Mary Gwynn’s historic East Sussex home has been through a huge five-year programme of renovations. It had been used as a weekend home by its previous owners and was liveable, but in need of rewiring, replumbing and a new bathroom.
The kitchen was always going to be the most important room in the house for Mary, who is a food writer, and rather than being put off by its dated kitchen she was delighted.
Owner: Mary Gwynn, food writer and author of many cookery books, (The WI Cookbook: The First 100 Years) lives here with her lurcher Phoebe, and Jack Russell Ruby
Property: A Grade II-listed timber-framed Weald hall house, possibly built as early as 1450, near Tunbridge Wells
What she did: Demolished an outhouse and a downstairs bedroom extension, adding a kitchen extension with a glass link to a new vaulted bedroom extension. Mary restored the home’s many period features
‘I have very specific requirements for writing and testing my recipes and I really use a professional kitchen, so it was actually a relief to know I wasn’t going to be ripping out perfectly good units,’ says Mary, who had envisaged just a small extension.
The planning department, however, suggested knocking down an outbuilding and ground-floor extension (added in 2001) and replacing it with a downstairs bedroom connected to a new kitchen extension by a glass link, so it ended up being a much more complicated job.
Most of the recent work on the house had done nothing to enhance it. A brick fireplace had been added in the living room, and fitted wardrobes had been built along the full run of two walls in the main bedroom, totally obscuring the room’s ancient timber frame. False ceilings in the old kitchen – which is now the entrance hall – had made the space cramped and claustrophobic.
Thankfully, the Listed Property Owners’ Club were on hand with advice on how the house could be brought up to date sympathetically, while staying true to its rich Weald hall heritage. A complex planning process ensued, lasting more than two years, and delays with building and changes of contractors all added to the stress of the renovations.
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However, as the true character of the original home started to emerge Mary found that her cherished family heirlooms and assorted auction finds were coming together to create a comfortable and very harmonious home with something to interest and catch the eye at every turn.
‘These are all things I’ve moved from house to house, things that I remember seeing in my grandparents’ homes even, so it’s great to see them have a chance to shine - just like the house itself.’
A local planning officer suggested connecting the kitchen to the bedroom with a modern link, creating another great place from which to enjoy the garden.
With its time-worn beams and cherished family antiques, the living room is full of familiar comforts. The console table near the door was part of Mary’s grandfather’s extensive collection of medieval oak furniture.