PUBLISHED: 15:15 09 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:42 20 February 2013
Ticking all the right boxes, this glorious Georgian house made the perfect escape from the rat race for its new owners. Peter Booton explains why.
Old Rectory Farm at Kington Magna, near Gillingham in North Dorset, had been owned by the same family for more than 60 years before it was purchased in 2007 by Paul and Rosalind Vita. A change in Paul's job had necessitated their move from Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, but it also gave them an opportunity to 'step out of the rat race'.
As lovers of the countryside and an outdoor lifestyle, the Vitas were keen to find a rural property of character with a few acres of land which would accommodate the growing needs of not only their three young children, Olivia, Jamie and Gabriel, but also their two horses, Merlin and Woody, as well as Huxley the beagle and black labrador Poppy.
Due to a shortage of suitable properties on the market at that time, it took them a year to find Old Rectory Farm, but the wait was worth it because the seven-bedroom Georgian house set in five acres of land ticked all the right boxes, especially for Rosalind, as she explains. "It looked very similar to my grandparents' home in County Wicklow, of which I have many happy memories. When I first walked into the house, I said, 'This is it!'. It had the right feel and fitted the bill. It was a family house with enough land and it was farmy. We all love the outdoors. In fact, we probably spend more time outside than in."
Believed to date from the first part of the 18th century, the house was built as the rectory for the Parish Church of All Saints, a few hundred yards away across the fields and situated on high ground overlooking the Blackmore Vale. At one time, the church's glebe land amounted to some 68 acres, but after the Second World War the rectory and part of the land was sold into private ownership and subsequently turned into a dairy farm.
When Paul and Rosalind took over Old Rectory Farm, the house, a Grade II Listed building, was in need of some modernisation, which gave them a timely opportunity to make a few changes before redecorating throughout. As the kitchen had been moved from its original location at the western side of the house, this was reinstated and fitted with free-standing, solid wood units, the design and manufacture of which was entrusted to a local company. Rosalind explains that she wanted the new kitchen to have a 'Mrs Beeton, scullery-style' look with white marble worktops rather than granite, which would be more in keeping with the traditional style of the house. One of the original kitchen windows had been covered up so this was re-opened and a window seat added which, she adds, makes a sociable spot for the children to sit and chat when they come in from school.
Without a gas supply to the house, and preferring not to use fuel oil for cost and environmental reasons, Paul and Rosalind decided to install a 13-amp electric AGA, the output of which can be programmed to suit personal requirements and thus reduce running costs.
Relocating the kitchen left a sizeable area that could be converted into a dining room. The existing fireplace had been blocked up and so this was re-opened and fitted with an elegant new Portland stone surround and hearth. Also, as parts of the wood panelling in the bay beneath one of the room's two shuttered windows were missing, replacements were made by a local joiner, copied from the remaining sections. New oak-planked floors were also laid in the kitchen and dining room and secured with iron nails rather than modern screws so as to match the original oak-floored hallway.
As the existing boiler, which provided all the heat and hot water for the house, was in need of replacement, Paul and Rosalind carefully researched all the available options, and particularly those which were the most economical and environmentally friendly. They eventually opted for a boiler fuelled by wood pellets and agricultural waste, such as leftover wheat and corn. As the existing old iron radiators were perfectly adequate, these were retained. However, the hopper in which the 'fuel' is stored was considered too small for a house the size of the Old Rectory and so a much larger hopper with a three-ton capacity was placed alongside. The Vitas enthuse that this is a very eco-friendly system, which is not only cheaper to run than oil- or gas-fuelled boilers but also benefits from neutral CO2 emission. And, Rosalind adds, their chickens love using the ashes as a dirt bath!
Paul and Rosalind have now been able to start redecorating their home. Although the bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs are still work in progress, the main rooms on the ground floor are now finished. For these, Rosalind has chosen soft pastel shades, mostly creams and greens, which suit the character of the Georgian house and contrast well with the dark oak floors.
The Vitas love entertaining and at the Old Rectory they have the perfect home in which to do this. Paul, whose father was Italian and lived for a while at not-so-distant Sandford Orcas, is passionate about good food and loves to cook traditional Italian dishes. He also bakes his own bread and makes wholesome soups using fresh produce from their vegetable garden.
For Rosalind, a qualified and experienced English teacher, the family's move to a Dorset farmhouse presented her with a golden opportunity to share her enthusiasm for literature and poetry with like-minded people in a comfortable and welcoming environment. During 2009 she will be hosting poetry workshops for small groups, and particularly beginners, in the delightful drawing room at Old Rectory Farm. And, needless to say, lunch will be delicious home-made food courtesy of Paul's culinary skills. A winning combination of talents!
For details of Rosalind's 'Insight into Poetry' workshops, (01747 838484 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Location: Kington Magna, near Gillingham, North Dorset
Accommodation: Ground floor: entrance hall, drawing room, family sitting room, dining room, study, music/games room, kitchen, utility room, wc/cloakroom First floor: seven bedrooms, two bathrooms.
Kitchen units, design and manufacture:
Made to Measure (John Baddell), Warminster, Wilts. (01985) 2117734
Joinery and building work: RAM Construction (Ray Pundfack), Bittles Green Farm, Motcombe, Shaftesbury. (01747) 850234
Wood-pellet-fuelled boiler: Treco, Tiverton Business Park, Tiverton, Devon. (0845) 1309012, www.treco.co.uk
Curtains (Colefax & Fowler fabrics): Dodge Interiors, 28 Cheap Street, Sherborne. (01935) 818150
Flowers: Wild Paeony, High Street, Shaftesbury. (01747) 852662