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
Tucked away on the edge of a pretty village, just a couple of miles away from the wood that inspired AA Milne’s Pooh Corner, Mary Gwynn’s historic East Sussex home has been through a huge five-year programme of renovations.
Once the work was complete and Mary had her antique French walnut dining table set up in a spot you’d say was made to measure, she says ‘I felt I was home at last.’
Getting to that point had been full of challenges, however. ‘I knew the area well and particularly wanted to be in the village, but houses of this size don’t come up here very often and I’d narrowly missed out on others,’ says Mary.
‘Luckily for me, the sale on this one had fallen through and I viewed it the day it came back on the market. It’s almost as though it was waiting for me.’
It had been a weekend home for the 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, though, and rather than being put off by its ‘horror’ of a kitchen she was delighted.
‘I knew I’d probably end up redesigning that room wherever I bought - even if it had been recently fitted by someone else,’ she says. ‘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.
‘I was just imagining a little shuffling around of the kitchen, with a small extension,’ adds Mary, ‘but the planning department suggested knocking down an outbuilding and ground-floor extension 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.’
Mary had renovated a similar-aged farmhouse in the past, so she knew what to expect, although this was far more challenging she says.
The main problem was that most of the work that had been done on it recently had done nothing to enhance the property. 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 – made the space feel cramped and claustrophobic. With help from the Listed Property Owners’ Club, Mary began to imagine how she could bring the house up to date, while staying true to its rich Weald hall heritage.
‘It was nice not having to do anything in a hurry when I first moved in, but by winter I realised this was the coldest house I’d ever been in,’ she adds.
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‘I remember sitting in the kitchen - the draughtiest place in the house - trying to type up the recipes for one of my cookery books wearing woolly gloves,’ she recalls. ‘It was time to start making it more homely and comfortable - and warmer.’
A complex planning process, lasting more than two years, delays with building and changes of contractors added to the stress of the renovations.
Mary has now put that behind her. As the true character of the original house started to emerge, she found that her cherished family heirlooms and assorted antiques gathered from auction houses were coming together to create a comfortable and very harmonious home.
There was something to interest and catch the eye at every turn, such as the refectory-style table positioned in the entrance hall with views of the stunning cottage garden.
‘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.’