Back in the mid-1980s, it would have taken an expert eye or deep sense of optimism to look upon Stedcombe House and decide that it had potential. Yes, it is a classic example of William and Mary architecture with immense individual character – highlighted by its symmetry and unique belvedere that combines the functions of roofed cupola and chimney stack. And, yes, it is beautifully – and privately – located. Perched on the eastern slope of the Axe Valley in 20 acres of grounds, the house overlooks the Devon countryside, but is also completely hidden – visible only once you approach the drive.
However, nearly 300 years after it had been built, Stedcombe House was in a state of decay and on the verge of collapse. Timbers had been removed, alterations made and its future looked uncertain. Fortunately, architectural consultant Kit Rae-Scott, had a more positive outlook.
“The house looked a bit rough because it had been partly dismembered in an attempt to halt the dry rot,” says Rae-Scott. “But the original structure had fared well. Indeed, it was the later, more aesthetically damaging, alterations that had suffered more. The house was far better than it presented. In fact, it got better and better as we unmasked more of its original character.”
Unsurprisingly, the restoration work was extensive. Over three years, every effort was focused on reinstating the house to its late 17th century form. So, while the sash windows on the north front were original, those on the south, west and east fronts had been fitted with later examples. Now, the reinstated sash windows are based on the original sash bar design and configuration. Elsewhere, surviving panelling was removed and restored, while the original ground level around the house was also re-established.
Inside, the ‘classical post-Restoration box’ is spread across more than 8,000 sq ft, with eight bedrooms and five bathrooms over four main floors. The hall is one of only four rooms that constitute the raised ground floor and all occupy a corner of the house, with a resulting dual aspect. The first floor has similar proportions with four bedrooms around a central landing. Rooms have high ceilings, excellent proportions and fine period features throughout, including attractive chimneypieces, original shutters and elegant panelling.
The attic, which maintains a good ceiling height, has a further four bedrooms, two bathrooms, box room suitable for storage or single bedroom and access to the substantial belvedere, which has 360-degree views over the rolling countryside.
Outside, there’s an attractive stableyard with numerous outbuildings, a three-bedroom lodge, three walled gardens, parkland, pasture and woodland. There is also covenant on the adjoining land to the north and the east prohibiting development and change of use which protects the privacy the property enjoys.
“If the present owner had not intervened, this example of William and Mary architecture may have been lost,” says George Nares, Savills Country House department. “Historic England says that the house has been ‘restored to such a high standard that the listing was raised from Grade II* to Grade I in recognition of the rarity of the house.”
That’s a hard-won tribute. It reflects the transformation the house has gone through – one that will present potential new owners with a very different view than the one faced by Rae-Scott when he first saw the house.
“I was drawn to the house by its type, plan, construction and appearance,” says Rae-Scott. “I’m happy that my initial feeling for the quality of the house was proved right. In fact, if anything, I’d rather underestimated its quality. By the time it was finished, the house was able to show its true colours.”