Strolling through a rolling green garden, stoking logs in an ornate fireplace or whipping up a delicious feast in a spacious kitchen. Whether it is yourself you imagine partaking in these country delights or you simply want to expand your property portfolio with something different, when it comes to investing in a large-scale property, there are many important factors which need considering.
In January 2012, Damian Llambias and Chris Badham bought Huntsham Court – at the time, a slightly forlorn Victorian ‘Grande Dame’ – with the aim of returning the mansion to its former glory and glamour, securing its future after years of being forgotten.
The house now functions as their home part of the year and as a sumptuous venue for country house parties, weddings, events and gatherings. The pair have worked to create a venue which is entirely flexible to guests’ needs, allowing them to rearrange furniture, bring in their own caterers or choose from a list of carefully selected local suppliers, and even bring their dogs along. The house is designed to feel like an elegant ‘home from home’ that is completely the guest’s own to enjoy during their event.
Chris (previously a banker) and Damian (an artist and interior designer) have spent years investing in the exquisite Huntsham Court, turning the large, forgotten house into a beautiful home and highly sought-after luxurious party venue. They’ve outlined their tips on investing in a stately property below:
- Know what you want to achieve, but be ready to adapt
We always knew we wanted the house to have a purpose and be enjoyed by many, so we started restoration with this at the forefront of our minds. However, being able to adapt and listen to your market is incredibly important. Whatever the business plan, the client is king, so adapt to what they want and need. We needed the house to work as the perfect country party pile, with a relaxed, homey feel but plenty of receptions rooms, bedrooms and flexibility to suit different guest’s needs.
- Choose your location wisely
As with all property investments, location is key. While country mansions are always likely to be a little further away from amenities, it is important to ensure you still have access to everything you need. Essentially, the easier the property is to get to, the bigger your market will be. Huntsham Court works really well as it is close to Tiverton rail station with direct trains from London, as well as being easy to reach by road. Whatever your property’s foibles due to its location or age – ‘own’ them in how you market the property. For example, if you have no internet, then it’s the perfect authentic digital detox.
- Be aware of building’s listed status, and any restrictions or special permissions needed to make changes
Before buying a mansion like Huntsham Court, you need to learn its history and any restrictions or special considerations which apply to it. Huntsham Court has Grade II Listed Building status; there were certain things we had to adhere to during renovations and changes we aren’t able to make. If your dream is to add certain features to a property, ensure this is actually feasible before jumping in. For us, we very much wanted to keep the original character of the house and thankfully this desire matched with the requirements of the house – much of Huntsham Court’s interior is specially protected, such as the hand muraled ceiling in the Drawing Room and the Jacobean Paneling. It is an honour to own such a building but a huge challenge to do right by it – making it your own whilst ensuring you are a faithful custodian of its history and regulations can be a balancing act but it’s a rewarding one!
- Restoration can’t be rushed
While restoring a property of this size will always be costly and time consuming, it is important it is done correctly. For instance, at Huntsham Court the plumbing system was first engineered 150 years ago, so sorting the heating, plumbing and electrics was a massive project we had to tackle – the house now has a total of 40 bedrooms, the vast majority with an ensuite.
Restoration is a long project, not a quick fix and you’ll learn that you can’t sweat the small stuff. It is a labour of love and big old houses know how to take your money – the house has thousands of metres of curtaining, 98 individual shutters, and we have brought in 67 sofas. So, you need to learn how to ‘un-see’ minor imperfections. Namely, if you walk through the building to inspect a crumbling ceiling, don’t inspect everything enroute as all you will see is problems, and it can quickly feel a little like you are facing a mountain.
- Support local businesses
Bring in local tradespeople every opportunity you can, as they are on your doorstep and will turn up in an emergency. The locals can see the TLC you are investing in a property which may have been a familiar sight to them for generations, and it is important to support the community around you and create lasting relationships. At Huntsham Court we have a carefully selected list of local food suppliers, caterers, activity organisers and experiences we can recommend to our guests, knowing they all provide top service, as well as a good network of experienced tradespeople we can call on.
- Be authentic and enjoy the property
If – like us – you will be opening your home to guests, it is important to see it as somewhere you share so they feel welcome, and you don’t get too precious over the odd spill. It is equally important to make sure you carve out time where there are no guests, builders or decorators around so you too can enjoy your investment. Renovating an old country pile like Huntsham Court has got to be done with love – remember you are living the project. You may only see what still needs to be done, whereas your guests will marvel at how far it has come and the unique charm properties like this possess. While you can’t imagine what may go wrong or expect the ridiculous (of which there will be a few moments), it is an incredible journey. Ultimately, if you believe in what you are doing, creating or selling, people buy into that authenticity.