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December 2005 - January 2006

Dream Homes

Hidden Beauty: Art at their Heart

by Bajrang Bahadur Mathur

Our Dream Home is a series of articles. In each article a dwelling is featured. The article illustrates different ways and styles that families use in their home to meet their individual needs and diverse taste.

There are many people who fantasise about owning a peaceful haven set in a beautiful, rural, idyllic location, but only some of them are successful with their dreams coming true. In the county of Oxfordshire, a few miles away from Henley-on-Thames is a small attractive hamlet called Kingwood. By the side of a local pub lies a narrow country lane with few houses hidden behind a heavily wooded belt of trees and shrubs. In this quiet location, a mile down the lane is a hideaway – an oasis, where Duncan and Carol Heather have made their beautiful abode. Although the property is in such a remote place it is still close to Henley and Reading – 15 minutes away, and to Paddington some 45 minutes away.


THE HOUSE: The original coach house, stable, few outhouses and kitchen garden in two acres of orchard used to be part of a large house across the lane. These have now been tastefully converted, modernised and sympathetically extended to provide a contemporary studio-cum-office and residential accommodation. Duncan by profession is a Landscape Architect, and has his own private practice. In addition he is Principal of the Oxford College of Garden Design. Carol, previously a bank manager, now contributes to the practice in more than one way. Naturally, both of them have similar ideas in respect of lifestyle. Their design philosophy is simple, and it is ‘to respect nature’, and live in an open plan dwelling where internal and external spaces flow freely into each other.


INTERNALLY: The original stable block and the cottage were detached and are now linked with a glazed lobby incorporating a cloakroom. The stable is converted and extended with a high open roof, to provide accommodation for a design studio-cum- office, teaching space, photographic darkroom and storeroom. The stable block still retains its loft, which was used to store fruits from the orchard. A new red cast-iron spiral staircase has been installed to reach the loft, which not only gives access to it but also adds considerable interest and character to the studio. The residential parts are planned around the cottage. The entrance to the residential area opens into a kitchen and dining room to which a large conservatory is attached and used as a living room. The area of the living and dining extends through the patio doors to the open air landscaped paved terrace and gardens beyond. It is on this terrace where the couple and their guests spend most of the long summer evenings. The spacious drawing room is connected to the living and dining area by a hallway. The drawing room virtually has double ceiling height, with large windows bringing in the light and views of the garden. There is one bedroom on this floor and the rest of the sleeping accommodation is on the upper floor including the master bedroom.

drawing room

EXTERNALLY: There is dense woodland at the back of the property. This woodland gave Duncan and Carol a perfect backdrop to transform and create their colourful garden. They used all the tricks of the trade in planning their garden and incorporated most of the principles of Landscape Design. The original garden was wild and dense. It needed thinning to open out various views including those from the house to the woodland. Sixteen mature trees were felled with the permission of the Forestry Commission. However, the extensive programme of planting with appropriate shrubs, bushes and trees, compensated for this loss. There are five distinctive features in the Garden.

1. Entrance Forecourt: It provides an excellent setting to the white painted house, which in itself is very attractive and even has a Clock Tower mounted on the roof of the studio. The court is paved in yellow and pink stones and lined with terracotta pots, shrubs and climbing plants. It does have a wonderful Mediterranean feel to it.

2. Timber Deck and Moat: Attached to the dining terrace and along the drawing room is an L – shaped timber decking and a moat. The moat is filled with beautiful and colourful aquatic plants.

3. Lawns: Two huge circular areas of lawns are at the heart of the landscaping scheme. These are imaginatively divided and linked together with many flower beds of different sizes and shapes. These beds have created various visually separate areas. All beds are planted with specially selected species of flowering plants, shrubs and trees to give each area a distinct character. In Duncan’s words: ‘ A lawn in the garden is like a carpet in the room’.

4. Man-made Lake: In addition to the moat there is another water feature, a man-made lake of informal shape in the rear part of the garden with water loving plants in and around the lake.

5. Kitchen Garden: Behind the linking lobby of the house is an old kitchen garden, which is still enclosed with the original high red brick wall. Various herbs and vegetables are cultivated all year round for domestic consumption.


ART AND STYLE: The house is well lit and airy throughout. It is equipped and furnished in contemporary style. The most notable aspect of the house is the importance given to works of art. This includes figurative or abstract sculptures, paintings, musical instruments, even a barber’s chair as an antique and a collector’s item as well as architectural houseplants. The theme of installing sculptures is carried through in the garden where many large and small sculptures are kept in strategic places to act as focal points and provide extra interest. All the artefacts, in particular the sculptures, make an immense contribution to the character of internal and external spaces. Furthermore they bring out the personality, individuality, taste and lifestyle of Duncan and Carol for whom it has become a small paradise of peace and quiet.

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