A medieval country house renovation
Isabel Howett and her husband Tim have undertaken a skilful and respectful renovation, breathing new life into their medieval country home. Feature Amander Meade. Photographs Rachael Smith
The opportunity to stamp your style and personality on your surroundings is one of the many joys of possessing your own home. And if that home happens to be a period property, you will be adding your mark to those made by many others. In the case of Isabel and Tim Howett’s home in Lincolnshire, the traces of previous owners stretch back across the centuries and include stained glass windows installed for an order of Crowland monks in the 16th century; a two-storey extension added by Victorian philanthropist Reverend William Hildyard; and, in the 1980s, a conversion that created three separate homes.
Unimaginatively described in the sales particulars as a ‘four bedroomed semi-detached house’, the Howetts were struck by the accompanying photographs, which showed an impressive looking property with mullioned windows and a grand staircase. Intrigued, they made an appointment to view and, a few days later, found themselves looking around the west wing of what had once been a much larger property: the dull-sounding four-bed semi turned out to be one of the oldest inhabited rectories in the country.
‘The house was steeped in centuries of fascinating history,’ recalls Isabel, adding that they fell in love with the huge windows and high-ceilinged rooms that were flooded with natural light. And as an interior designer it was an irresistible opportunity: a wonderful and unusual period property in need of a facelift.
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With the support of the local planning officers she devised a plan to adapt the house to suit 21st- century family life. The old galley kitchen at the back of the house became a boot room and cloakroom, while the little-used drawing room became a spacious, light-filled kitchen-diner. The magnificent reception hall required serious restoration to the walls, but fortunately many historic features remained intact, including the exposed roof structure with oak gargoyles and the original medieval door – both classic examples of medieval wood carving. ‘I often daydream about the lives of all the people who have passed through that door over the centuries,’ says Isabel. ‘The Crowland monks used the hall for chanting and I can vouch for the acoustics, which have been well and truly tested – from children’s birthday parties to celebratory bashes for the grown-ups!’
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Although the house has a rich history it doesn’t feel stuck in the past: the extraordinary sense of space and the height of the ceilings allowed Isabel to indulge her flamboyant streak. ‘I couldn’t resist making the most of the scale,’ she says of the cascade of Tom Dixon copper pendants above the stairs, and the handmade French Sputnik pendant that dominates the kitchen ceiling, where it lends a little ‘industrial glamour’ to the scheme.
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More glamour comes in the form of a large gilt-framed mirror at the bottom of the sweeping Jacobean staircase. Originally from Isabel’s parents’ home, its scale is such that it can hold its own in the vast hall. ‘It has moved with us into every house we have renovated,’ Isabel explains. ‘But now I feel that it has finally found its rightful position.’
Elsewhere, family treasures sit comfortably alongside stylish contemporary furniture and fresh, modern colour schemes. An enormous teal velvet sofa in the sitting room provides a place to relax, while bright yellow cabinets inject the kind of colour and fun that befits a young family. In the bedrooms, textural fabrics add a sense of warmth and luxury, with gilded mirrors strategically placed to ‘frame’ the feature windows so that views over the garden are reflected back into the rooms. The striking spring green Roger Oates carpet was chosen to contrast with the 15-foot high stained glass windows in the main hall, and it makes a bold contrast to the flagstone floors and heavy woodwork.
Isabel credits her late mother for her eye for design: ‘She had exquisite taste and an effortless ability to create a welcoming home.’ And it was her mother’s interest in antiques that sparked Isabel’s. ‘I’ve always enjoyed collecting unusual items and I tailor my antiques to suit the character of a house. I love the fact that Mum’s influence is everywhere here in the form of the antique furniture she left us,’ she explains, adding that her mother’s collection of Chinese objets d’art and ceramics is particularly important to her. ‘I now keep her set of blue and white vases in the bathroom so I can enjoy them every day.’
Three years on, Isabel has made her mark on the rectory, while also taking care to preserve its original features. ‘I’ve combined antiques that mean a lot to us with modern, timeless design, and added a healthy dose of glamour that the rectory truly deserves.’
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