Building the dream
Laura Cartledge finds a move to Ditchling gave one family more than they bargained for.
For Simon Hedger-Grace and his family the dream was always to move to the countryside – not to save a house.
But since moving to Ditchling in 2007 they’ve ticked both of those boxes, and much more.
“We always thought we would move to the country, it sounds cheesy but it has been about hearing the birds in the morning and seeing the stars at night, so we figured we might as well get on with it,” says Simon, explaining the final push came when he suffered a cycling accident.
“I came off my bike in the London to Brighton bike ride, I am ok now but it was a bit messy at the time. It was one of those now or never moments.”
While the move to the country was meant to leave the bustle of nearby Brighton behind, the next part of the journey was anything but peaceful.
“The property market was going crazy at that time,” agrees Simon. “So we came to Ditchling and rented and did our best to find a house as soon as possible.”
That house turned out to be Sheldon Lodge, which had the prestigious claim of being the first property to be built in the Shirleys – a sought after private no-through road, boasting access via footpaths to the downs within two minutes walk.
However, it wasn’t all idyllic.
“The house was ready to have something done to it – nothing had been done for quite a few years,” Simon admits. “In the beginning we were talking of knocking the whole thing down.
“Lots of times I’ve heard on those Grand Design programmes that restoring is more expensive than rebuilding,” he adds. “But it is such a nice old building and it appealed to my design background.”
Not being in a rush to finish the project they never imagined they would start.
“From the moment we first moved here it was one of those ‘oh what can we do’ things,” says Simon.
“It’s been like Christmas everyday with lots of things changing and arriving, I’ve really got into it. It has revealed an interest in architecture I didn’t know I had,” he enthuses.
“We just really wanted to give the house two aspects, one of the trees and one of views of the downs, and it was a question of how you join two bits of the house together.”
The answer came in the shape of a rotunda which unites the original property with a striking drawing room that is predominately made of glass.
“It’s the type of glazing you might have if you had a house on the riverbank,” reveals Simon, confessing it is one of his favourite spaces.
“It is the perfect place for reading the Sunday papers as it is quiet, away from everything, and there is no TV in there.”
With its own access to the outdoors, the drawing room is fit for all occasions, while it also links to the new rotunda which features an ornate cast iron Victorian staircase dating to 1863 that winds upwards to the office.
“I found the staircase in Sheffield, it was one of those gambles,” Simon smiles. “We got it and it took three days to make it fit and it really does fit – it just works really well.
“We didn’t know if the upstairs of the rotunda would be a spare bedroom,” he adds, “but it is a perfect place for an office.”
As we explore this unique five bedroom home it seems strange to think Simon and his family came here just for the location when there is little doubt the next people will be coming here for the house.
It is not a surprise when Simon reveals the main aim was to combine ‘the old feel house but with all the modern comforts’, and the attention to detail means the character is enhanced but so is the convenience which usually comes with a new build.
Downstairs offers a walk-in shower room, bedroom and study – currently being used by Simon’s son in the run up to his GSCEs – alongside a kitchen, sun room, drawing room and a day room which is the perfect place
for children. Meanwhile upstairs there are four bedrooms, two of which have en suite shower rooms, plus a modern family bathroom.
So would Simon do it all again as they look to relocate closer to family?
“Something not as big,” he replies, “but I wouldn’t be adverse to lifting a brick or doing a sketch.”
Sheldon Lodge is on the market for a guide price of £1,200,000 with Hamptons International, 28 The Broadway, Haywards Heath. For more information, call 01444 419140 or visit www.hamptons.co.uk
July 20, 2014 Interiors and Property