Nestled amongst the Boconnoc Estate lies The Stewardry – a recently renovated Georgian House sleeping 14 people with room for an extra two in the adjoining flat. The project, which was designed and managed by Sarah Fortescue, has been a labour of love for over two years, and opens its doors to guests for the first time, in 2021.
In this blog, we speak to Sarah about this renovation, and her inspiration for the project.
1. Let’s start at the beginning – What is the history of the building? Can you tell us a bit of its story, before the renovation?
The old parsonage became the home of the Steward of the Boconnoc Estate, and is located behind Boconnoc House in a secluded valley, among majestic trees. Lawns skirt the south west and west side of the house, and a bountiful kitchen garden supplies Boconnoc Estate and its guests with an abundance of vegetables throughout the year.
2. What was the vision for the renovation and design? What look and feel have you gone for and why?
The Stewardry needed to be transformed completely, and I was determined to make it feel like an entirely different place from the one I started work on in March 2019. The top layers of the design are really falling into place now, and the magic I have envisaged over the past two years is emerging more and more each day. I wanted to unveil the flow and warmth of the house. We decided to remove most of a partition wall separating the hallway from the old dining room, which created an open, inviting and comfortable space for 14-16 guests staying at the house to have breakfast.
In addition, we transformed a single door into a 10ft opening between the Drawing Room and Ante Room, and had some beautiful Georgian Oak doors made, by the most talented of local joiners, Charlestown Joinery. The idea being these would remain open, pulling together the two light-flooded, high ceilinged rooms.
I also needed to re configure some of the rooms to create 3 additional ensuite bathrooms, and transformed one existing bedroom into two ensuite bathrooms. It is important for me to get to know a house and all its space first, so that I can utilise it in the most practical and logical way for the purpose and age of the house. I used masking tape to mark out areas on the floorboards, and help me visualise the new space.
The Stewardry is such a beautiful house, set in majestic woodland, with a river meandering through its secret valley – therefore, of course the house must do the landscape surrounding its position justice. The house must glisten and sparkle in its spaces and adornings, it must be comfortable and enchanting to the senses in both look and feel, and those lucky enough to stay must wish to return again and again to experience The Stewardry’s unique and perfect reflection of Boconnoc’s exquisite natural surroundings. The gardens brimand bloom beyond all comprehension throughout Spring: old stone walls scattered with bluebells and primroses, magnolias eloquently adorning the gardens in all their finery and variety, cameleas, rhododendrons and azaleas adding bold burst of pinks and purple hues. The biodiversity continues, with Scotch and Maritime pines, monkey puzzles and wildly tropical species too. But, no season leaves you empty at Boconnoc. The energy of the place is constantly beckoning you outdoors, whatever the weather. You just need to make sure you have the right wardrobe.
As always in my life, I am in awe of the natural world and all its exquisiteness, and find myself deeply inspired by it. I find my creativity soars when I am working on projects here.
3. What gives the building character and life, now? What/where do you love the most?
The building itself is beauty enough on the eye of the beholder. For the interiors? A rich blend of traditional and contemporary, colour and pattern design. When you walk into the hallway and Breakfast Room, painted throughout in Pink Ground by Farrow & Ball, the setting feels fresh and warm. Observing further, a stunning chintz nestles into the hall bench as a deep and sumptuous seat cushion. Original gilt light fittings and wonderful Villas fabric designed by Penny Morrison on the curtains makes me feel like I am waking up to breakfast in Jaipur. Moving through into the study, more traditional, with a Soane style mantle surrounding the fire, set on a slate hearth. A rich ochre fabric with floral detail by Mulberry, and in two enormous south and west facing windows, shelves of books and a desk.
I would personally live in the main kitchen, I have grown so fond of its unique character. It was the sulkiest of rooms when I began, and this week of late November, I think I can only describe the sense of walking into it as stylishly FUN. Red and green tulips adorn the walls, along with loosely painted chickens by Pierre Frey. The blind and the cabinetry are an exquisite deep teal. It might be considered marmite by some, and I long to hear everyone’s opinions.
Wallpaper is such an important part of design for me and can really add warmth and character to a room. I was eager to bring Cornish Gardens in Spring indoors; so I designed a bespoke wallpaper for the Drawing Room. The room is fabulous in its proportions with a Wedgewood marble fireplace, and it needed life on its walls. It now certainly has that – and I can’t wait for you to see it.
4. What has been the biggest challenge for you?
I think it’s been an interesting time – starting the project when I was pregnant, continuing it with baby on board for most site visits at a number of weeks old, then we were hit by Covid and brought the work, materials and suppliers to an absolute standstill. This is before we mention issues with the house!
The greatest unforeseen, which is always a concern with old buildings, was that most of the roof had to be felted, as it had never been before, and reslated – a huge undertaking, and a few further leaks mid progress set the decorating back a little throughout all the radical rain storms we had over the summer. And yes, that reminds me – at the start, a fair bit of asbestos to remove from the house in the extension wing, which was built in the 1980s.
5. How do you want people to feel when they arrive and stay there?
I want people to feel like they cannot wait to return!
6. It sounds like this has been a huge project and must have involved and celebrated the work of lots of local trades-people – no doubt creating work and opportunity when it has been most needed. Can you tell us about the extended team who have been a part of the project?
Carpenters, decorators, plumbers, electricians, joiners, upholsterers, plasterers, flooring specialists, chimney and fire specialists, alarm specialists, and the million and one of my fabulous suppliers and makers.
Viv, Boconnoc’s welder made the fire baskets and mirrors that I designed. Our wonderful cleaners have swept the corridors, and Boconnoc’s bee-keeper removed the 15 old and disused wasp nests that were found in the attic! What I love and what I must say in the best accent I can muster, that for this project….’You really gotta keep it Cornish’.
7. It’s clearly been a labour of love for you, and a great success – what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned, personally, from the project?
There are a million and one cogs whirring during a project of this scale and as designer and project manager every detail was down to my decision making and me being on site. If you are not there to see the job done, it is not necessarily going to be done the way you feel it needs to be done. The biggest take-away lesson, and the best piece of advice I can give to anyone undertaking your own design project would be to be as on-site as possible. That is the best way to make your vision a reality.
Book yourself a post-lockdown stay in one of our lavishly restored cottages and experience Sarah’s designs for yourself.
Find out more about Sarah Fortescue Designs, or treat your home to some Sarah Fortescue flair at www.sarahfortescue.com.