Me And My Home: The perfect pitch

Patricia Wynn-Davies meets a former ad executive who turned a 'rotting mess' into a mansion


Guy Davies, a former advertising executive, lives near the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, in the imposing Newland House, which dates from the 17th century

Guy Davies, a former advertising executive, lives near the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, in the imposing Newland House, which dates from the 17th century

The thing I liked most about this house when I first explored it was the element of surprise. At the front there's a walled courtyard, which you approach through a village via a lane lined with other buildings. So as you arrive it looks like a village or townhouse, albeit quite a substantial one. But once you're through the front door there's a completely different feel because the windows at the back look out over the original Wye valley, into which the garden merges seamlessly. Here the house takes on the feeling of a residence in open country, although only 20 acres - a huge lawn and some fields - actually belong to me.

Another thing you might never guess from the outside is the internal space, which adds up to around 14,500 sq ft. The rooms are generous and graceful, though the exterior is solid and majestic rather than refined, which is partly because of its construction from local, grey Forest stone and partly because of the way the original house, which was two-storey, has been enlarged. The northern part is 17th century but it was extended southwards in the 18th century, more than doubling its size and making this a house with two staircases. Later, someone decided to build an additional floor on top and dig out a cavernous cellar, part of which is now the nerve centre of the heating system and contains two large boilers.

The family who embarked on this mammoth project had a taste for the monumental. When I came across the house in 1994, all traces of grandeur had been decisively eradicated. Having done service as an army billet during the Second World War and as a girls' school, it was eventually converted into nine flats and ultimately came on to the market as a Barclays Bank repossession.

So why did I get involved with what some might have considered a property restoration horror-story? This is a beautiful part of rural Britain and I'd made many visits over the years when living full-time in London, but the house was a rotting, dripping, gruesome mess with very little original internal detail remaining. But I was giving up the advertising business and I was looking for a project.

I wanted something to do with my time - a wish that was duly granted. A developer was also hovering expectantly, and while I was quitting the hard-nosed world of commerce my competitive instinct was obviously still alive and kicking. I became determined that the developer shouldn't have it and, after a flurry of bids, a huge wreck of a house was mine. I told Sheila, my partner, that she had the honour of having become the chatelaine of a house that was literally falling apart - the holes in the roof and the straight glass in the curved windows were only two of the problems.

Thus a one-time account executive took on a new life as a site manager, supervising the renovation of more than 70 windows, the pulling out of countless fire doors and internal corridors, major structural repairs, the sourcing and fitting of fireplaces, cornices, shutters, doors, the recovery, repositioning and revarnishing of hundreds of metres of floorboard, the assembling of many oriental rugs to lay upon them.

When it came to recreating the house as a home to be lived in, entertained in and pottered about in, the thing I wanted to get away from was the English fixation with numbers of bedrooms. We could have fitted in many more but we decided on seven large bedrooms and six large bathrooms. We think the house has more charm as a result. My determination to get rid of all the old corridors means that you have to pass through upstairs sitting rooms to get to two of the guest bedrooms, and we wanted other rooms that suited different purposes or pursuits.

Apart from the entrance hall, which doubles as a large entertaining room, a double-height drawing room with a library gallery and a 24-place dining room, there's a music room, a writing room (it has an antique writing desk where Sheila writes letters the old-fashioned way), a billiards room, a TV room, a big dressing room, our workrooms and a large storeroom. Off the kitchen there's a scullery with a deep sink for soaking pots and pans and a shallow sink for cut flowers, and beyond that a roomy walk-in pantry that would surely have impressed Mrs Beeton. I made all my own wall colours from the cheapest white emulsion mixed with pigments from Cornelissen & Son in Great Russell Street, London, which was a source of creative pleasure following the years of hard-core reconstruction.

My original refurbishment budget was an underestimate - maintenance and fuel do not come cheaply and it's an awful lot of space for two people. But we love being here on our own. It's also a wonderful space to entertain in and visiting children like to hide while their parents relax in a distant corner. It's a house to lose yourself in, as exemplified by an aunt of mine who came to visit. "Guy," she called, "I've lost my bedroom."

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