A look inside a stunning Reading home
PUBLISHED: 16:35 28 September 2016
Jan Raycroft and Maureen McLean pop in to a stunning Reading home where the delightful owners have ‘itchy feet’
It’s not unusual for us to visit brand new show homes – kitted out by some of the region’s top stylists – and ask the obvious question: ‘Would a buyer be able to negotiate on any furniture or soft furnishings that catch their eye?’ To do so in an early Victorian house for sale in Crescent Road on the edge of Reading’s South Park Conservation Area seems unlikely, but there’s a first time for everything.
In an era when more of us appreciate the history of our properties this has become a sought after area. There’s been quite a bit of ‘gentrification’ with specialist shops and cafes near to the tree-lined avenues.
We are in the expansive townhouse of Natalie and Mark Evans, admiring how they have turned this distinguished property into a truly stunning and modern home. Firstly, they’ve taken full advantage of the fact that although Bay Tree House was built in 1856 it has the imposing style, proportions, sash windows and high ceilings of the Georgian era. Someone clearly wanted what would have been considered a traditional home at that time, completely unaware that owners long into the future would appreciate the combination of solidity and fine detail.
More on the fascinating history in a moment, but it’s time to turn to how the couple have cleverly transformed this extraordinary four storey home’s interior. Natalie, creative director of her own marketing agency, clearly has an eye for design and Mark, a music producer, adds another equally creative mind that easily spots possibilities and instinctively seeks out ‘the different’.
There are two sides to this tale – modernisation of the actual building and then the furnishings and touches they have added to make it very special. Natalie takes up the story: “When we first saw the house ourselves it was very much stuck in late Seventies style everywhere you looked – the carpets, gas fires, wall coverings and colours and needed a lot of work. It’s the sort of project that would put off many people but for us it was perfect, even though we knew it would be a mammoth task.”
This involved much more than stripping back the home to its origins – and they found many original period treasures such as hidden decorative panelling on doors along the way – but also turning it into a family home with all the modern advantages we’ve come to expect.
As the history was revealed the Evanses became even more fascinated by the house’s origins. It’s believed to have been built by Mr Huntley of Huntley & Palmers biscuit fame – Joseph Huntley’s shop in Reading’s London Street grew into a factory at Kings Road which by the start of the 20th century was the world’s largest biscuit manufacturer with over 5,000 employees, spread across 24 acres around the River Kennet.
It’s thought that Mr Palmer owned the property next door, but Bay Tree House has another ‘claim to fame’ in that during the early part of the last century it was a Scattered Home – a property then known as Wilson House (previously a house in South Street had that name and was used) providing destitute children with a better chance in life than the earlier times of paupers and workhouses. Instead of living in strict orphanage-style schools, the children were assigned to homes overseen by a Foster Mother and attended local schools alongside those from settled families, in this case by a Mrs Kate Driffield.
While Natalie and Mark were keen to add their own unique style to the property they were also very determined to ensure that everything which could be saved from that era was cherished, right from the entrance. So the original panelled front door with stained glass windows opens on to a reception hall with chequerboard small black and white tiles. The tiles are not the original ones, but painstaking work went into fitting replacements. Anyone who’s worked with the curves and lines that come with an older property will understand what a task that was!
Elegant drawing and sitting rooms open up left and right from the entrance hall and it is in them, with their sash windows and Georgian-style proportions that you perhaps best get that sense of history. The drawing rooms has a polished Amtico floor, original bookshelves with cupboards below.
One major and very impressive change was the conversion of the basement area to a fabulous and spacious kitchen/dining room opening via large bi-fold doors to a sunken terrace and walled garden. In itself this is a marvellous transformation. The lengthy kitchen offers everything a modern owner could want, including Domostone wall and floor cabinets, stone work surfaces and built in appliances. But even here the history comes through as behind the kitchen in a cosy family sitting room, filled with soft sofas.
Another concession to modern ‘wish lists’ is that there is underfloor heating to the kitchen/dining room, family room and cloakroom.
While down here we’ll head outside to find another great mix of old and new. The landscaped garden includes a lovely terrace for entertaining and then a lawned area surrounded by mature trees including a fig, apple and walnut, leads down to an impressive wood and glass home office or ‘man cave’.
An original staircase leads up to a first floor now used for two spacious bedrooms complete with built-in wardrobes and en-suite bathrooms. We loved the top floor, not just for the three further bedrooms and shower room, but also for the views across this fascinating part of Reading.
Even with all these impressive features and the history, a house is just a house until someone adds the finishing touches and this is a remarkable part of the story. For both Natalie and Mark clearly have an eye for this. Whether it’s what to hang on a wall, restored chairs, cushions and other decorative items, the interiors are magnificent.
There is an extraordinary mix of religious iconography – just because they like it – modern art, period treasures and mysterious finds from home and abroad, and yet somehow it all works. You’d think they do this as ‘the day job’ or have called in someone with imaginative stylish flair. Even more extraordinary is the source of the objet d’art collection guaranteed to fascinate visitors.
“We love car boot sales and everything from independent shops to finding something that will work with the rest in Ikea,” admits Natalie. This is a couple who share a love of the quirky and have had many moments of catching each other’s eye as one or the other spots something they instinctively know will fit in with their ‘look’.
Much of their art has been sourced locally, particularly from Reading Contemporary Art Fair – including some investment pieces – and iacf events, one of which takes place at Newbury each year, see iacf.co.uk. The team behind Reading Contemporary Art Fair also oversee the Windsor event which this year will be held at Royal Windsor Racecourse on 12 and 13 November, see windsorcontemporaryartfair.co.uk.
If it wasn’t for the drive behind their fascination with converting elderly properties and filling them with perfect treasures, you’d have to wonder why they might leave this magnificent home and, while keeping their special personal favourites, consider including some very attractive items in any sale deal.
“Well, we’ve done it and the itchy fit have started again – this is now complete and we want to move on to a new project,” says Mark. While others might fancy a sit down in their beautiful home, this couple are eager to take on a huge new task. “We’ve found a total wreck in Cornwall that’s going to need a massive amount of work – just the thing we enjoy!”
Favourite hunting spots and suppliers
The Maidenhead experts in refurbishment carried out the kitchen transformation as well as an extension, painting, tiling, paving and installation of Mark’s ‘Man Cave/Studio’ in the garden.
Furniture Recycling Shop
This Bourne End business is a great spot for extraordinary finds and was the source of the master bedroom tables.
Garden Art Plus
The couple found some French church pews – perfect for the kitchen – at this Hungerford specialist.
J Brant Reclamation
Julie Brant of Brimpton Common, Berkshire has been in reclamation for over 25 years and specialises in traditional reclaimed building materials and architectural salvage.
Jamie at the workshop in St Albans produces fabulous zinc-topped tables.
Berkshire Fireplace Centre
This Reading favourite were able to supply the perfect fireplace in period style for what Natalie likes to call ‘The Posh Room’.
A Reading gem just across the road from Vastern Court Retail Park. You can spend hours here fascinated by the trinkets, vintage clothing and bits and pieces for the home
The Evanses found a great swing / slide set and the ‘Man Cave/Studio’ at their Chineham Business Park premises near Basingstoke. Dunster House also operate from Bedford.