At first glance, the imposing red sandstone structure of Holme Eden looks like any number of impressive Victorian country manors. It's a huge Tudor-gothic masterpiece set in the picturesque Cumbrian countryside and it wouldn't look out of place in a lavish BBC costume drama. Closer inspection, however, reveals something much more exceptional; in fact, something so unusual that only one other specimen exists in the entire country.
Holme Eden is a Calendar House, a horologically themed home whose features are carefully arranged to reflect the days of the year. John Dobson, the Victorian architect responsible for this rarity, clearly had time on his mind when he drew up the plans. The result is a stunning masterpiece. There are 365 windows - one for each day of the year - 52 chimneys, 12 corridors and seven exits and entrances. There are also four floors - one for each season. This massive property is now reaching the end of its huge restoration and conversion programme - and the first apartment is now ready to view.
Constructed in 1841, Holme Eden provided a fitting status symbol for cotton magnate Peter Dixon and his family. Unluckily for them, the expansion of the cotton industry in India in the 1870s and a flood of cheap imports forced them to sell up. Over the years a variety of owners followed, including an order of Benedictine nuns who used it for more than 80 years. By the time it was purchased by Cumbrian Homes last year, it was in a fairly dilapidated state.
The company decided to restore Holme Eden fully before converting it into 12 period apartments. "We saw a fantastic opportunity to restore a once stunning Victorian home to its former glory," says sales and marketing manager Nigel Pallister. So, with a little help from English Heritage and a bevy of specialists, they spent the next 12 months at work. Large sections of sandstone were repaired or replaced, the many windows serviced or repaired, the roof was re-tiled and entire sections of the internal structure were painstakingly retouched.
For most house hunters, the thought of taking on an enormous, sprawling mansion would be too much to contemplate. But Cumbrian Homes's project to convert the property has resulted in some surprisingly individual apartments that are in keeping with the character of Holme Eden. Appropriately, the calendar theme has been retained, with each apartment named after a month of the year. Initial interest has been so strong that two have already been snapped up despite the fact that neither have been finished - the majority are due for completion by Christmas.
First impressions are still formidable, however. The façade of the house rises up to meet the sky like a towering monolith, sprouting 52 castellated chimneys, resembling the battlements of a medieval castle. So many fireplaces, although horologically correct, could be considered overkill, so the owners took the decision to block off all but 12, giving each apartment a functioning fireplace and several other ornamental ones. The move will certainly cut down on the heating bills.
The immediate surrounds are no less impressive. "We've called in a specialist landscape designer to restore the gardens to their 1820s heyday," says Pallister. The result will be a series of immaculate lawns separated by narrow paths and punctuated by small semicircles of contemporary shrubs. Completing this portrait of tranquillity is the meandering River Eden, situated no more than 50 yards away from the east wing, which offers fantastic salmon fishing, according to Pallister.
But would potential buyers be put off by the Victorian austerity of the structure? Considering that a whole order of nuns saw fit to reside there for the best part of a century, one might assume it would be unsuitable for those looking for something a little more intimate and personable. Not so, argues Pallister, who says that although the exterior might seem typically Victorian - imposing and aloof - the interior displays an incredible warmth.
Once inside, it's hard to disagree. The compartmentalisation of the property has turned it into a more manageable and user-friendly structure while still maintaining its stately-home ambience. The main entrance is accessed through a 20ft-high central arch, which in turn leads to a huge shared reception area on the ground floor. To the immediate left and right of the reception are two of the apartments, and straight ahead lies the longest of the 12 corridors. It's one of the few communal hallways (leading all the way to the rear of the house and accessing three more apartments) as the rest are incorporated into the various duplexes.
Towards the centre of the mansion lies the magnificent, eight-foot-wide stone-constructed main staircase. It's another communal area and, according to Cumbrian Homes, it will soon be sporting a resplendent crystal chandelier. It serves as an access point to both the first and lower ground floor - the latter featuring an intimate inner courtyard that leads on to three further apartments. The final touches to the courtyard have yet to be added, but a cobbled stone effect with charming period furniture is envisaged for all the residents to enjoy. The first floor features three more apartments, all with views overlooking the inner courtyards.
Each apartment has its own quirks and strengths. For those searching for all the trappings of living in a stately home, but not the vast expanse (or expense - apartment 12 is the cheapest at £215,000), "December" offers a two-bedroom self-contained vantage point on the second floor, giving a great deal more seclusion than the others although it is quite a bit smaller and lacks some of the more ornate trappings.
The east wing of the house originally formed the main living quarters, and it shows. The apartments here offer fantastically ornate designs and intricate features. Apartment 1 - "January" - a massive three-bedroom apartment in the east-wing (selling for £405,000) features a two-foot high frieze that snakes its way around the top of the whole apartment, depicting vivid Elizabethan figurines and Tudor roses. "February", another huge (3,000 sq ft) three-bedroom apartment, has an elaborately carved timber and gold-gilt vaulted ceiling, 20 foot above the ground. Other apartments offer features from 400sq ft porches, to roof terraces 100 foot above the ground. Apartments located in the west wing offers less ornate designs as they formed what were once the servants' quarters, although you still get vaulted ceilings and more rooms per apartment than found in the east wing.
The apartments have clearly been situated with a neighbourly feeling in mind; entrances are placed around shared focal points to engender a sense of community within the home. It's worth bearing in mind the cost of upkeep, however. A management tenancy has been set up by the owners, with the aim of ceding control to all 12 eventual tenants (it's a 999-year leasehold), who will have an equal stake in the organisation. This residents' group will be responsible for pooling financial responsibility for the continued upkeep of the manor and its surrounds, which they estimate will annually cost upwards of £1,500.
The appeal of the Holme Eden units is clear: it's an opportunity to own a slice of a grand aristocratic lifestyle long since forgotten. Pallister recommends that buyers act fast before they get snapped up; it seems a little ironic that, for a house brimming with references to our clock-obsessed lives, time is not on your side.
Apartments in Holme Eden are for sale from £215,000 through Cumbrian Homes, 01768 840840Reuse content