised - the classic bath tub was a wedding gift to the previous owners and dates to the 1930s.
9/9 Thatched cottage
The previous owners were keen horticulturalists so the garden was in good shape. As well as two arboreta, a walled garden and a lawn tennis court, the garden also has a tiny thatched cottage inspired by a folly from another English estate. 'We knew it would be an absolute haven for the children,' says the owner.
This house tour originally appeared in Country Homes & Interiors, April 2017
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