A writer's Georgian red brick home in Dorset
Janet and Paul Gleeson have filled their south Dorset village house with an eclectic assortment of antiques, modern art and trophies from their travels. Feature Denise Charnaud. Photographs James Balston
'The first thing I remember about the house was walking into the drawing room and thinking, “This is fabulous”,’ says Janet Gleeson of the moment she and husband Paul first viewed the house that would become their family’s Dorset home. ‘It was a big step because we had always lived in London. We hardly knew anyone in Dorset and until then we’d worried we were doing the wrong thing. But the children had left home and we wanted a complete change, and at that moment the realisation that this was the house was instantaneous – like falling in love.’
The three-storeyed red brick house hides behind a high wall in the centre of a picturesque Dorset village, not far from the coast. It was built c1760, to a conventionally symmetrical Georgian plan. A central corridor once led to the staircase, with two rooms on either side on each floor, and a servants’ attic. ‘Then, in the early 19th century, the owners must have wanted to aggrandise the house, so they added a new wing to the south, moving the front door, and installing a new columned porch made from local Purbeck stone.
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As a result, the layout became quite unusual. The stairs are now slightly oddly placed off centre, but we have a wonderfully spacious drawing room,’ explains Janet. The house was altered again in the early 20th century, when another wing was added to the north for a larger kitchen and more servants’ bedrooms. ‘It was probably around that time the panelling was installed in the drawing room. It gives the room its richness,’ says Janet.
This is the backdrop for paintings that the couple have collected over the years. Janet started her working life at Sotheby’s, later worked at Bonhams and as an editor for Miller’s Guides and now works on the Antiques Roadshow. The couple have always loved going to junk shops, auctions and galleries.
‘Our taste has shifted over the years, from 19th-century prints, watercolours and oils, to more modern works and anything with a local connection. One of our recent additions was a pair of oils of the local coastline by Elizabeth Muntz, an artist who lived in the neighbouring village and is buried in the churchyard.’
Janet is also fond of colonial furniture, having been born in Sri Lanka. ‘The Ceylonese-Dutch cabinet in the hall was inherited from my grandmother, but I bought the 19th-century specimen table that was made in Ceylon (as it was then) in a local sale. The table was in pieces and had to be carefully restored,’ she recalls.
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The couple also like to contrast old and new, so the door to the drawing room is framed by abstract silk screens by John Hoyland and Albert Irvin (bought from Caroline Wiseman) that hang above a pair of Georgian-style demi-lune walnut tables.
Janet’s career changed direction when she left the salesrooms to become a writer. The study is where much of her working day is spent. Her favourite auction purchase is the huge bookcase that fills one wall. ‘I broke all my own rules – I bought it having not viewed the sale, on the telephone.
'I had measured the wall where it was to go, but I forgot to allow for the fact the skirtings protrude by several inches. I realised this only when the bookcase was delivered and we started to install it. Fortunately we were able to unscrew an electric socket and squeezed it in. It now looks as though it was made for the room!’
The couple are keen travellers and mementoes of various trips are dotted throughout the house. A model sailing ship in the dining room provides a dramatic focal point at one end of the room. ‘It isn’t as old as it looks. We bought it 10 years ago, in Hôi An in Vietnam. We went into a workshop – I thought we were going to buy a small carving, but Paul saw this and had it shipped over, saying he would keep it in his office. It was so big it wouldn’t fit, so here it has been ever since,’ says Janet.
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Upstairs, the bedrooms are furnished in a traditional style, with heavy linen curtains, antique and vintage furniture, some bought at auction or from dealers and other pieces inherited. ‘Our friends and children, who are all based in London, are always coming to stay. Our daughter was married in the garden, and now there are grandchildren too.
'The house has been perfect for gatherings and is so much a part of our family life, it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t live here. But recently we’ve had the urge for a new challenge, so we are moving to a derelict medieval barn, which in time we’ll turn into a very different home.’
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