TV wildlife presenter, author and adventurer Ben Fogle is billed as a tough guy who has rowed the oceans, climbed mountains and trekked across deserts. But the hard man has a surprisingly soft centre when it comes to his home.
"He's the one whose radar seeks out the most expensive, beautiful objects," says his wife, Marina. "I'm far more practical and find myself reining in his enthusiasms."
Marina, whose sister Olivia Hunt is a former girlfriend of Prince William and best mates with Kate Middleton, concedes there are some things worth investing in, such as the bespoke kitchen that Ben chose. "Given how much time we spend there, it would have driven us crazy living in a kitchen we didn't really love," she says.
The couple found the house in the lead-up to getting married four years ago, and performed the tricky task of exchanging while honeymooning on the remote island of Taransay in the Outer Hebrides, where Ben first found fame on the BBC's Castaway series.
Ben admits that, when he's far away - whether it's the Atlantic, Antarctic or the Andes - it's thoughts of home that keep him going. "Imagining myself walking into the house, coming through to the kitchen, seeing Marina and (son) Ludo, has become one of my key coping mechanisms in a challenging environment," he says.
Ben the obsessive
Alongside evidence of his adventures - vibrant maps of the world hang in every room, a polar sledge is propped up in the kitchen, a framed pack of shark repellent hangs near the entrance hall - there's also a hefty dose of romance. There is a pop art-style painting in the living room that Ben commissioned for Marina as a wedding present, that illustrates how they met, walking their dogs past one another in Hyde Park.
The story ends with Ben proposing in Antigua, straight off the boat from rowing the Atlantic, with a ring made from string. "I've kept that one," says Marina." But it has also been replaced with something more sparkly."
Elsewhere, cushions with hand-embroidered initials made by friends; hand-decorated cupboards inherited from Marina's Austrian grandparents, and Ben's collection of quirky, patchwork-covered furniture create a warm, welcoming vibe, particularly in the kitchen.
Never short of daylight all year round, the kitchen's glass roof extension has proved the best investment of all. Ben, son of actress Julia Foster and TV vet Bruce Fogle, became quite obsessive sourcing building materials for it. "I went through thousands of reclaimed bricks to get the 500 we needed," he remembers. He also travelled all over the country looking for the perfect stone flooring.
Ben still picks up mementos from his trips, but Marina has banned any more textiles from South America. "The last lot he brought back were full of moths and we had to call in a pest control company," she says.
Ben's garden hut is his retreat. It's inspired, just a little, by Captain Scott's hut in the Antarctic (Ben's just finished a BBC documentary about his hero, who set off on his fateful expedition to the South Pole 100 years ago).
Says Ben: "I spent a long time before I met Marina living like a nomad. Now I want to feel rooted and this house is definitely somewhere I want to hurry home to."
A great home adventure: what was done
* A large glass extension was added to create an open-plan kitchen-diner and the room's floor was lowered by a foot to give more ceiling height.
* An extra bedroom was added. Throughout, walls were repainted and floors sanded and painted.
* A new kitchen was installed and all the bathrooms completely renovated.
"Finding the perfect flooring and bricks became Ben's bugbear, but they were worth the effort," says Marina. The extension and bespoke kitchen were their biggest investments. Ben's parents bought the Maggi sign for Marina from a French market. The cabinets are by Plain English and the floor tiles are from Indigenous.
The bedroom (left) wallpaper is from Osborne & Little; the floor by Miradouro Monchique and the floor lamp is from Squint. The suitcases are from Globe-Trotter and the bags are designed by Ben's sister, Tamara Fogle.
Friends and family are regular visitors to the kitchen-diner. "I'm never lonely when Ben's away because there's always someone popping by," says Marina.
The dining table is from Few And Far and is teamed with Navy 1006 chairs from The Conran Shop. The floor lamp is also from The Conran Shop. The vintage side table is from The Old Cinema. The hanging baubles are from Summerill & Bishop. Laura Ashley has similar armchairs.
Pictures by James Merrell
* The full feature was published in the February 2011 issue of Livingetc. Ben's BBC documentary on Captain Scott will be screened during 2011