Property: An advertisement for stylish living: From soap commercials to period dramas, this is the house that location scouts dream of, says David Lawson (CORRECTED)
Halfway up the stairs, a dead Egyptian thrusts forward a tin of marrowfat peas. Fubar ignores the intrusion, racing ahead in excitement. She glances at the royal bed but it holds even less interest. Window hangings that cloaked the murder of an archbishop hardly merit a sniff. Instead she chews my shoes until Johnny Stiletto pulls her away.
'Sorry about that. She can get carried away with visitors,' he apologises. Roundly chastised, the pretty brown mongrel disappears into the bowels of the cavernous house.
'I'm not really sure how many rooms there are,' muses Mr Stiletto, with a puzzled expression that implies he has never been asked such an ludicrous question. 'Perhaps 15. Perhaps a couple more.'
There are certainly considerably fewer than when he discovered the big, flat-fronted Georgian house overlooking the elegant green of Highbury Fields, in north London. In those days it was a hostel, its huge rooms carved into a maze of partitions and corridors. During the past 10 years he and his wife, Carol, have removed these to recreate the original spaces built for roving 18th-century naval captains.
I am puzzled. 'Isn't this a bit far from the sea?' Apparently just far enough. A fast horse-ride to Greenwich but sufficiently distant to qualify privateers for the bonus of 'country' pay. Then came the fallen women to destroy all this finery.
They were not the captain's molls, Mr Stiletto hastens to add. The fields attracted a pleasure palace, which brought in the low life which, in turn, inspired the Salvation Army to take over the house as a refuge. He had to make a formal application to have the alcohol ban removed from the deeds before he could celebrate the purchase.
Today it is just a typical English house. At least, this is what the Japanese seem to think. Tokyo's version of the Oxo family once took over the kitchen for a TV commercial. The bathroom has featured in a soap advert and the upstairs drawing room will be familiar to Italian readers of glossy fashion magazines. The tapestry bed hood in the master bedroom graced the set of The Lion in Winter and the window hangings were a backdrop for Becket. Even the Egyptian on the stairs is a star, stepping from a fibreglass frieze to punt peas on British TV.
The house belongs to Philip Thomas, film director, photographer and author (Stiletto is his pen-name). Carol designs fabrics and the occasional film set, which accounts for many of the recycled props. They also have a weakness for historic memorabilia. This is a stylish home: well worn, unpolished and full of fun. A decade of mixing and matching has produced a mongrel, although with far more success than little Fubar - 'We decided she was effed up beyond all recognition, so we used the initials for her name,' Mr Thomas says.
A couple of flights above the Egyptian frieze, an authentic French fin-de- siecle circular window pierces the wall. While shooting one commercial in France, he combed local sales and chateaux, returning with a vanload of similar treasures. These sit comfortably beside original ornate fireplaces and plasterwork discovered when more than a century of accumulated hostel clutter was peeled away.
Mrs Thomas's kitchen is a temple. Not the dedicated housewifey retreat but a classical Greek extravaganza, where the cooker and fridge are disguised to match the house's original style. The Japanese love it. She established her fabric business after designing curtains to fit the massive Georgian windows. They also let in enough light to turn the place into a natural studio.
This, rather than the couple's niche in the film industry, is the real reason why the house has become familiar around the world. 'Lots of people think their homes would make marvellous backdrops for movies, but they are just not light enough,' Mr Thomas says.
Location-hunters come hammering on the door after spotting the potential of the elegant terrace with its huge windows. The props and historic internal memorabilia are an additional bonus. Anyone hoping for the same treatment should also offer easy access and parking, Mr Thomas adds. 'Remember, you have to get lorryloads of equipment to the house, plus catering for crowds of people.'
To anyone with a yen for this sort of publicity, he recommends dropping into the library to scan directories such as The Works or The Creative Handbook, which give addresses of location agencies. It is also worth buttering up your local estate agent.
But now the Thomases are changing locations permanently - aptly, to Hollywood. Mr Thomas has sold a script and expects to be working there for a couple of years. 'We will come back different people and want a different home,' he says. Estate agent Chesterton is handling the sale, and the pounds 1m price tag has not deterred queues of potential buyers.
The old place will not look the same when it changes hands, however. Most callers are barristers, accountants and other successful business people. It is hard to imagine one of those with a pet Egyptian on the stairs to tempt visitors with the delights of marrowfat peas.
Oops. I could, after all, fall foul of the dreaded Misdescriptions Act. Last week I gave the wrong agents for the glorious film-set house being sold in Highbury Fields. The correct contact is Hamptons (071- 226 4688). Many apologies.
Life & Style blogs
Plus London's buy-to-let hotspots and a new property portal
Guest post by Richard Sexton, business development director of e.surv chartered surveyors
Plus lateral thinking and living on London's waterways
- 1 Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alright as long as you do good
- 3 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 4 Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.