With its tranquil setting and amazing views over the Sussex Downs, it’s understandable that Isobel and Giles Wilkinson were won over by the Grade II-listed property when it came on the market in 2001.
‘The house generated so much interest that it had to go to sealed bids,’ explains Isobel. ‘An old lady had lived there since the Second World War and had done little to it except add a 1950s extension, making the house L-shaped.’
The house originally comprised two small Tudor cottages built from sandstone and cob and plastered with lime. Over the centuries they had been turned into a single property and were added to, gradually evolving into the design the couple viewed.
‘We loved the views from the house, while its extensive grounds – around 26 acres – meant there was plenty of room to extend further,’ says Isobel. ‘As we have four children, three of whom still live with us, we felt it could be the ideal family home.’ After speaking with an architect to discuss the potential of extending the property, the couple put in a bid and were thrilled when it was revealed that theirs was the winning offer.
- The owners: Isobel Wilkinson, a property renovator, and husband Giles, who works in finance, live here with their children Phoebe, 22, Hermione, 18 and Rufus, 17
- The property: A Grade II-listed, six-bedroom detached house, with a central section dating to 1550
- The location: Near Lewes, East Sussex
- What they spent: The couple bought the house for £650,000 in 2002 and have spent around £435,000 on renovating the property and adding two extensions. It has recently been valued at around £2.5million
After moving in, the couple quickly set to work planning what they wanted, and their architect designed an oak-framed, two-storey barn-style extension containing a new double-height kitchen and dining room, with a utility room in the basement. ‘The architect modelled the extension on the exterior of the original house, but made the windows much larger to bring in as much light as possible,’ says Isobel. ‘It’s built from the same sort of materials as the original house and was done in a way that is so typical of traditional Sussex design that people automatically assume the extension really is an old barn.’
At the same time as building the extension, the couple had the property rewired, improved the central heating, had new water tanks installed, added insulation and renovated two existing bathrooms. They also converted the old kitchen into a ground-floor bedroom and turned a tiny shower room next to it into an en suite, while upstairs they added another shower room and redecorated throughout the house.
Having completed this initial phase of work, the family were happy to sit back and enjoy living in their home. The north side of the house, however, was always cold and dark, so eight years after finishing the first extension, Isobel and Giles decided to start the second phase of their project.
They approached another architect to come up with a design for a two-storey, twin-gabled glass-and-oak extension. ‘The idea was to have a design that would wrap around the house, almost like a blanket,’ explains Isobel. ‘One reason was to help improve access through the whole property, as the existing layout meant we had to walk through a series of rooms to get from one side of the house to the other.’
The planned design included a gable extension at either end of the north side of the house, linked by a dramatic doubleheight glazed space containing a long ground-floor hallway with a galleried landing above. One gable was to include an extended first-floor master bedroom with en suite, and an extended ground-floor snug, while in the other gable there would be an upstairs bathroom, with part of the hallway below. An oak staircase, a porch and rooflights would form the focal point of the dramatic central space.
‘Before we could even apply for planning permission and listed building consent for the new extension, however, we had to have an archaeological survey carried out,’ says Isobel. ‘It dated the core of our house to 1550, and as a result we were told we couldn’t cut into any of the oak trusses.’
This was only the start of a lengthy process to obtain permission for the couple’s planned changes. As the house is a listed 16th-century property that had already been extended considerably, it took a period of two years to negotiate an acceptable scheme with the local authority conservation officer. ‘The architect had to work really hard to get us the planning we needed,’ says Isobel.
The couple eventually had to settle for a compromise, as the planners wouldn’t permit an extension running the entire length of the north side of the house as they had wanted. Although the planners agreed that an extension would help preserve the original walls from the severe weather, they felt that a full-length extension wasn’t in keeping with the traditional structure, so they stipulated that any new design could only be three-quarters of the length of the north side of the house. ‘It would have made for a warmer building and better access to the snug if they had agreed with our original plans, but we are still very happy with what we have achieved,’ says Isobel.
Work on the new extension began in May 2011 and it took until April 2012 for the builders to complete it, right down to the bathroom fittings. ‘The trickiest part of the project was joining the new roof of reclaimed clay tiles to the existing roof, which has become wavy and crooked over the centuries,’ says Isobel. ‘In fact the whole house is very crooked, so the builders had to make good quite a few areas. They did an absolutely fantastic job.’
To ensure this new space is as warm as possible, the couple fitted a small electric boiler to provide warm water for the underfloor heating. ‘In due course we hope to have a ground source heat pump installed, and plan to have photovoltaic panels fitted to the roof, but it all requires planning permission,’ explains Isobel.
Further work included enlarging the small cottage-like windows in the former snug in order to make them much taller and wider, while new French windows in the main living room provide easy access to the outside terrace. ‘Bringing in extra light to the north side of our home has completely transformed the feeling of the whole house,’ says Isobel.
‘We’ve also recently bought a 12th-century window through a reclamation company. It used to be in a church in Lewes, and is now positioned in our hallway,’ says Isobel. ‘It was a great buy and only cost us £350.’
This mix of architectural styles is echoed in Isobel’s choice of furnishings. ‘I don’t have one specific style,’ she explains. ‘I can be gathering up galvanised iron watering cans and old buckets from the local dump one minute, and the next be in an auction room buying something more expensive. I have been buying items from junk shops ever since I was a teenager; my mother taught me how to choose pieces and I’ve inherited the collecting “bug” from her. I love eclectic items, such as the old coal scuttles I use to display flowers.’
With their home finished, Isobel and Giles are thrilled with what they’ve achieved. ‘We loved our house at first sight, and I would say we love it even more now that we’ve lived in it and brought up our children here,’ explains Isobel. ‘The original part is full of interestingly shaped rooms and cosy corners due to its age, and it’s a fantastic feeling to think we’ve helped it evolve for a new century.’
|Building labour and materials (including wiring, plastering and plumbing)||£114,200|
|Large glazed panels||£23,000|
|Oak doors and built-in cupboard||£8,000|
|Earlier kitchen extension||£200,000|