"We went to have a look at a wing of a large house and loved it at once," says Jan. "It was absolutely right for us, so much so that our present home is the second wing we have owned. You get large, beautifully proportioned rooms with fireplaces and magnificent views over land that it not all your responsibility. You also have a great feeling of security."
All these factors have contributed to a growing interest in buying parts of houses from purchasers who at one time might have rejected the notion out of hand. Families frustrated by the competition in the market for detached period homes in a peaceful spot are now prepared to look at wings.
What they find, often greatly exceeds expectations. In a sensitively divided house, they can enjoy privacy, space and as little or as much contact with neighbours as they choose.
The Gills, whose own children are grown, see other families making the most of their shared, listed Victorian mansion, near Haslemere, Surrey. "The children all play together in the parkland. They have a treehouse and acres of land and the parents can share the babysitting. For us it is great to know that if the car breaks down or we have some other problem there are always people around."
But living as a small community does require give and take. Estate agents advise that, if the prospect of a lawnmower being started up at 9am on a Sunday is unbearable, this is not for you. Jan Gill agrees that considerate neighbours are vital. "We all have our own gardens, but we always say if we are planning a lunch party on the terrace and then the others will use a different part of their garden. So it is not quite the same as total privacy."
Unless a wing has been sold on, the chances are that it is being purchased from a developer. In the Gills' case, they tore up the developer's plans for the Tower House and started again. "We overspent and that is the main reason we are now selling," says Jan. "There is no point living in a beautiful home if you can't afford to go out."
Up to five years ago, a wing had to be considerably cheaper than a detached house that resembled it, but the gap is narrowing. Clive Hoare, of agents Lane Fox in Haslemere, says purchasers are reluctant to pay high prices for a house on a busy main road. "Some vendors fondly imagine that it doesn't matter to buyers moving out of London. On the contrary, if they are prepared to put up with commuting, the one thing they want is peace. Victorian and Edwardian mansions were generally built on hilltops surrounded by land a long way from traffic noise."
Along with the Tower House, which is on the market for pounds 500,000, Lane Fox has a five-bedroom wing in Honeyhangar, a Victorian house in the Haslemere area, with two reception rooms and an acre of garden for pounds 375,000; it also has a four- bedroom wing in a mansion at Sandhills, with two reception rooms and two acres of private garden for pounds 425,000.
Hoare does warn prospective buyers, though, to check what overlapping liabilities there may be. Long driveways have to be maintained, private drainage systems are common and there should be other communal areas in which restricted use is important: "It is far better for restrictions to be be put on the use of a courtyard than to allow old cars to sit there rotting. So if you are buying off a developer make sure you know what is happening to the rest of the estate."
Stuart Aldridge of Casa Developments, specialists in period restoration, says that if the division of a house is to work well, it should be divided vertically following the structure of the house which, to a large extent, should dictate the number of homes. And "avoid flying freeholds," he says. "I have just seen a beautiful home with its main reception sitting under the bedroom from another wing. It ruined it."
The "executive home" mentality of some developers can put off those buyers who have seen conversions in large country houses that are more suited to a city block than a rural beauty spot. So a wing that is undecorated can have distinct advantages (Knight Frank in Devon have just such a thing on their books: the major portion of a Grade I-listed mansion in need of further restoration).
Anna and Jeremy Rothman managed to stop a developer in his tracks and salvage the original kitchen of Preshaw House, Upham, Hampshire. "It has lovely handmade cupboards that the builder was going to rip out and replace with something contemporary," says Anna. "We stopped him in time and now the house is exactly as we want it."
The Rothmans have young children who have a natural playground in their attic-to- basement wing. "We did wonder when we first bought whether we would have to fill the house with antiques, but a mix of old and new has worked well," says Anna. "We came from a terrace in Winchester and we find the continued security of neighbours reassuring. So many of our friends in the country have been burgled."
The Rothmans' house is now being sold for pounds 725,000 through John D Wood; their next move is to build their own home. "We have been spoilt by the high ceilings and grand rooms and we would love to build a Palladian style house. But, after you have had a Christmas in this house, it is difficult to imagine anything else could be as good."
Lane Fox, 01428 661077; John D Wood, 01962 863131; Knight Frank, 01392 423111Reuse content