Emma Caulton visits The Dial House in the New Forest
- Credit: Jonathan Stone
The Dial House is the perfect place to escape to after a day in the Big Smoke as Emma Caulton discovered on her recent visit
Beverley Weber welcomes me into her home and past the baronial front door - in its lock is the sort of big, weighty key that should belong to a giant’s castle in a fairytale. But this is actually a grand Edwardian country house on the southern edge of the New Forest National Park.
There aren’t many period properties of this size and scale in the Forest. The Dial House, named after the sundial on its back wall, was built around 1907 for the Hay family and was a very important house in its day. The architect was Joseph Henry Brewerton, but there is something of the Arts and Crafts style of Edwin Lutyens in its symmetry, tall chimney stacks and steeply pitched roof. Indeed Lutyens and his colleague, garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, were in the area at the time, in neighbouring Burley. They were the house and garden dream team of the early 20th century and some believe the design of The Dial House and its gardens was influenced by them.
Certainly, as Beverley explains: “This house is exceptionally well laid out with the principal rooms and all six bedrooms facing south with views over the gardens and grounds. You see and feel the presence of the gardens throughout the house.”
Sun-filled rooms with direct access to the gardens were on Beverley’s property ‘wish list’ when she and her husband Jan were property hunting in the New Forest 15 years ago, looking for an escape from London.
“When I was young my parents would bring me to the New Forest every school holiday to visit my grandfather, who retired down here. I fell in love with the magic of the area so when we were working and living in London, I told my husband ‘I need to have somewhere to escape to and I want it to be the New Forest’.
“I talked to a local estate agent and said the house we were looking for had to be elegant and spacious, full of sun, not a cottage, and within ten minutes drive of Chewton Glen and the sea!”
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The Dial House ticked all the boxes - except it wasn’t on the market. However the owners were considering moving, and Beverley and Jan were invited around.
“The minute we arrived at the property it felt right, and as soon as we walked through the front door we were captivated. It was love at first sight I suppose you could say!”
The baronial entrance opens on to an equally magnificent drawing room – a vast space that nevertheless succeeds in being warm and welcoming. It has been ‘divided’ into three areas: a sitting area with plumped up sofas on either side of the huge fireplace, a music and games area with grand piano resplendent with family photographs, and between them an area with armchairs framing the French windows opening onto the gardens. The style is grand country house – both opulent and comforting.
Beverley and Jan describe themselves as being custodians of the house and they have refurbished Dial House in keeping with the period.
Beverley remembers: “We started from scratch. We used to go to auction houses in Salisbury and Dorchester most weekends. We had great fun sourcing our furniture. The dining table took us close on six years to find; we wouldn’t buy a table until we found the right one that was the right size. But when it all comes together it is very rewarding.”
Beverley describes the process as “reviving” the house. They have completely rewired the property, installed Clearview woodburning stoves in the fireplaces in the drawing room and sitting room (or snug), and installed a new kitchen and bathroom with bespoke cabinetry.
“As soon as we moved in we installed a four oven AGA - I can’t imagine being without my Aga - and built the kitchen around it.” The kitchen has the appearance of a classic Edwardian country style. This has been achieved by basing the design of the cabinetry on original panelling found throughout the rest of the house, which has the effect of creating a seamless transition from room to room.
The west-facing orangery has been painted in one of Farrow and Ball’s muted shades with a chandelier – a garland of autumnal leaves and berries – adding glamour. Wall lights for the orangery were made to measure and inspired by The Pig in Brockenhurst, a favourite restaurant.
There are one or two discreet contemporary luxuries, such as an integrated SONOS sound system that can be operated from a laptop or mobile phone, allowing different music to be played in each room (including the terrace!), and a mirror TV in the snug.
Upstairs they have created an ensuite bathroom from a west-facing bedroom, giving it a rather romantic style with an elegant free-standing slipper bath tub taking centre stage against a pale blue toile du jouy wallpaper and a fireplace with pretty delft tiles.
There are three bedrooms and three bathrooms on the first floor and three more bedrooms and a bathroom on the top floor – even up here the ceilings are impressively high. Beverley comments: “I like the feeling of space and light which the high ceilings give.”
When asked about her favourite part of the house Beverley’s answer is a surprise: “I know it’s not a room as such, but the galleried landing is my favourite part. Most landings are usually just spaces for rooms to go off, but this landing is almost a room in itself with a study area and a sofa where I like to sit. I hate feeling isolated and having my study here means I feel that I’m at the heart of the house.”
The wide oak sweeping staircase is another favoured feature: “It looks fabulous at Christmas when we hang garlands up the banisters. This is a great house for celebrations and entertaining.”
We stroll outside. The gardens stretch to four acres encompassing more formal gardens next to the house where clematis and wisteria clamber up the back of the house, while jasmine climbs beside the kitchen door, its planting inspired by a holiday in Italy – “Smelling its fragrance always reminds me of Florence.”
Beverley explains: “The gardens are at their best in the spring when the azaleas and rhododendrons provide a riot of colour and the trees are alight with blossom. It’s quite a sight to behold.”
There’s a secret glade carpeted in bluebells in May and a gate leads to the heated swimming pool beyond. Lawns sweep down to dappled woodland where a path winds through the trees to Poors Common: “You don’t need to leave home to appreciate the beauty of the Forest with this on your doorstep. It’s the perfect antidote to the stresses of everyday life and puts the world to rights in an instant.”
However the time has come to downsize. “We want to stay in the area as we absolutely love it. It would be impossible to find anything as lovely as this, nothing would match up to it, so we’re going to build our own – while we still have the energy.”
The Dial House is on the market for £2,500,000 with Spencers of the New Forest, Burley, 01425 404088