Victoria Jenkins Interiors - In the shade of the sequoia tree
PUBLISHED: 18:13 16 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:43 20 February 2013
Over 30 years ago Jean and Philip Evans bought a rundown Victorian house in Stratford to turn into a hotel. Now they've retired and the house has had a complete make-over.
Nearly 30 years ago Jean and Philip Evans bought the run down Victorian property Sequoia House, in Stratford-upon-Avon, and turned it into a private hotel.
It had been bedsit land, says Jean. The garden was horrendous as it was full of old bedsteads plus an overgrown tennis court and a beautiful Victorian greenhouse which had been left to rot.
Built in 1875 by a Stratford builder the house still had many period features such as seven marble fireplaces (four of them in the bedrooms), high ceilings, three-foot wide doors, quarry tile floors, ceiling roses, picture rails and decorative corbels in the entrance hall. However, its fortunes began to decline and first it became a boarding house for actors (one of them Kenneth Griffith who married a daughter of the house) and then a wasteland of bedsits until the Evans came to the rescue. It had already been on the market for 18 months; there was dry rot in the front bay window, the cast iron guttering was so rusted that water was running down the walls and the drain pipes were cracked. It was an old, dark, draughty property when we arrived, says Philip.
However, when they removed the original, but rotten timbers, they found that those which had not rotted were substantial and the house had been well-built. The construction was far superior to anything you get nowadays, says Philip.
In addition there was also a big and beautiful sequoia tree in the back garden which had given the house its name. It was planted in the 1840s after having been imported from the States and it has a preservation order on it, says Jean. We think it belongs to the days when this area was probably parkland to Alveston Manor before the manor became a hotel.
So the couple set to and restored the house then, while their children grew up, the couple ran their successful hotel for delighted guests, including one who no-one knew about! On two separate occasions we had the couples in the Churchill Room come down to breakfast to tell us they had woken in the night to find a Victorian lady hovering over them, says Jean.
Then a few years ago they stopped running their bed and breakfast business but as they liked their home so much decided to stay where they were. Instead they did a total overhaul on their seven bedroom house.
As it took two years, the couple had to move into their other house next door (which had once been part of their 26 bedroom hotel).
They put on a new roof of reclaimed Welsh slate, rewired, put in a new gas central heating system, replumbed and replastered in parts. In order to create a big kitchen-living room with a bigger bedroom above, they had a chimney breast and supporting wall taken away. That was a scary moment, says Jean. Even though there were 18 acroprops holding up the roof and the first floor. But the chimney breast and stack were not serving any purpose (they used to serve an old range) and we have steel RSJs in place now.
Outside they had to reinsulate and repoint the nine-inch thick bricks, put on new lead flashing, repoint the chimneys and reset the chimney pots.
The structural work over, they then put in a new kitchen, new en-suites for the seven bedrooms and laid new flooring. Finally they redecorated using lots of bright Zoffany and Sanderson wallpapers.
Their new kitchen, from Johnson & Johnson, is of tulipwood units painted in Farrow & Ball Buttermilk with black granite worktops, a slate tiled floor from Bethesda quarry in Wales, and a Franke ceramic double sink with a waste disposal. There is an island with a breakfast bar, Miele appliances and an AEG oven. The bathrooms are all refurbished in Sanitans Victorian range.
We had a brilliant joiner, Christopher Fletcher (sadly now retired), and a very good tiler, Steve Downer. It was he who rescued a new but very badly laid kitchen floor and relaid the fossilised tiles saving us a good 2,700, says Jean.
Any problems? Yes, when the dining room ceiling fell down thanks to a leak, says Philip. Water and plaster went all over the stored furniture and spoilt the dresser.
As it is a Victorian house I wanted to keep a traditional style when decorating but for each room to be different, says Jean. I went by instinct in fact in each room I worked round a particular feature; for example in the French room I had some blue silk curtains so everything else followed on from them; this meant painting and distressing some inherited furniture such as a wardrobe and table.
In another bedroom there was a built-in corner wardrobe which we white-washed then distressed and the rest of the decor continued from there.
At the same time Jean wanted to use the same bright colours the Victorians had enjoyed. In the dining room the curtains were quite bold so I used the same colour on the walls, she says. And for the Drawing Room we went to Chelsea Harbour and chose bright Sanderson fabric for the curtains and Zoffany fabric for the sofa to match the Zoffany wallpaper.
The work now over Jean and Philip say that at last they can sit back and enjoy their new home. And our favourite room is the sitting room, says Jean. Its so peaceful in there and its so pleasant to sit in the bay window and look at the sun shining through the branches of the sequoia tree.
Local Contact Book
Antique Designs Ltd (specialists in antique bed linen). Tel:01606 892822/3; www.antique-designs.co.uk
Seventh Heaven Antique Bed Centre (renamed Divine Dreams). Tel: 01691 777622; www.divinedreams.co.uk
Stephen Ramm, 37 Greenhill Street, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6LE. Tel: 01789 267746; www.stephenrammfabrics.co.uk