An entrance hall says a lot about a house. If you first set foot into a poky, ill-lit anteroom, you are unlikely to be bowled over by what is to come. If, however, you feel inclined to don a long frock or a set of tails to trip along the wide slabs of limestone and sashay up the curved Art Deco-style glass and oak staircase, then you know you are on to something good.
David Smith, head of marketing for Octagon Homes, says his niche development company, which specialises in top-end new houses, always goes for big landings and entrance halls. "We are looking for the wow factor," he says. And it is undeniably present in Shaws House, where those of us pushed for space could envisage housing our paperbacks, a piano, the family gerbil and all manner of debris in the main hallway alone. But at almost 11,000 square feet of house set within nearly two-and-a-half acres of landscaped grounds, finding space for the baby grand or that crumbling copy of Lampedusa's The Leopard is hardly a problem here.
Shaws House is very much a product of its surroundings - the very pukka 900-acre St Georges Hill Estate just off the A3 in Surrey. Modelled on architecture of the Twenties and Thirties by designers Tony Taylor and Rob Quartly, it is a throwback to what master builder William George Tarrant had in mind for his original "escapist country village" outside the Big Smoke. Here the very rich from London would each own a large country house on an acre of land. But as the new well-heeled house owners demanded ever larger chunks of land and ever grander mansions at St Georges Hill, it became a nametag for the rich and famous, including the Beatles, Tom Jones and Cliff Richard.
Tim Garbett from Knight Frank's Esher office, who is selling Shaws House for a cool £6.5 million, says the history of the estate brought in "a global wave of change" with regard to its residents. "Buyers came from the Middle East, Europe and America - and at the moment there is a Russian influx. But anyone not affected by the global economy, who makes money from kicking a football or singing a song, buys regardless of what stocks and shares are doing."
Garbett says that switched-on companies like Octagon have cottoned on to what purchasers at the top of the food chain require - "uncluttered, clean lines, tall ceilings, comfort cooling, along with chic glamour and sex appeal". Shaws House has all this, with a few neat added touches. The doors are all light maple with darker maple expensively inset, the obligatory £5,000 Sub-Zero American fridge-freezer is in evidence in the maple laquer kitchen, as is the indoor barbecue, black granite worktops, Miele cappuccino maker and classic oven. There is even an extra oven - a one-metre-wide Gaggenau for that "monster turkey or salmon", according to Smith. "We don't mind paying for the labels."
Taking into account that the kitchen is the heart of the house - even in the wealthiest of enclaves like St Georges Hill, where most people are unlikely to do much cooking themselves - a sunken sitting area is alongside it, separated by a glass wall from the leisure complex. Here you can sip your martini, while watching the children in the pool next door. Then you can join them in the pool, 12-man sauna, Jacuzzi, steam room or wet bar with its own sink, drinks fridge and ice machine. If you are feeling particularly vigorous, you can work out in the gym, which is divided by a glass wall from the pool area.
The latest must-have - and you heard it here first - is a servery. Smith confirms that in these circles, "The servant is back." Akin to the Victorian butler's pantry, up-market hostess trolley-style warming units, cupboards for the best porcelain, a fridge and sink is all on tap in an antechamber off the dining room. Here the staff serves up meals at formal dinner parties or champagne and canapés at more hand-held affairs. And if you have to have the ethos behind the servery spelt out, then you are probably not destined for St Georges Hill and its loftier social echelons.
The first floor carries through the relaxed and modern theme found downstairs. Eschewing dark panelling or leaded lights from the past, floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of natural light to the six double-bedroom suites. Smith says these days buyers of this calibre would rather have fewer bedrooms that are large and equipped with en suites with both baths and showers. The master suite has a roomy dressing room and his 'n' hers marble en suites. Marble-rimmed mirrors hide cupboards and sit-up-and-beg-Starck taps blend the old with the new.
Despite its literally polished veneer, there is still a modicum of choice at Shaws House. Smith says purchasers with loads of money like to make their mark in some way, and they still can here. A link room with side views over the garden between the drawing room and study could be a library or a family room. Equally, the subterranean level cut out from the land beneath the four-car garage could be converted into a two-bed apartment, staff quarters or a hangout for very lucky teenagers. "You can imagine a whole train set or Scalextrix going round here," adds Smith, "or it would make a great cinema room."
Knight Frank's Garbett reckons someone "cosmopolitan and international" is likely to buy Shaws House. "It will appeal to captains or vice-captains of industry, people who need to go to Heathrow or Gatwick on a daily basis and those who can be in the centre of London in half an hour, but are happier living just outside the capital. Security is important, and with the estate and the house both gated, businessmen can leave their wives in a protected and happy environment, with Weybridge and Cobham just up the road for shopping."
Smith points out that Octagon prides itself on great attention to detail. In theory, the new owners of Shaw House can just pitch up and get on with a stress-free existence in their new luxury home. Rather than fuss over carpet installation or complex wiring for surround sound, it has all been sorted already. "All you need is a kettle and bed and you can move straight in," he says. But if a servery and leisure complex comes high on your wish list, it is likely the owners of Shaw House will arrive with a bit more than that.
Shaws House is available through Knight Frank's Esher office, 01372 464496Reuse content