Moor Hatches (28)

Client Stories: creating a home to put down roots

Moor Hatches (28)

On the side of the road running through the village of West Amesbury, in Wiltshire, is a string of small cottages. To the passerby, this row gives no indication of the dream-like residence that lies within. The cottages are really several rooms at the back of Moor Hatches – a fine country house set in spectacular gardens, designed by an RHS Chelsea Flower Show winner.

Even the current owners, who had been renting slightly further south in the Woodford Valley for 12 years, did not know the seven-bedroom property existed. "It is rather a hidden house, quite deceptive, and looks just like a little row of cottages," says Juliette. A friend tipped them off that this "apocryphal property" (as she calls it) was going on the market. 

Author Juliette and her husband Guy moved from London in 1991 with one baby, having previously worked and lived in Scandinavia, Germany, and France. They rented a four/five-bedroom house and stayed there until 2004 when they bought Moor Hatches. By this point they had four children and wanted to find a magical family home in the area. 

Moor Hatches certainly had the potential to be something remarkable. The 18th century farmhouse and barns, which were amalgamated into one large country house in the 1930s, sits in six acres within the UNESCO Stonehenge World Heritage Site, bordered by the River Avon. 

It required a lot of work, however, far more than aesthetic modernisation and more visionary than an extension. It needed reorientating and reimagining. "The house felt as though it had been dropped into its landscape, facing the road with no doors at the back," says Juliette. This created a barrier between the house and the garden, and the entrance was functional not welcoming, dominated by a drive and a large turning circle.

Having lived there for only a couple of years they moved back out for what was to be a two-year renovation project. It was underpinned, replumbed and rewired. They fought to save period features, such as the ceiling of the non-conformist chapel that remains part of the building. "The roof is an upturned boat – an architectural anomaly – that we were desperate to save," said Juliette. In 1930 a Georgian bay window was moved from Bath to Moor Hatches with curved panes of glass. Every single pane was restored too.

"Virtually every room is dual aspect due to the L-shape and yet the lack of doors and windows meant there was very little natural light," explains Juliette. Leaded windows and pairs of glazed double doors replaced brick walls and connected the house to the outside. "We exploited every chance to bring the inside out, and the reverse," she continues. 

The kitchen is the heart of the house, designed by Artichoke, with a central island, a scullery, a walk-in fridge, a pantry, and a glass-topped old water well. The drawing room boasts a limestone fireplace and double doors onto the courtyard. There is a cinema room on the ground floor too and a cottage (at the end of the row of cottages) for a housekeeper. 

Their focus then shifted to the outside which underwent its own incredible transformation. In 2007 Juliette contacted an old friend from university for some advice on the gardens. Tom Stuart-Smith OBE is a landscape architect who has designed many gardens for the Chelsea Flower Show, nine of which have been awarded gold medals - three of which won 'best in show.' "I wasn't expecting to hire Tom. He is far too grand – this is a charming farmhouse, not a Palladian stately home," says Juliette. "But he wanted to come and take a look."

It is easy to see why Tom would be intrigued by such a plot, with its dry-stone wall that forms the boundary edge of the Stonehenge site, and from the start of the collaboration he flipped Juliette's pre-conceptions. "He had such fantastic ideas that in the end, all the money we had originally put aside for further house extensions, was spent on the gardens," she says. 

The garden is formed of different sections: the formal courtyard, the wildflower meadow, the flat lawn (for ball games), the two-level walled garden which is home to an elegant and discrete swimming pool, in a gentle dappled grey and white Marbelite finish. Juliette wanted to veer away from the ostentatious. "I didn't want a Caribbean-style, bright blue swimming pool, nor did I want to swim with the newts in a natural pool!" she says. The muted grey and white finish reflects the sky and the whole thing sits within swaying grasses, hidden from the house.

Tom created an elegant architectural grid of low Beech hedges, original dry-stone walls and one very old, thatched wall – the bones of the garden allowing the planting to move and dance in the breeze. "The garden became a series of boxes and 90-degree angles, as a nod to the L-shaped building. The plants soften these edges, and the straight beds emphasise the natural shapes of the plants," says Juliette. 

Pholmis Russelliana on the lower tier, bordering the pool, has soft heart-shaped leaves out of which shoots a proudly structural stem carrying Pom Pom-like yellow flowers while drifty, floaty grasses compliment the riverbank. The tall Veronicasturm Virginicum is almost transparent, while pops of colour are provided by the Geraniums. The series of gardens are an orchestra of layers and tones. It is a modern English country garden that pays quiet homage to its rural roots, and a peaceful marriage of romantic and contemporary, whimsical and orderly. 

New ponds have been added, two are fed from the stream that winds through the orchard, and two are connected to the river, designed to become completely submerged to protect the riverbank when it floods. "This is the wildest part of the garden. We are very respectful of the river and worked hard to restore its sides. It is healthy now and fast flowing, full of trout, with a resident Heron, and we have seen signs that otters are here too," Juliette says. 

With three of their children now on different continents, and one in London, Juliette and Guy are selling and relocating back to the capital. "This has worked wonderfully well for us, especially with teenagers (both boys occupying different ends of the L-shape). But Moor Hatches needs another family here now," she says. 

Moor Hatches is on the market for £4,500,000.

Take a look around…

Moor Hatches (5)
The charming archway that signifies the entrance to the home and gardens
Moor Hatches (13)
French doors opening out onto a terrace, ideal for alfresco dining
Moor Hatches (35)
The drawing room with its limestone fireplace
Moor Hatches (7)
The formal courtyard has a sea of tulips during the spring

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