It’s an impressive approach to David and Louise’s apartment, through large gates and into immaculate country house style grounds. It’s situated on the third floor of a large, elegant block so we take the lift. There are stairs, of course, but taking the lift feels compulsory, if not a little swanky. Having been warmly greeted by David, we continue to climb – up onto the roof terrace. This is an unexpected revelation, like the icing on a sumptuous cake, and it spans right across the top of the apartment.
David and Louise have recently transformed the space, peering onto a neighbouring roof I see Astroturf, which, David informs us, was the original substrate here, too. I can’t help feeling there’s something rather peculiar about a lawn in the sky, even if it is a fake one. David and Louise have decked their roof terrace and it now has a sea-washed, nautical feel to it, with built-in seating areas and clever changes of level. I’m intrigued by the decking – it’s made from a substance called Millboard, which is used in place of traditional wooden decking and it looks, well, just like wood. The difference is that Millboard doesn’t suffer from the problems associated with wood, so it won’t rot or become hazardous and slippery.
There’s a lot to take in up here – blissful and unbounded views out across miles and miles of the glorious Wealden countryside, and also an intriguing scene right below us in the grounds, in the shape of a huge and ancient rockery. It is very impressive – built from giant sandstone boulders and said to be one of the largest in Europe. Not many people can claim to have such a thing in their garden. It’s a beautiful morning and the temptation to stay up on the rooftop is strong, but climbing back down, the door shutting horizontally, as if we’re going below deck on a boat, proves to be just as glorious.
The original property was built as a large private house in around 1840. It has undergone several changes of use since then, including time as a hospital and latterly a school. By the time the developers took it on, the house had fallen into disrepair and was in need of total renovation. Two new wings were added to the main building and the site was carefully transformed into a prestigious apartment development. “It wasn’t our plan to live here at all,” says David, as he leads us towards the kitchen. “Living in a gated community setting wasn’t something that had appealed in the slightest; in fact we were living just 400 yards away, in the lodge at the gate.” He adds, “We’d only been in there for eight weeks. The new buildings on either side of the original house had just been finished and this was the last apartment available. The development company had their sales office here. We just happened to visit one day,” he trails off, “I can’t think why.” Life and destiny move in mysterious ways, and in this case, ultimately fortunate ways, it seems. Within a month David and Louise were making plans to leave the lodge and move in.
The appeal of this home – unlike an older property – is that, not only is the apartment newly built, it’s within a larger building, so the maintenance and upkeep are all taken care of within the running costs. It’s also a very secure building, which is ideal for those who like (or need) to travel. The couple are often away and have a cottage in Yorkshire, where they spent most of the summer this year. “The only problem was the plants (on the roof and balconies),” says David. “It was so hot and dry this summer; unfortunately none survived. We’ve replaced them with others that might do better – it’s quite exposed this high up.” In the scheme of things, losing a few plants seems a price worth paying for the ability to lock up and leave whenever you feel like it. I’m beginning to see the appeal of this style of living myself now. Are pets allowed, I wonder? “I don’t think they encourage them,” David says, “although there’s no rule that says you can’t.” I glance out of the window across the grounds – 40 acres in total – and can’t see any movement at all, except for the occasional groundsman (the more formal gardens nearer the house are beautifully well kept). It is serenely peaceful.
The state-of-the-art kitchen has been well thought out and even has a built-in coffee machine that dispenses delicious coffee (every kitchen should come with one). It’s light and spacious, boasting two sets of French doors, one leading onto a balcony, the other onto a small terrace, both with a wonderful Wealden view. You can pass from the kitchen to the living room along the hall, or step outside across the terrace, (which has also been clad in that useful Millboard decking). The rooms are decorated in a neutral style, so David and Louise could have gone either way and given the apartment a traditional or contemporary feel. They decided to mix and match, using classic and antique furniture juxtaposed with more modern pieces. David had previously lived in an older house and much of his furniture was being stored in a container. It was supposed to have been sold, being too big to fit into the lodge, but luckily David had forgotten about it during the move, “so the delay turned into a bonus, as most of the furniture fits very nicely into the apartment.” Serendipity at work again here, perhaps. The only piece that didn’t fit was the large wardrobe in the entrance hall. The architrave around the top was removed, the wardrobe reduced in size and then the architrave replaced. Today it looks as if it were made for
It is Louise, unfortunately not here today, who has made most of the decisions concerning the décor. “Louise is very fond of colour – and light,” explains David. “She’s been able to express herself here and add quirky and colourful touches.” Is she responsible for the charming copper bats that hang cheekily from the roof on the terrace? David smiles. “We bought those in Yorkshire recently – they’re made from recycled copper from old water tanks.” The kitchen has vibrant red and orange detailing – appetising colours that bring the room to life and give extra warmth to the sleek wood finish on the floor and units. The living room, by contrast, is highlighted with blue. I notice that even Louise’s crochet bag (she is currently crocheting a scene of the Yorkshire moors) blends in with the theme. Neutral backdrops need livening up to prevent them being bland, especially in rooms with good proportions and high ceilings. So the accents of strong colour work well in the large, light filled rooms. Unifying wooden flooring has been installed throughout. “Wood floors aren’t allowed in the main house,” says David. “They make too much noise over there, as it’s an old building and hasn’t been soundproofed.”
Louise has definitely influenced David with her bold colour choices, but has David influenced Louise in any way? “Well, she’d never been to a football match before she met me,” he says, “but now she’s an avid fan.” He leads us into the master bedroom and en suite bathroom, which has an elegantly dramatic black and white colour scheme, one that just happens to tie in with the colours of his favourite football team. “There’re not many people who have a framed Newcastle United shirt in their bathroom,” he grins.
Sport is important to this couple – they’re both keen golfers and regularly enjoy playing a round or two at nearby Crowborough, but it was cycling that initially brought them together. David explains how they met on a cycling holiday in Cuba. Mysterious forces must be at work here, as David had never been on a cycling holiday before. Within three months of meeting they’d got married and bought a house together. Cycling is in Louise’s blood; her father was an Olympic cyclist and won silver and bronze medals in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. I had noticed some large and unusual framed pictures in the living room; David pointed out that these were actually the framed certificates from the Olympic Games. They make strikingly effective artworks.
It sounds as if living here has freed up their lives, giving them time for family (they both have children from previous marriages), allowing them to follow their interests and passions and do more travelling. They obviously like to be busy. As we’re leaving David tells us that he might weed the rockery over the weekend. I have a quick peek at it once we’re back outside. It’s enormous! Volunteering to weed Europe’s biggest rockery is a challenge that could only appeal to the more intrepid among us. My vision of maintenance-free living has just shattered.
The bright white walls of the living room are highlighted with touches of blue
Accents of strong colour work well in the large, light filled rooms. Here, the vibrant red of a photographic triptych of a coastal sunset at Folkestone is echoed in the soft furnishings and crimson gladioli
The couple were pleased to find that much of their old furniture fitted into the apartment perfectly
The master bedroom and en suite bathroom are simply decorated and furnished with an elegantly dramatic black and white colour scheme
Stairs from the hallway lead up to the almost secret roof terrace which spans right across the top of the apartment
David and Louise chose to deck it in Millboard in place of traditional wooden decking as it doesn’t suffer from the problems associated with wood, so it won’t rot or become hazardous and slippery
The decked roof boasts blissful and unbounded views out across miles and miles of the glorious Wealden countryside, and also over a huge rockery, reputed to be one of the largest in Europe
- words: Jo Arnell
- pictures: David Merewether
- styling: Lucy Fleming
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