With its creeper-clad exterior, gabled roof and verdant setting among six acres, The Dene looks like it might have been built a century or two ago. In fact, the six-bedroom house is barely 10 years old and comes with distinctly 21st-century mod cons, including a steam room and gym.
The Dene, in Westcott, near Dorking, Surrey, is an example of a growing trend in country house living — one-off new homes that look as though they are from a bygone era, but which have none of the inconveniences of a draughty old pile.
It is on the market for £4.95 million with Savills. Paul Finnegan, a director in the estate agent’s country department, estimates that homes built after 2000 now make up as much as 25 per cent of the prime rural market.
And don’t get sniffy about all that faux-Georgian detailing. The market has changed. Damian Gray, a partner at Knight Frank, says: “Forty per cent of our buyers are from London and 25 per cent from overseas. They have probably refurbished their London home in a very smart, contemporary way and they want the same in the country, but with a very lovely view.”
David Smith, of Octagon Developments, which specialises in one-off houses in the home counties, says most of his clients are disenchanted by period homes with their small rooms, steep staircases, lack of bathrooms and often general state of disrepair. They want contemporary indoors but neoclassical on the outside, he adds.
Francis Terry, a partner at Quinlan and Francis Terry Architects, one of Britain’s leading classical specialists, sees no problem with harking back a couple of hundred years.
“The biggest praise for me is if someone says a house looks like it has always been there,” he says, pointing out that “revival” architecture led to the creation of great buildings including the Houses of Parliament. “A country house is a personal escape into an idyllic world. If you like the peace and charm of 18th-century houses, then why not?”
Terry says his clients generally want large kitchen/living rooms while many will forgo a big formal dining room in favour of a media room. En suite bathrooms and dressing rooms are almost inevitably required.
Jo Morris, a director of Duggan Morris architects, whose projects include adding a modern extension to a 200-year-old oast house in East Sussex, says country clients want integrated car parking, a self-contained staff annexe, plus laundry chutes and dumb waiters to save on legwork.
Whether these modern country houses will stand the test of time is a moot point. Terry sees no reason why not. “A house built of stone and brick backing will last as long as you want it to,” he points out.
But while the building itself may hold up, Paul Finnegan has doubts about some of the interior design choices made by developers trying to snare rich buyers. “If there is a lot of gold around, or a lot of bright colours, I’m not sure that will last,” he said. Other common attempts to increase the wow factor of modern country homes include columns which would not shame the Acropolis, vast entrance lobbies filled with faux Grecian statues, over-elaborate cornicing and acres of marble.
Terry, known for a far more restrained style, nonetheless admits a level of fondness for such naked displays of wealth. “I don’t think the desire to make a house look impressive is anything new,” he said. “Chatsworth House is rather blingy when you think about it.”