Victoria Jenkins Interiors - Home on the alpaca farm
PUBLISHED: 11:26 21 July 2010 | UPDATED: 11:51 28 February 2013
It was the house the Varneys didn't want . . . until they look inside, and there was plenty of land for their alpacas too.
After six months they had to move out again for three months into rented accommodation while the builders moved in. Now the former owners would probably have difficulty recognising the house. The Varneys got planning permission to demolish and rebuild an attached boiler room and link it to the existing house. Then they completely altered the layout of the ground floor, moving the kitchen to the back of the house and adding an extension plus a large Vale conservatory. Now they have a fabulous family kitchen and dining space which is the heart of their home. However they have done a great deal more work as well. For instance, by taking out a twin galleried staircase and putting in a more simply designed oak staircase and mezzanine they have created enough space to turn the entrance hall into a formal dining room. The upstairs space created by this meant they could now install a large en-suite and dressing area.
As for the original kitchen with its Edwardian range, this has become a study, while the old dining room next to it is now their formal drawing room. An unwanted corridor has become a downstairs loo and new oak flooring has been laid throughout most of the ground floor to level up the uneven floors. The couple also removed the ceiling in the main bedroom to expose the wonderful oak beams.
The original family bathroom was large and on two levels with awkward spaces. This was partitioned to create a new en-suite for their son Jamie's bedroom. They also levelled the floors and ceilings and fitted a luxurious new family bathroom with a spa feel.
Any hitches? Plenty, says Caroline. We succeeded in moving back into part of the house just before Christmas 2006 and found that our new staircase was so glaringly cobbled together by an inexperienced carpenter that it had to be removed and totally replaced by Pete Tooth, an experienced local craftsman.
In their enthusiasm the Varneys had invited 12 people round for Christmas dinner. And just to make that Christmas even more fraught: "The Aga came three days before the actual day and Id never cooked on one before! says Caroline.
They also found that that their builder had not treated their new kitchen stable doors, causing them to warp and let in water. These were again replaced by Pete Tooth. Then because the builders men had trashed their lawn by driving their dumper trucks all over it the Varneys asked local landscape gardener, Dr Dean Marston, to redesign and replant it. The builder was also found to have put two soakaways under their new patio so that too had to be rectified as this meant the patio was suspended over thin air!
However Carolines pride and joy is the kitchen which she designed with Pete Tooth, who built it on site. The units are hand painted in Farrow & Ball Light Blue with Fawn and Tallow for the island. There are several touches of walnut for the breakfast bar, the cupboard inserts, the butchers block, table and cupboard lining.
The granite worktops cost a fraction of the normal price as they were sourced from a local dealer while Fired Earth ceramic tiles were used on the floor and behind the Aga.
The highlight of this room is the magnificent chandelier of Waterford crystal in the conservatory which catches the sunlight throughout the day. The chandelier was supplied by their good friend Phil Baker of Lighting Inspirations and is some five feet tall, weighs nine stone and is many Christmas and birthday presents all rolled into one, says Caroline.
Having completed the renovations Nick and Caroline could then begin something they had long wanted to do farm and breed alpacas. "Our herd of Altiora alpacas, has grown to eight animals at present and we have three more Cria expected during the summer months, says Caroline. We breed them for their fibre which is spun for us and then we produce bespoke baby celebration shawls based on traditional patterns. Many people don't have the time or skills to knit such intricate garments themselves but nonetheless appreciate the fact that our shawls are exclusive with such interesting provenance. And theyre all beautifully detailed and packaged.
Having developed such a passion for their fledgling business Nick and Caroline realise that over the next few years their herd will outgrow their present land and, finding it impossible to buy more land locally at reasonable prices, have decided to sell up and look for a property with more acreage.
"We're a bit wobbly at the prospect of leaving here as we have committed so much time and energy into renovating our lovely home, says Caroline. "So were looking for another period property which has the sort of character and proportions that this house has.
Local Contact Book
And So To Bed, 613 Hagley Road, West Quinton, Birmingham B32 1BY. Tel: 0121 422 7555; www.andsotobed.co.uk
Bisque radiator stockist: Nigel Heron Kitchens and Bathrooms, 40/42 Oxford Street, Leamington Spa CV32 4RA. Tel: 01926 430086; www.bisque.co.uk
Broadleaf, 13c Smith Street, Warwick CV34 4JA. Tel: 01926 411171; www.broadleaftimber.com
Roger Oates Stockist: Wovenground, 57-59 Regent Street, Leamington Spa CV32 5EE. Tel: 01926 332700.
Caroline and Nick Varney had seen their Grade II listed property advertised for some months but were not tempted to view it as the estate agents photograph showed a roof line of several levels. It was not clear which part of the house was up for sale as the details said it was part a large house that had been converted some years earlier, says Caroline. But then one day whilst house hunting we drove down an unfamiliar country lane and came across it by chance.
The couple decided to view it and, once inside, Nick loved it but Caroline had reservations as it needed a lot of work. It seemed like a massive project, she says. I was unsure because the house had been converted some years before and would need remodelling and updating to suit the lifestyle of our young family. For a start the layout was disjointed so that
needed reconfiguring. However, it had a happy feeling and a beautiful outlook.
The origins of the house are believed to date back to the 1620s, but with various additions encompassing the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian periods it had evolved into a large country residence. Then in the 1990s a previous owner had divided the house into two dwellings and had sold off most of the surrounding land, leaving approximately three acres of
garden and pasture with Nick and Caroline's house.
However, Caroline was persuaded and in 2006 the couple bought it and moved in with their three children. We unloaded our furniture and three days later went on holiday where we spent our time trying to figure out how we would remodel the house," says Nick. "When we came back we had a house warming barbecue in the garden for friends and family. As we spent so much time running from the back of the house to the kitchen at the front to get things like the tomato sauce we realised that the first thing to do would be to resite the kitchen. Moving it to the rear meant we could easily get to the garden and enjoy the views of both it and the more distant country views.