Worn again

Two building brothers have won an avid fanbase thanks to their new homes with a pre-loved patina. Mary Wilson visits Brailes Hill House and finds it ageing very gracefully indeed
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The Independent Online

T he problem with most new houses - even if they are individual, have been beautifully built and designed with the greatest of care - is that they can lack that indefinable character that gives any house appeal. There are no uneven floors, no slightly wonky chimney, no door frame that you have to duck beneath if you are six feet tall.

T he problem with most new houses - even if they are individual, have been beautifully built and designed with the greatest of care - is that they can lack that indefinable character that gives any house appeal. There are no uneven floors, no slightly wonky chimney, no door frame that you have to duck beneath if you are six feet tall.

At Brailes Hill House, a newly built house outside the village of Upper Brailes on the edge of the Cotswolds in Warwickshire, you won't find features that are out of kilter, but you will find many lovely old materials combined with ultra-contemporary fixtures and fittings, which do give the house character. It is that rare thing: a new house that you know will not take many years to mature into a well-loved family home.

The developers are Martin and Ivor Johnson, brothers who were born and bred in Warwickshire, and who have carved out a reputation for themselves as builders of finely honed homes in the county. So much so, that some house buyers actually wait for a Johnson & Johnson house to be built in their area.

James Way, of selling agent Knight Frank, explains: "The quality of Brailes Hill House is exceptional and because the property is a combination of old materials and new, it is appealing to purchasers who might not have considered even looking at a new home. We have found that even sophisticated buyers from London walk in and say 'wow'."

The brothers began their company in 1975. "We gained experience before we formed it by converting a cottage for ourselves to live in, which we then sold, bought another and did a few more renovations," says Martin. "At first, we were doing extensions for people, then barn conversions and farm and cottage renovations."

Their first new-build project was in 1995, when they built 14 new houses using a lot of old materials. "We have always worked with reclaimed materials and had become used to doing that, so it seemed a natural progression. The planners weren't very pleased at first, but once they saw the end result they were delighted and we won awards for the development," he says.

The brothers have never looked back. This latest house is in a fabulous position, on a sloping site, with rural views. The gardens have been planted and landscaped, and there is a large decked terrace at first-floor level leading out from two of the bedrooms directly to the garden at the back. In the centre of the drive is an oval patch of grass marked out with old saddlestones, and a garage block on the left.

The entrance hall and kitchen are floored with the most lovely French stone slabs, which have been bevelled around the edges to make them look softer. Most of the main rooms have huge beams, taken from 90 tree trunks, which the Johnsons personally selected from the local wood at Dovers Hill. One stunning beam curves lovingly over the six-oven, part-electric Aga in the vast kitchen. Several of the solid-wood doors in the house were bought by the brothers 10 years ago, and came originally from the Treasury offices in London. "We bought 60 doors from a reclamation yard and these are the last to be used," says Ivor. "We are always on the look out for things and if we like them, we buy them and store them until we have the right house to put them in."

The pair recently came across a collection of old locks and door knobs and bought these too - a number of which can be found on the doors in the house; even some of the window panes are reclaimed.

The brothers have also incorporated some unusual features into the design of the house, including arrow-slit windows at either side of the doors into the living room and dining room. "We thought they were fun," says Martin and the brothers have also created internal stone mullion windows. The vast hallway houses a stone construction - made from reclaimed stone of course - with a large lit niche for a piece of artwork.

Upstairs, the children's wing - designed with low lights in the landing area, so that younger members of the household can see at night - "I know from experience that young children always want a light on," says Martin. Here, there are three bedrooms and a fabulous bathroom with freestanding Victorian claw-feet bath and terracotta tiled walls and floors - not bad for the kid's bathroom. On the other side of the central stairs, which have locally hand-made, wrought-iron banisters, are another three bedrooms. The master bedroom measures 23ft by 16ft and has a sensuously designed ensuite bathroom, with an oval Travertine limestone bath bought from Turkey, a waterfall tap and two matching circular basins. "The bath was so cumbersome and so heavy that we had to knock down a wall to roll it in," says Martin.

Each of the ensuite bathrooms in the "grown-ups" wing has its own special feature. One has a trough-like basin with a waterfall effect, the water just running away at the back, rather than down the usual plug-hole. Another has Brazilian black slate walls and floor and a steam shower with body jets. Storage space has been built in all through the house, which is also totally wired for sound with Bang & Olufsen equipment.

The house has the most contemporary fittings they have ever used and although the brothers love the old features, they both appreciate the new. "You have to keep evolving and every house has to be better than the one before," says Ivor. "And it's like all our houses. We build them as if we were going to live in them ourselves."

Upper Brailes House, which sits in a plot of 1.55 acres and is surrounded by gardens rising up to a paddock at the top, has garaging for three cars, a workshop and if required, two separate cottages available by separate negotiation. It is for sale through Knight Frank (01789 297735) for £1.55m.

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