Bugattis & bespoke designs
PUBLISHED: 16:18 01 April 2014 | UPDATED: 16:18 01 April 2014
Located on the edge of Stansted Mountfitchet, Brooklands is a home of heritage and high specification with each of its four owners in its 150-year history adding something special. Pat Bramley reveals more
Brooklands, a handsome white villa standing in five-and-a-half acres of parkland on the edge of the village of Stansted Mountfitchet, has had only four owners since it was built in 1860. Each owner has made a significant investment in the property in their own way and all have brought something different to the party.
The first families set the standard by commissioning the highest quality craftsmanship when the house was built and having an input in the planting scheme for the grounds. More recently, huge care has been taken to update the interior and preserve the period features.
The house has the symmetry and elegance of the Georgian era. From one angle it looks almost as presidential on a mini scale as the earlier American White House built between 1792 and 1800.
The original owner of this Victorian villa in Essex was a vintner. He evidently appreciated fine craftsmanship in all its forms, not just in the making of fine wine. The vintner had a cellar built, which remains today and can store 1,000 bottles. Everything in his house was beautifully crafted. The high ceilinged rooms each have a cornice with a different design. The patterns are unusual, certainly not off the shelf.
It’s safe to assume if DIY stores had been around in the mid 19th century, the vintner wouldn’t have been in the queue at the till on Saturday mornings.
The second owner was a gentleman called Archie Gripper. Archie was a motor racing enthusiast. He raced his Bugattis around Brooklands and named his beautiful house after his favourite track. He was also the garden lover who chose many of the specimen trees which now grace the grounds.
The third owners were a firm of architects. Brooklands was the headquarters of their practice for 40 years and although they put up partitions to create offices, they took pains to ensure the original features remained intact.
The fourth and current owners are Derek and Lauren Smyth. Since they bought the house from the architectural practice in 2010 they have spent £800,000 to bring the interior up to date and inject the wherewithal for the high tech comforts, the contemporary sense of space and light and the ease of maintenance to make it an enviable home for a family in the 21st century.
Like their predecessors, they’ve kept the original windows, cornices and staircase, and all the features that have been there for more than 150 years. Anything that needed repairing was repaired by specialists and everything worth keeping has been preserved regardless of cost, but within those parameters the couple have made significant changes to the layout and amenities.
‘We didn’t need seven or even five bedrooms,’ Lauren points out. ‘There was only Derek and I and our two teenage children. We decided we would each have a suite and we’ll have a self contained annexe for guests because we entertain a lot, but that’s all the bedrooms we need. To some extent we saw the project as a blank canvas.’
The couple were well qualified to make use of it. In the past Lauren has worked in interior design for commercial clients and, as she says herself, ‘what Derek doesn’t know about building isn’t worth knowing’.
Today they work together in a company that has developed an adhesive-free flooring system using magnetic technology. Iobac, the firm in which both are shareholders and Derek helped to found, won the top innovation award at Ecobuild 2012.
The magnetic floor tiles they produce can be made to look exactly like wood, stone or a variety of surfaces, but the beauty is that in flood conditions like the country has experienced this winter you just pick them up, dry them off, pile them up and put them back when the weather is back to normal. Currently they are supplied to commercial clients for shops, industrial premises and places like airports, but they are not yet available in the shops for the public to buy to lay in their homes. However, it’s no surprise that the ‘wood floors’ all their friends admire so much at Brooklands are Iobac.
The original kitchen, which was there when they moved in, was a sixth of the size of the new one the Smyths designed and had built. There’s also a smart utility room.
There are four reception rooms – a formal drawing room, a dining room large enough for a table that can easily seat ten, a room they call the snug and another room they use as an office.
Lauren and Derek’s master suite has a 20ft dressing room and bathroom only marginally smaller than their bedroom. The second bedroom has an en suite dressing room that’s 14ft x 11ft and a five-star bathroom. The third bedroom doesn’t have a dressing room, but it does have a posh bathroom.
The guest suite has a hall, sitting room, bedroom, well-equipped kitchen and bathroom. ‘Whenever someone comes to stay they can have their own kitchen and an area where they can relax – some stay for months,’ laughs their host, although she might not be joking.
If more bedrooms were ever needed, it wouldn’t be much trouble to rejig the first floor layout by converting the guests’ sitting room and maybe a dressing room or two back into bedrooms.
In the basement there’s now a party room/home cinema and an art studio alongside the original cellar and the grounds include a tennis court.
Lauren is passionate about her home. Colours, textures, fittings and fixtures have all been chosen with immense care and many of the designs are bespoke, making this a truly unique home.
Now it is for sale
Derek and Lauren have decided to put Brooklands on the market in order to invest some of the proceeds into expanding the Iobac business in America. The house is for sale through Savills in Bishop’s Stortford for only the fifth time since it was built with a guide price of £2.5m. Call 01279 756800.