Property: Tall stories from the country

When you think lofts, you think Manhattan, not Wiltshire - but now the high watermark of the smart inner-city lifestyle has gone rural, and apartments are springing up in market towns and old mansions.

Just what is a loft? A dusty, grubby old attic full of memories which are never looked at? Or a smart living space in an inner-city area, created out of a redundant industrial building with bare brick walls, original wooden floors, huge windows and masses of light.

In London and other cities, the penchant for living in lofts is unabated. City people are on the lookout for something different, a change from the traditional urban flat with box-shaped rooms and small windows. Instead they want an apartment where they can be creative and express themselves.

And now, a third type of loft is in evidence, the rural loft. This offers a similar expanse of space - large rooms with huge windows and high ceilings; but instead of former commercial buildings, they are in splendid period mansions or old institutional buildings.

Such buildings are usually converted into a number of small flats - but now there are several examples where enlightened developers have created more spacious loft-style apartments.

Near Tisbury, in Wiltshire, Nigel Tuersley, who is an ecologist, restorer and developer, has transformed part of the magnificent Wardour Castle, a Palladian mansion designed in 1770 by James Paine for the eighth Lord Arundell of Wardour, into 10 apartments.

Mr Tuersley bought Wardour Castle in 1992 with the dream of restoring it to its original design - he is even restoring the landscaped park as it once was, right down to each tree planned and planted by the old landscapers but lost or damaged over the years.

He lives in the main part of the castle with his wife and two children, but the whole mansion is far too large for one family to live in so Mr Tuersley converted the wings into massive loft-style apartments. "Manhattan- style loft apartments have attracted a big following in the London property market, particularly amongst the younger, affluent, designer set," says Nigel. "Their large open spaces, hardwood floors and potential for individual expression have created a strong demand among the urban elite. Invariably associated with converted industrial buildings, few of their purchasers would imagine that such properties could be available in a rural retreat and in a Palladian building."

The apartments are truly enormous with very large entertaining areas and two to four bedrooms. All have stripped hardwood floors and marble bathrooms combined with classical architecture and contemporary interiors.

Two of these are left for sale. The first is a four-bedroom apartment of 3,260 sq ft on the second floor. It has a large kitchen and a 26ft- by-22ft reception room. The other is a top-floor flat with two bedrooms and 2,699 sq ft of living space. This has ceiling heights from 12ft to 16ft and a 27ft by 25ft reception room. John D Wood is selling the two apartments for pounds 295,000 and pounds 285,000 respectively.

And at St Dunstans Gate, Canterbury, Berkeley Homes (Kent) is transforming an old warehouse into 25 apartments on three floors, of which eight will be loft-style apartments in the top roof space. The development is a regeneration of old railway sidings just outside the city walls and adjacent to West Canterbury station and there will be newly built homes as well as the warehouse conversion on the site.

The lofts will have exposed brickwork, original cast iron columns, original hardwood floors and traditional cast iron column radiators. Each loft will have a galleried area or sleeping platform and the company is considering offering an optional extra of installing a wood-burning stove.

Ceiling heights will be a maximum of around 20 ft and prices will range from pounds 100,000 to pounds 150,000. "The lofts will be the first for Canterbury," says David Rick, who is sales director for Berkeley Homes (Kent) - and it is likely that they are a first for the county of Kent too.

The Old School House in the centre of Stow-on-the-Wold, in the Cotswolds, is being converted into eight apartments and two houses. Two of these apartments are being designed in typical loft style, with mezzanine bedrooms and split-level ceilings where the large windows stretch from the living area on the ground floor right up to the bedroom on the gallery above.

Knight Frank's Stratford-upon-Avon office is selling the apartments and houses, and prices for the two one-bedroom loft apartments are pounds 97,500 and pounds 99,950.

In the heart of Shaftesbury, in Dorset, Terry Rogers of Nextmajor has converted the top floor of a period building. Originally it was a small flat, which was used for storage space, over offices. It had superb views to the rear over Cranborne Chase and Blackmoor Vale and Mr Rogers thought he could turn the flat into a much larger property and take better advantage of its position.

He extended the roof structure and created space in the rafters. Now The Apartment is almost 2,000 square feet, with a huge double reception room decorated in bright colours and a New York-style kitchen with turquoise- coloured units, both on the lower floor.

On the top attic floor, the master bedroom stretches up to the vaulted ceiling with huge cathedral windows looking over the view. The bedroom has an en suite shower room which is set into the eaves and there is a second bedroom, separate bathroom and another smaller room in the eaves. Gilyard Scarth is selling The Apartment with two courtyard parking spaces for pounds 135,000.

St Dunstan's Gate: 01227 458474; John D Wood: 01962 863131; Knight Frank: 01789 269853; Gilyard Scarth: 01747 851122

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