A Phoenix From The Ashes
After moving in and refurbishing their new home, including a new swimming pool and tennis courts, a devastating re meant a total rebuild for the Scowsills resulting in a light, bright beautiful new space.
The story of Julia and Jeremy Scowsill’s home can be divided into two very distinct periods: BF and AF – Before the Fire and After the Fire. In 1996 Julia and her family, sons Tom and Monty then just toddlers, moved into the house.
Designed by an architect for his own use just prior to the second world war it was an ideal family home, spacious and with a large garden, “we walked in and it just felt right,” Julia remembers. They stripped artex off walls and ceilings and re-decorated, put in a new kitchen and bathrooms, and installed a swimming pool and a tennis court in the garden. Then, in 2006, shortly after returning from holiday, the house was totally devastated by re caused by an electrical fault in the tumble dryer.
“I was out shopping,” Julia recalls, “when I got a call saying the house was on fire.” She followed the wail of sirens coming from a fleet of fire engines and then stood in the garden and, “watched our past go up in flames.” It was a horrible experience. Most importantly though, no one was in the house, “we were all okay which is what really mattered and once you get over the initial shock you go into operational mode, there is so much to sort out.”
The whole of the roof and first floor had gone but all the outer walls remained, it was a black hole, but the outside footprint of the house survived. The Scowsills settled into a rented house and reviewed their options which were: knock the whole house down and build something completely new, walk away and buy/build another house elsewhere or, and the option they finally decided upon – rebuild the house in the same style but with improvements.
“Various factors came into play when we analysed what we wanted. It didn’t feel right to move away, we hadn’t chosen to leave our home, it had been taken away from us. Here was an opportunity to rebuild the same place, which we all loved, but with changes to suit our current lifestyle.”
They both made a wish list. “Mine was slightly longer than Jeremy’s!” Julia admits, an architect was enlisted to turn the wish list into reality. The plan was to make the house bigger and to correct certain irritating factors, as Julia explains, “I always felt the corridors were slightly too narrow, so it did not feel as if there was enough breathing space.”
They widened the kitchen and the corridors, and they created a wonderfully spacious hall at the front of the house with a striking and grand staircase winding up to the re-built first floor.
More wishes included a new study for Jeremy plus a television and entertainment room on the ground floor, with an extra bedroom and bathroom above. More working rooms too, a pantry, utility room and a boot room were built along with another smaller staircase to serve the new ‘wing’ at the far end of the house.
The original house had been rather dark with small, leaded light windows. Julia wanted the replacing design, which was classed as a new build and so subject to current regulations on insulation, with sealed glazed units for windows, to be infused with light. One of the most imposing features about this restored house is the abundance of glorious natural oak used for floors, doors and the new windows, now much larger and framed with the same pro led detailing but glazed with clear glass. “This time around I wanted a more simple, clean lined and uncluttered look whilst at the same time retaining the feel of an Edwin Lutyens arts and crafts house.”
Julia also wanted to create an easy transition from room to room, and there to be a comfortable feeling of continuity. She planned her interior schemes to ow naturally, to complement each other in classic, timeless style. Walls, ceilings and woodwork have been painted in soft, pale neutral shades. Employing local companies was something both she and Jeremy were very keen to do.
The furniture and accessories are an interesting and eclectic mix of period pieces and elegant contemporary designs. There are beautiful inherited pieces like the Chinese rosewood desk in the drawing room, bleached white by the heat of the re and lovingly restored by a cabinet maker/French polisher who promised to ‘make it sing again’. “In fact,” Julia says, “it’s actually in better condition than it was before.”
Lots of contemporary art, including some of Julia’s own work, decorates the walls along with an interesting collection of antlers, moose heads and large clocks. “I have to own up to being a bit of a drama queen when it comes to interiors; I am drawn to big, strong, key pieces, whether they be Gustavian benches, vast doors or huge chandeliers!”
Ultimately, the appalling episode of a disastrous fire has given the Scowsill family an extraordinary opportunity. A chance to develop a house they knew well and loved and re-fashion it into an enhanced, new and more spacious home which really works for them and their grown-up sons. A veritable phoenix risen from the ashes!
Photography: Polly Eltes / Narratives Text & Styling: Jane Graining / Narratives © narratives.co.uk