With her heart set on leaving the city, Melissa Jones took on more than she’d bargained for when she fell for a beautiful but run down Georgian house.
Following her dream of living in the countryside, Melissa Jones was convinced there had been a typing error on the estate agent details about the amount of land that came with the Georgian house she’d fallen in love with. ‘It said 60 acres, but I thought they meant six, so we drove out to see it, only to discover that it was correct,’ she says. ‘And the property included two areas of ancient woodland that would need specialist care.’ But Melissa and her partner, Jeremy Hewlett, weren’t deterred. ‘This was 13 years ago and we had two small children: Harry, now 18, and Ottilie, now 16, and we wanted to bring our family up in the country. We’re all horse-mad, so we were looking for somewhere with enough space for stables.’ Originally a farmhouse built in 1825, the property stands on a hill in Berkshire with views for miles across the Kennet valley. The couple soon realised that the house would need extensive renovation, a project that would take them many years. ‘It’s been a labour of love, restoring and extending the house, and learning how to look after the land, which hadn’t been managed for decades,’ says Melissa. ‘We’re only custodians really, and it’s important that the woodlands can be enjoyed by future generations.’ Having moved into the house in 2006, the couple took their time before embarking on any big changes to the interior. ‘There was only one bathroom upstairs, and the small kitchen was on the north side of the house. It was very dated, with dark colours everywhere,’ Melissa says. But, with the imminent birth of their youngest son Bear, now 12, the couple left any major building projects for several years, completing essential work only. ‘We were surprised that the house wasn’t listed, but this worked in our favour as there are fewer restrictions,’ says Melissa. The couple decided that the best option was a two-storey extension, which didn’t spoil the original façade, and the plans went through in 2013 without any problems. ‘This new addition has taken us from one bathroom to five, and from four bedrooms to six, so everyone has their own bedroom and we have two guest rooms.’ Downstairs, the new large open-plan kitchen is a light-filled space overlooking the garden and woods. Melissa hosts dinner parties and runs her business @thepopupkitchen1 here. ‘I’ve turned my passion for cooking, which was a hobby, into a catering business for private events,’ she says. Part of the new extension remained a shell for nearly a year after it was built, but the couple slowly put the whole look together, using inherited objects, auction and saleroom finds, and a few new pieces. They took care to find furniture that had the right proportions. ‘We have some large rooms, like the new kitchen where we wanted a huge table as we love entertaining. But other rooms in the old part of the house, such as the sitting room and the dining room, are on a smaller scale, so we wanted to make sure these spaces are inviting and welcoming,’ says Melissa. She aimed for a lived-in, always-been-there look, with plenty of natural materials, such as wood, wool and stone. ‘I absolutely don’t do contemporary style and bright colours. I like muted soft colours: greys, blues and pinks.’ When it came to the extensive grounds, a management plan was put in place for the ancient woodlands and they’ve been thinned and coppiced over the last six years. ‘This has dramatically increased the light, and encouraged wildlife,’ says Melissa. ‘It’s like Springwatch from the kitchen windows.’
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