The sympathetic restoration of the delightful Chandler House – in Alton Barnes, Wiltshire – has created new, livable and stylish interiors with potentially uncomfortable restrictions, as John Goodall discovers. Photograph by Paul Highnam for the Country Life Image Library.
Chandler’s house stands in Pewsey Vale with a beautiful view of Alton Barnes’s White Horse, a huge chalk figure carved into the side of Milk Hill in 1812. It is a house without a public facade in the sense that it is a narrow driveway. behind is little more than a long, deep cat-like roof. This makes the experience of moving into ownership even more amazing. To the west, overlooking the garden, is the front of the house you would normally expect to see facing the street: a neat elevation around 1700, five window openings wide with a central door and a hipped roof. (Picture 1). One small asymmetry – a narrow window to the left of the door – gives interest and charm to the entire interior.
The house is built of bricks laid in a neat bunch, precisely matched in color, with red litters and lintels kiln-fired to maroon, a finish typical of the more ornate 18th-century buildings in the wider area. Another sign of the relative high cost of the building is its detailing with stone corner lintels, stucco strings and window edging. In their original form, the windows were divided by stone pillars and transoms, but these have since been cut out and replaced with sashes. Despite the careful trimming of the moldings, the changes left the characteristic stone blocks – the truncated ends of the transoms – on either side of several openings.
The current owner of the house, a jewelry designer, fell in love with the building after seeing it advertised in a magazine. rural life. It offered character, intimacy and privacy in a beautiful setting. However, what began as a relatively modest series of changes has gradually grown into a much more ambitious three-year project to reorganize, renovate and redecorate the entire property.
The work was supervised by architect Mark Deeves. The contractor was R. Molding & Co, a well-known local Salisbury firm, and the interior decorator was Fiona Shelburne, Lady Lansdowne, a friend of the client. Work completed in 2021.
One of the main challenges with this project was the need to work within the constraints imposed by the structure of this Grade II listed building. Contrary to the impression that its ordinary appearance makes, the evolution of the house is complex. There is no documentary evidence of the circumstances, but Chandler’s house seems to have begun life as a relatively modest timber building with brick infill panels in the 16th century. The box frame elements of this building, as well as other surviving timber structures, have been left exposed as a result of recent work.
Around 1700 – the tentative date is 1680, quite plausible in a stylistic sense, although it is not clear what it is based on – this building was rebuilt with the current garden facade of brick and stone.
After the renovation, the floor levels at the back and front are staggered and connected by a semi-platform staircase that zigzags up the center of the house. Therefore, although from the outside it seems that the house has two floors and an attic, in fact it includes six floors. It is not known who undertook the expansion of the building, but a detailed study of the parish records will certainly provide more information.
However, judging by the name of the house, one of the most likely candidates is certainly a member of the Chandler family, longtime but modest landowners in the county. Indeed, it must be significant that there is a monument to the three Chandlers from the late 18th century in St. Mary’s parish church.
The inscription, unfortunately, does not explain the relationship of all the people that are recorded in it, but the first one mentioned, Elizabeth, is described as the daughter of Thomas and Mary Chandler.
She died in 1785, and if the other two names on the monument – Thomas and Mary – refer to her siblings, both of whom lived to a respectable age, it is possible that they were all born in the house after it was redone. restored by their parents.
Such original fittings as home canned food are relatively restrained. The style of the surviving fireplaces suggests that they probably date from a refurbishment around 1700. However, two also retain late 18th-century charcoal grates, suggesting a later period of adaptation. Perhaps one of the Chandlers immortalized in the church wanted to improve the house after the death of their parents? Be that as it may, it was probably at this time that the original mullions and transoms were first equipped with sashes. Rooms with the highest ceilings are at ground floor level, while those at the top of the house are hidden under the roof.
The new interior justifies the restrictions imposed by this potentially inconvenient plan. A paneled living room flanks the stairway lobby. (Fig 3) and the dining room, respectively, in yellow and red. The rooms on the first floor, located directly above, are completely finished with Chinese paper, which creates the illusion of space in the interiors. (Rice. 8). In order to fit the size of the master bedroom, the four-poster bed was custom made. (Fig 7). In the rooms above, one guest bedroom brilliantly uses printed Indian fabric and a curved roof to create a box-bed tent room. (Rice. 9).
Great care has also been taken to make the most of the structures on either side of the main block of the house and around the property in general. An auxiliary kitchen block to the north of the main façade has been reconfigured to create a porch for everyday use and a dining/kitchen area. This was matched by a new conservatory to the south, beautifully decorated with Doric pilasters that balance the outer façade of the garden. The conservatory is a large and stylish Moroccan-style interior with palm trees and tiled floors. (Figure 5). It is accessed from a passageway at the back of the house, which leads the visitor up the stairs to the room; beautiful theatrical performance.
Chandler’s House is a small, majestically decorated house and it was considered important not to clutter the building with disproportionate additions. Therefore, in order to create additional space for other additions, special attention was paid to the potential of the various areas of the property. Much of the work was also done during lockdown, and this circumstance showed the importance of making the most of all space, inside and out.
As part of these wider changes, a new barn was built next to the house in place of the previous one. It is a beautifully detailed building with exterior oak cladding and a roof of handmade tiles. Half of the building includes a large living room that opens from floor to ceiling. (Fig 2). It is accessed through a small hall with a Regency staircase leading to the bedroom and bathroom at ground floor level. Both interiors take into account the slope of the roof to create more interesting spaces. The new barn also includes the housekeeper’s apartment.
The windows of the guest rooms in the new barn look away from the main house towards the paddock. This makes the building look like a separate house and allows both the owner and guests to retire. There is a new garage between the barn and the house.
All of these architectural changes were complemented by a reimagining of the surrounding garden. This relatively small area has been ingeniously redesigned around the bones of the legacy plan as a series of outer rooms, another heritage, in part, of the isolation experience. The front door opens onto a small lawn overlooking a statue in a lime-covered alley.
To the right are the garage and the barn, and to the left the garden section with a large pool with pergolas at both ends, one of iron and the other of oak. The latter rests on chiseled Doric columns and encloses a dining table with barbecue. (Fig 4). A yew hedge separates it from another compartment behind it, and the central bed is completely planted with lavender and rosemary. To one side is an open living room with a freestanding stone fireplace with a metal clock in the chimney. (Rice. 6).
Where the garden faces the lane, a new yew hedge with a gate has been planted. It is conceived in the spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement, with massive piers that mimic the materials of the main façade exactly; that is, they combine red and fired brick with stone details. Oak gate joinery includes small shamrocks, keynote modern carpentry throughout the building. Nearby, the rear part of the house, overlooking the alley, has also been tidied up, and the oil tank has been replaced by a shed with oak planks.
The restoration of Chandler’s House has given new life to this delightful building and improved its appearance of architectural coherence and uniformity. This is a special achievement because, as this article has shown, the history of the house is actually not at all simple. One of the hallmarks of their success is that the most recent changes have not stifled this narrative, but have expanded it and added interest.
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