Taking on an historic estate is always going to be a challenge, but for the owners of this exceptional property, that is something of an understatement. Not only does the Cheshire abbey date back to the 12th century, when it was founded as a Cistercian monastery, but the intervening 900 years saw a number of remodellings, most conspicuously during the 1820s when the Tudor black-and-white manor was given a Gothic veneer.
The 20th century was not kind to the abbey and neglect meant parts of the house were demolished or closed up. In 1990, when the owners inherited the estate, they set about reviving its fortunes through various enterprises, which enabled them to restore many of the listed buildings. The final one was the decrepit north wing, but without a substantial injection of capital, they couldn’t do much about the deterioration.
It took 13 years and two attempts to join the Enabling Development scheme, which finally allowed them to restore the structure of the north wing and decorate two of its three floors. They pulled it apart, removing the roof and the second floor to expose Tudor oak frame, so they could replace rotten timbers before rebuilding. After 24 months of work, the wing became habitable again for the first time in many years and the results are a spectacular success.
This house tour originally appeared in Homes & Gardens, January 2017
The owners' grandmother lived in the north wing until the end of the Fifties, when structural instability, caused by the later addition of the Gothic facade, meant that she had to move out. It took a large team of people, including an architect, quality surveyor, master joiners, plasterers, painters and decorators, not to mention an interior designer, to transform the space and make it a home once more.
The owners' interior designer chose the colour in the entrance hall to give it the feel of another living space. The painting was moved from the main house into this scheme, as it matches the walls perfectly.
During the restoration, the Gothic render was removed from the study's far wall to reveal a wood frame that dates from the 1300s. Rather than cover it up again, it was incorporated within the new interior wall. 'We were determined to preserve the integrity of the plasterwork, arched doorways and windows, but also introduce more contemporary furnishings,' say the owners.
The decorator and plasterer restored the Georgian pargeting work on the fire surround and recreated the panel to the right of the fireplace. The gib door once led to a priest hole.
Restoration and pargeting
The views of the mere inspired the interior designer to create the feel of an indoor garden in the sitting room. To achieve this effect, she chose an overscaled painterly hydrangea print for the curtains, which she paired with upholstered furniture in shades of green.
Sliding doors were installed to divide the kitchen and dining rooms, which now occupy what was originally the north wing's lobby. The ornate columns and cornices were carefully recreated using moulds made from the remains of the originals. 'The Gothic interior itself was the key to our inspiration and we used the quatrefoil as our logo,' say the owners.
The owners bought the two Birds of Paradise lithographs by William Matthew Hart at auction. 'We love the way the birds reflect the sweeping design of the wallpaper,' they say.
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Sumptuous textiles in soft tones introduce a sense of opulent comfort, while the artworks add interest to the walls.
Wallpaper and headboard
Ever alert for items featuring the quatrefoil, the owners were pleased to alight upon this linen press in Paris's Marché aux Puces. The set of paintings, which date from the 1820s and depict Indian village life were inherited from family.
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The vanity units were made by the carpenter who restored much of the woodwork and panelling in the north wing. They were designed to echo the Gothic windows. 'He is retired now and only did the north wing because he had worked on every restoration project at the abbey since 1970,' say the owners.
The interior designer chose Edward Bulmer's Brick paint colour for the wall to complement the wood panelling, rather than contrast with it.
Table lamp and shade