Househunting is a big part of Simon Fenwick’s life – he finds, renovates and manages period properties on behalf of his clients. And it was on one of these searches that he discovered his renovation project; Grade II-listed Elm House.
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Owner Simon Fenwick, director of Sentinel Residential, a company that project manages the restoration of historic and listed houses
Property A Grade II-listed home, built in the 1640s, near Burford in the Cotswolds. There are four bedrooms, plus a kitchen/breakfast room, formal dining room and a living room downstairs
What they did A complete renovation of the property, replacing the roof, floors, windows, plumbing and wiring, plus a two-storey extension
‘I’d looked at more than 30 options for a client who wanted a country home in the Cotswolds. This one was by far the best,’ says Simon. ‘The client’s sale fell through, but meanwhile I’d fallen for the property and the area.’
So, in August 2009, Simon found himself the owner of a new home.
Many of the house’s original features were still intact, and Simon soon started to get a feel for the renovation that lay ahead.
‘I was lucky as it hadn’t been messed around with too much, but it also hadn’t been well maintained,’ he says. ‘Horrible windows had been fitted in the 1960s, along with ugly radiators and dodgy pipework and electrics.’
Having previously practised as a chartered building surveyor, before setting up his company, Simon wasn’t short of inspiration.
‘The house dictated what it needed and I used my experience of what worked in other people’s homes,’ he says. ‘I was determined to restore it as sympathetically as I could and to a high standard of craftsmanship.’
Simon discovered that the Cotswolds are home to skilled practitioners of all manner of crafts. The builders, CN Builders, are based just down the road, carpenter Jon Hitchcock is a neighbour, and blacksmith Ben Landucci, of Iron Forged Designs, who made stair rails, garden furniture and a new front gate, is based in nearby Brackley.
‘I thought it might be difficult managing my own renovation,’ says Simon. ‘But I managed to stay fairly removed – although there was a moment when it was all stripped out and bare, when I thought it would never go back together again!’
Simon kept his nerve, though, as a two-storey extension was built; plaster was hacked away; floors were removed; electrics and plumbing renewed; and windows replaced with oak-frame casements, left unsealed for a natural look.
The house was uninhabitable during the work, but Simon travelled up once a week to keep an eye on progress, taking the opportunity to size up the space for furniture and finishes. ‘With a restoration like this, every detail counts,’ he says, ‘and I wanted to make sure I didn’t let the house down.’
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Such was his commitment, that he examined every plank in a shipment of wide oak floorboards from France before granting them a place as part of his floor.
Even then, he admits to getting the fitter to take them up and start again. ‘He’d cut out some of the knots and cracks, but I like boards with character. Plus, I’d wanted bigger gaps between the boards.’
Luckily, the other details were less problematic. ‘During the build, I visited auctions and antique shops, and spent hours on the internet buying furniture and accessories,’ says Simon. ‘Everything was bought specifically for this house.’
By February 2015, the renovation of the property into a comfortable country retreat was complete. Simon is a convert to the restorative powers of the countryside, and sees himself staying in the Cotswolds for good.
‘I am on the lookout for a bigger place with more land, though,’ he adds. ‘However, I’ve got so attached to all the things I’ve bought for this house that I’ll take them with me. Next time, I won’t be starting from scratch.
The master bedroom is decorated in warm neutrals that set off the rich tones of the original beams while Simon managed to preserve enough original elm floorboards, taken from the study, for the guest bedroom, giving it a characterful look.