IT IS A WARM, WELCOMING HOME THAT FEELS AS IF IT HAS ARRIVED WHERE IT IS AFTER CENTURIES
The gently rolling landscape where Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire meet is well cherished, unscarred and lightly studded with ancient stony settlements. On the high ground is a cluster of megalithic monuments, wild erections of oolitic limestone – the Rollright Stones and their neighbours, the dolmen of the Whispering Knights and the giant King Stone – enigmatic witnesses of a sacred landscape. Just below, in a gentle green fold, lies Little Rollright, an ancient, modest manor with a handful of stony cottages and the small unspoilt church of St Philip, with the elegant painted sepulchres of its seventeenth-century lords.
Little Rollright slumbered for centuries, part of the estates of Oxford college Lincoln and scarcely more than a farmstead. But 20 or so years ago, a new owner commissioned the architect Robert Adam to double the size of the house. At the same time, the owner enhanced its setting with bold planting, new avenues and copses of native trees, all of which animated and complemented the transformation. In the past couple of years, another new owner has gently tempered this delicious little realm, working on the garden and landscape with Isabel and Julian Bannerman, and on the house with the gifted London decorator Christopher Hodsoll. He has been ably assisted by the local architect Toby Falconer, of Falconer & Gilbert Scott Architects, who has very long experience of healing Cotswold buildings.
The building has been gently purged of a few alien elements and the house lovingly, tenderly reordered and furnished. The garden has been bravely rearranged with a topiary army of yews and bold planting, giving each season its own livery of colour, leaf and scent. There is a rill in a stony culvert, fed from a small lake above, which is spring fed. There are ancient mulberries, drifts of spring bulbs, cascading roses. This planting is young yet, but already shows a ripeness and exuberance glimpsed even in winter.
Christopher, ever youthful, neatly Apollonian, hospitable and merry, has a fine catalogue of clients both in the UK and overseas. Initiated into the decorating world by the legendary Geoffrey Bennison – like his pupil an antique dealer first – he served a long apprenticeship with that creative and hilarious old master, but his own taste is perhaps more comfortable; harmonising old and new, Occident and Orient, capable of creating deftly and delicately an illusion of long continuity. Here we see him at his most inspired.
We enter the house through a conservatory. After long wrangles with planners, its high right-hand wall – replacing a glazed eyesore – looks like the front of a Chinese Chippendale bookcase, writ large. It is spectacular, both inside and out, happily knitting together old house and new. It was inspired, Christopher tells me, by an afternoon in the armoury at Hatfield House.
The marrying of two phases of building has been achieved with skill and imagination. It is full of surprises, a warm, welcoming, friendly and beautiful home that feels as if it has arrived where it is after centuries. Stone paving and old boards are strewn with oriental carpets, some grand, some modest, all in harmony. Furniture of handsome form, of varied dates and origins from Ireland to Sri Lanka, heightens the feeling of furnishing achieved over hundreds of years. Big Chesterfield sofas are clad in linen or chintz, enlivened by needlework throws from Morocco, China and India. Everything is generous, friendly, welcoming and harmonious.
The hub of the house might seem to be the kitchen, where tall windows look out over the more formal part of the garden. At one end is a cream Aga with a backdrop of hundreds of old Delft tiles, arranged with patchwork freedom. At the other is a big nineteenth-century Donegal carpet, an oval oak table, hoop-back chairs with rosy linen loose covers, and a glazed bamboo cupboard garnished with crockery.
The grand dining room has a wild floral wallpaper, handsome Gillow mahogany table, pretty armchairs in a stripey timber from Sri Lanka and a Persian carpet. An early Victorian oak buffet, papered in a pink Chinese wallpaper, is opposite a mahogany Gillow sideboard below a wonderful painting of the local hunt. A gilt-framed mirror tops the marble chimneypiece – a wise recipe used a lot in this house to reflect the garden and landscape.
There is a cosy little drawing room with yellow walls and a white bookcase, topped again with brazen vessels, and Chinese blue and white pots. The walls are covered with cases of shells and a sofa in stripes from Adam Bray, topped with a chequered throw. Giuseppe Castiglione’s eighteenth-century Chinese palace prints hang above a lovely white-painted rococo side table.
THE BUILDING HAS BEEN GENTLY PURGED OF A FEW ALIEN ELEMENTS AND THE HOUSE LOVINGLY, TENDERLY REORDERED AND FURNISHED
A new oak staircase, eighteenth century in spirit, fills the full height of the building. It leads past a tapestry forest on the wall to the first-floor bedrooms and bathrooms. These are bright and airy, and elegantly furnished with oriental carpets on sisal matting. Lighting in the main bedroom includes nickel wall lights from Soane by the half-tester bed, silver Ottoman lamps on the bedside tables and a Sixties brass lamp on a Twenties dressing table. The rooms are smaller and quirkier in the earlier part of the house, where ancient beams and boards bear witness to a long history.
What is being achieved here, both within and without, already has the seeds of ripeness. Almost everything has been chosen for its usefulness and its handsome sobriety, shows the patina of time and the occasional little wounds and scars of country living, complemented by the freshness of well-chosen wallcoverings and upholstery. Bravely, boldly, surely, gently, the team assembled by the perceptive proprietor of this secret realm is bringing new life. It is an achievement to celebrate
Christopher Hodsoll: hodsoll.com
Falconer & Gilbert Scott Architects: fgs.archi
Isabel and Julian Bannerman: bannermandesign.com