Newly built English country mansions have been rare since the 1930s, the heyday of modernism. But a demand for "country cool" contemporary homes in the commuter belt is defying the credit crunch, and a growing number of wealthy country-house buyers are searching for super-luxurious new-build homes.
It seems City slickers and rich international buyers are willing to trade character and original features for convenience and creature comforts. They want a latter-day Brideshead - but not just a trophy home that turns heads, one that is eco-friendly and designed for relaxed family living as well as grand and impressive entertaining.
Lack of suitable plots rather than a shortage of potential patrons is the reason why relatively few have been built in recent years.
Before the property boom turned to bust in 2007, bonus-wielding bankers were buying farmhouses with dozens of acres of land, a buffer zone protecting their privacy.
Often it is easier to redevelop an existing house than build a new one from scratch on virgin land.
These days, status-conscious country house buyers want tasteful and discreet grandeur rather than flashy ostentation, according to Strutt & Parker’s Mark Jamieson.
The current trend is for an "open-plan lifestyle", at least on the ground floor, where free-flowing, glass-walled rooms merge with outdoor space. There is likely to be an indoor spa complex with swimming pool, also opening onto a garden terrace; a home cinema and luxurious bedroom suites with wraparound balconies.
Formal drawing rooms on the upper floors are probably walnut rather than oak panelled, while bespoke bathrooms are lined with sumptuous black marble.
'This is not a footballer’s house'
Highwood, a 13,000sq ft new-build home sitting in 23 acres near Goring, Berkshire, exemplifies this trend.
Built on the site of former recording studios where rock legends such as Led Zeppelin played, it is described as "combining classic English styling with contemporary design", or as Mark Jamieson says, "not a footballer’s house".
Clad in warm red brick, most of the architectural action is at the rear of the house where a curved, glass elevation connects to lawns and terraces with commanding views of the countryside, and sweeps down to landscaped grounds and mature woodland.
"It’s not masquerading as an old house; it’s built to be lived in and enjoyed and no doubt will stand the test of time," adds Mr Jamieson. "Country house developers who play it safe with architecture in order to appeal to a wider audience limit the value of the property."
There is buyer appetite for refined modern design, and developers who get it right can unlock the maximum value of the site. In Highwood’s case, that amounts to an asking price of £12 million. Call 020 7629 7282.
An unfinished dream
Etonbury Lake House (above) in Arlesey, Bedfordshire, would not look out of place on the Miami shoreline. This crisp, white-rendered, glazed structure sits in splendid isolation on a sloping waterside plot and has stepped terraces suspended over a six-acre lake that mirrors the building’s image.
A glazed atrium with cascading water feature rises from the lower ground level where there is a gym complex and music studio; the first floor has a living and kitchen area, a conservatory and staff accommodation; the second floor has five en-suite bedrooms, while the top floor has a full-height glazed study and observation deck.
The 10,000sq ft house is for sale as an unfinished dream. The owner-developer (a local farmer) was caught out by the cost of the project and the untimely downturn in the market. So it is being sold as a completed shell with some raw concrete finishes - a blank canvas ready for a buyer to fit out or remodel.
Etonbury comes with parkland and nature reserve - 43 acres in total - tennis court and various outbuildings, including three barns with planning permission for conversion. Price, £2.4 million. Call 01582 764343. Trains from Arlesey station to King’s Cross take 38 minutes.
For the traditionalist
Tyburn House is the largest private residence to have been built in either Kent or Sussex in the last 50 years.
Close to the village of Frant, it nestles in 56 acres straddling the border of the two counties. Resembling a traditional 19th-century English country house, it has a façade of elaborate brickwork, gabled windows and clock tower - in all, 14,000sq ft of space.
Oak (£600,000-worth sourced from sustainable hardwood forests) is the main material used inside, which includes a double-height dining hall with vaulted ceiling and floor-to-ceiling leaded window.
It was built by Millwood Homes (01732 770991) for a private client but is now for sale at £9 million.