Laura Cartledge gets to the roots of a stunning Ashdown Forest property.
Karen Butler sums up her beautiful home best when she says it makes her wish Sundays wouldn’t end.
Thanks to their hard work, the historic Little Gassons in Ashdown Forest has been transformed and it now offers open plan living which makes the most of the spectacular views.
“We had built a house before this one so we knew what was needed,” she admits. “Having said that a refurbishment is very different, you have to keep the character even if you want to put new things in – it was a real challenge.”
But they knew it would be worth it.
“We used to live in Kent and would drive through the forest to get to Brighton and we just fell in love with it,” reveals Karen. “Our children were quite a bit younger then and we just knew this would be a better place for them to grow up.
“We found the property in 2007 in the summer,” she recalls, “I say it worked its magic on us, and it really did.”
The extent of the work, which included having the beams sandblasted, underfloor heating installed and new windows put in, meant Karen and her family ‘moved in and then moved out’.
Everywhere you look it is clear the utmost care has been taken, not only to introduce high quality materials and technology but also to listen to the house which was built circa 1920.
“It’s funny you say that. It’s true we listened to it, in fact there were some times when the house had its say over us,” Karen laughs. “It is modern, because of the underfloor heating, but it still has the character.
“We were quite fortunate that my husband ran our last project himself so he could pick the master craftsmen,” she continues. “Our carpenter made the staircase by hand – there is just oak everywhere in the house which links with the beams. It does look very good.”
The ample accommodation, which lists five bedrooms including the master which occupies the entire second floor, brims with character throughout.
Downstairs a combination of natural colours and feature wallpaper work to create rooms and divide the open plan layout which has seen friends nickname Little Gassons ‘the Tardis’.
How apt this description is becomes particularly clear in the living areas.
“My favourite change is the lounge. It had a lounge and then doors to the sunroom. We made it bigger, took it down, so you can see the views,” she explains. “There are windows on every single wall and the view is just amazing. I’m not exaggerating when I say there is not a single day that goes by which I don’t say ‘wow!’
“At night time, because you can see the village lights in the distance but it is dark here, it is like being in the sea looking back to land,” enthuses Karen.
“The sunsets and stars are stunning and on firework nights you can see everyone’s so you don’t have to arrange your own.”
The rural location has a great balance of quiet and community thanks to the property being nestled in a hamlet of ‘nine or so houses’.
“Everyone is so friendly,” agrees Karen. “They threw a party when we moved in to welcome us.
“We thought it would be quiet but there is so much going on,” she insists. “It’s a case of people will give you a ring if they need to borrow some chives but you still get your own space.”
The latter of which might depend on the seasons however, as Karen says the house being a ‘great place for entertaining’ is really showcased when the sun comes out.
“It is amazing how many friends you get in the summer because of the pool and the summerhouse,” Karen grins. “It is sunk down a little around there so you don’t get the breeze, it is a suntrap.”
The heated swimming pool is served by a dedicated building complete with a kitchen and shower, while the grounds also include two gate lodges.
“We only found out recently that the lodges were the chauffeur’s quarters,” she reveals. “One has a fireplace in it and the other was the bedroom.”
This area, perhaps because of the forest, seems to connect firmly with the past.
And just 15 minutes away from Little Gassons is a place Karen sees as very special for that very reason called ‘the Airman’s Grave’.
Despite its name, no one is buried here.
Instead it is a memorial to the six men who crewed a Wellington bomber and were killed when it crashed here in 1941.
“On Remembrance Sunday it is quite something, they hold services and thousands of people come,” says Karen. “A biplane flies over and drops poppies on the grave, it is so moving, everyone comes away with a tear in their eye.”
Ashdown Forest, and Little Gassons, provokes strong emotions from those who visit and live here.
“We know Lord Sainsbury lived here and then his daughter and her husband bought it off him because they didn’t want to leave,” echoes Karen.
“She used to come regularly and tell us stories, like about the apple tree which is 200 years old and still bears considerable fruit.
“Once the forest has its claws into you, you can’t keep away for long,” she smiles. “We’ll definitely be back, especially because there is a fantastic tearooms opposite.
“I feel sad to be going but it is just another chapter – we feel proud we have been here and made such a beautiful home.”
Little Gassons is on the market with Oliver & Co – Estate Agents, 5 Wealden Place, Bradbourne Vale Road, Sevenoaks for £1,850,000.
For more information call 01732 430 100 or visit www.oliverandcoproperty.co.uk
May 29, 2015 Interiors and Property