A mix of cool and character

A Georgian townhouse in Bath with a large garden is a rare find. Penny Jackson talks to its owner about how she turned it into a family home, while retaining its many original features
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The Independent Online

As soon as Jo Metcalfe's sons rushed to tell her that the house they were viewing had a big secret garden, she knew they were hooked. It is rare to find much of a garden with a Georgian townhouse in Bath, let alone one that overlooks the city and can boast its own hidden vaults. When she and her husband, both chiropractors, first moved to Bath with their sons, they commuted to London daily. They bought a six-storey house in one of the crescents where they rattled around, no matter how much they tried to fill it with large pieces of furniture, and they had no garden.

The charm of their current, four-storey home in Springfield Place, Lansdown, is not just its setting opposite a church, and its views southwards over the city, but its unusual vaults and the width of its garden. Since it backs on to a terrace, it has windows on three sides and is flooded with light, even in winter. It is also well positioned for motorways, schools and the centre of Bath. Down a few stone steps and into a small cobbled yard, work is underway to convert the three large rooms in the vaulted annex into extra accommodation. This is the last piece of Jo and Dominic Metcalfe's project to fall into place, and the attention given to the annex, with its curved ceilings and limestone floors, gives an inkling of what to expect in the main house.

All four floors of the Grade II-listed building are in a perfect and unblemished cream, a striking combination of modern interior and Georgian character. It is impossible to believe that this is a family home for four children: there is not a sign of smeary finger marks or toys on the floor. "When we moved here three years ago, we did up the lower ground floor for our two older boys. Now I'm afraid they have to put up with the baby's cot where their PlayStation should be," says Jo.

On this self-contained floor, which has two double bedrooms, clever use has been made of the vault area. Steps below the arches lead into a dressing room and bathroom, where the bath sits centrally in a pool of light from the window. It is the seamless melding of old and new and the quality of those additions that creates a stunning and coherent feel to the house. Bath stone butts up against the newly installed light oak flooring throughout, although on the stone stairs, the effect is softened by cream carpet. The original handrails, beautifully turned, contrast with the light paintwork, as does the antique furniture found in almost every room. "I spent a small fortune hunting for the furniture and we were determined to find a place for it when we moved here - even though it was a tight fit for some pieces," explains Jo.

In the kitchen, custom-built with a granite island unit large enough for family meals, Jo spoon-feeds her youngest son, William, while baby Ellie sleeps in her chair. They were both born after the Metcalfes moved here and after the upheaval of building work designed to create a space that would suit life with two almost-teenage boys.

"You can't double the size of your family and expect the dynamic not to change," says Jo philosophically, as she explains why the couple are now selling. "It wouldn't be difficult to alter a few things to accommodate everyone but we put a great deal of thought into creating the house as it is. Everything you do must have planning permission and the approval of the numerous different societies."

This is not unexpected in a world-heritage city with some of the most splendid Georgian architecture in the country and the Metcalfes had been pleasantly surprised to find that they were allowed to replace a Victorian bay with a large sash window. The Victorian porch still remains. "We also wanted to be able to open up the two drawing rooms on this floor and had envisaged all sorts of problems until we discovered during building work that old oak beams framed what were obviously once large openings." Now these two reception rooms, both with ornate mantles and slate hearths, have double doors leading from the landing so that the whole floor can be transformed into one immense space.

Two rooms per floor in the classic layout of the period has been turned to advantage by the Metcalfes. Each room is simple and stylish, and by choosing neutral colours and matt finishes they have accentuated features such as the shutters and fireplaces.

On the top floor, a landing with a baby grand piano leads into the main bedroom, while the bathroom, 16ft long, is far more than just functional. From the huge, freestanding, spoon-style bath - which, incidentally, Jo says is perfect for bathing babies - there are views of trees and rooftops from the two windows.

"Because we are on a hill and look down over a whole terrace of gardens, it feels wonderfully secluded," she says. "And in the garden you can catch the sun, whatever the time of day."

They took the garden over from non-gardeners and have created billowing herbacous borders, as well as two dining areas paved with flagstones. A particular treasure is a weeping ash, one of the oldest in the city, and now partially propped up, following the loss of a limb during a storm. "The garden wouldn't be the same without that tree,'' comments Jo. "It was so important to save it."

The Metcalfes' house in Springfield Place is for sale for £1.1m through Pritchard and Partners, 01225 466225.

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