The drawing room of Deans Court serves as an untouched time capsule of 1930s elegance, while its kitchen reflects a more modern aesthetic, with vintage mementoes, patchwork cushions and Indian flatweave rugs.
This coexistence of styles reflects the approach of its owners, Sir William and Lady Ali Hanham, who manage to celebrate the house’s past while also making it a welcoming family home.
Deans Court in Wimborne, Dorset has been in the Hanham family since 1548, although the core dates back to the 8th century, when it was part of the town’s Saxon monastery.
Notable later additions include 16th-century stained- glass windows, Georgian panelling, a Victorian wing and vestiges of immaculate 1930s style. ‘This is a house that has been formed by layers of history and each generation has left its mark,’ says Ali.
The couple moved to this house 11 years ago, when William inherited the estate from his father who, in turn, was bequeathed it by a cousin in the 1970s. ‘Although William had often visited the house, he didn’t grow up here,’ explains Ali.
In many ways, this meant that both Ali and William could approach reviving the house and estate with their own vision. And they’ve been busy: innovations include nurturing the organic kitchen garden founded by William’s mother, establishing a cafe, opening a homewares shop and converting and decorating several holiday cottages within the grounds. During the summer months, the lawns of Deans Court become the setting for marquee weddings.
The living room
But when it came to redecorating the house, Ali took a softly-softly approach. What was once a gentleman’s library ‘with a rather dull green colour scheme and nondescript Victorian furniture’ now functions as the couple’s living room and has been given a subtle refresh.
Oil portraits and marble busts now mix with ikat cushions in jewel colours, linen stripes and more modern paintings, all set against walls painted in Hague Blue by Farrow & Ball. Meanwhile, the dining room is painted in Blazer, another Farrow & Ball shade.
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Hague Blue, from £52, Farrow & Ball Buy it now
Ali and William have established a good relationship with Farrow & Ball, which is a local company. In fact, they are such close neighbours that the paint brand sometimes brings clients here to view its heritage colours in a quintessentially English setting.
Ali has an expert eye for fabrics, colour and vintage pieces (before moving to Dorset she co-ran the Cotswolds vintage and antique interiors shop Sharland & Lewis), while William was a dealer in Old Master paintings. So each, in their own way, was well placed to bring out different aspects of the property’s distinctive character.
However, the decorative style of Deans Court also dates from William’s great-aunt, Cordelia Hanham, who lived here in the 1930s. ‘She was the last person to devote a great deal of time and money to decorating the house before we arrived,’ says Ali. Cordelia was the widow of Sir John Hanham, 9th baronet, and was by all accounts an indomitable woman. ‘A local lady remembers Cordelia as a ‘stern presence’,’ smiles Ali.
A fat folder full of papers relating to the decor of a twin bedroom demonstrates how Cordelia took decorating very seriously. It is crammed with handwritten bills of sale from Liberty in 1938, plus sketches of mahogany furniture and fabric swatches. ‘War was about to break out, but Cordelia was undaunted and commissioned Liberty to come down and design this bedroom in apricot shades,’ reflects Ali. A second bedroom was decorated by Cordelia with a chinoiserie theme.
The dining room
Portraits of William’s ancestors in earlier centuries line the walls of the imposing dining room, which the couple use for family gatherings such as Christmas. ‘It has a wonderful atmosphere,’ says Ali.
Get the look:
Blazer, from £52, Farrow & Ball Buy it now
The great hall
The medieval great hall, which lies directly ahead of the front entrance of the house, is the oldest part of the building and centres around a huge fireplace. Sunlight flows through stained-glass windows; some date from the 16th century, while others were added in 1868, all set amid Georgian oak panelling.
The large family kitchen in the Victorian wing is a relaxed room that shows best how Ali and William deftly combine past and present at Deans Court. The dresser is Victorian but the long table and benches are made from oak from their estate. On the dresser’s shelves, copper pans hang alongside Ali’s quirky vintage finds and pastel sketches, while cushions and lampshades in her favourite fabrics add colour and character.
The portrait over the range cooker is of Maria Theresa of Spain, a work that caught William’s eye when he was going through stacks of paintings up in the attic.
Today, she is at the heart of 21st-century family life, exemplifying how Ali and William preserve the past while at the same time giving Deans Court a fresh future. ‘The work here never stops, but being a part of the house’s history is a huge pleasure,’ says Ali.