History and mystery in black and white... with a splash of colour

The origins of Brandon House, in Stretton, may be lost in time, but in its current iteration it’s absolutely stunning

Christine and Simon Cottrell bought their Stretton home in 2003, after a fruitless search in their first choice of location, the Wirral.

‘When we met, I was living on the Wirral, and after we married and it was time to choose a house together, that was where we wanted to stay,’ Christine explains. ‘We just couldn’t find what we wanted, however, and then a friend told us about this house. We wanted a house with space for our children and grandchildren to come and stay, and this ticked all the boxes.’

Great British Life: Brandon House, its origins are a mysteryBrandon House, its origins are a mystery (Image: Currans Unique Home)

The house, 90 degrees to the country lane it sits on, gives the impression of being firmly embedded in its environs, providing a warm and safe home for centuries of inhabitants. It has a long, thatched roof and a beautiful black and white timber-framed exterior, and at one end a clearly ancient set of stone steps leads up to the upper storey. Parts of Brandon House have indeed been providing safety and warmth for centuries, but the original building forms only part of the current property, which has been cleverly extended to create something far more glamorous than what was most likely a small barn with living quarters above – hence the stone steps.

‘We think the barn was built around 1625, possibly as part of a larger working farm, but I have been to Chester to search the county records and can’t find anything that will date it. We thought perhaps it had been part of the Leche estate, which also incorporated what we now call the Carden Park estate. Carden Park is very close by, as is Stretton Hall, where the Leche family moved after their original home, Lower Carden Hall, burned down in 1912. We can’t find any records of this, however, so I am afraid its history remains a mystery.’

Simon and Christine believe the original barn was extended and converted into a full dwelling at some point in the middle-to-late 20th century, and an excellent job was done of it too, with the oldest part of the property, which is definitely no later than the reign of King James I, beautifully preserved and breathtakingly elegant, although credit must be given to Christine too, here, of course, as her interior design skills certainly make the best of the space.

Great British Life: Christine's choice of colour palette gives the old barn a coastal vibeChristine's choice of colour palette gives the old barn a coastal vibe (Image: Currans Unique Home)Great British Life: The snug, below the mezzanine, has a cosy feelThe snug, below the mezzanine, has a cosy feel (Image: Currans Unique Home)

‘We think the original extension was slate roofed, and at some point, the whole building was thatched,’ she says. ‘The oldest part of the house, where it’s likely the animals would have been on the ground floor with rooms for the family, or farm workers, above, has been kept in its original form, with a mezzanine over the main space, and an enclosed smaller room beneath.’

Walking from the main house into this ancient space, the first thing that catches your notice is the wood: wooden roof beams, wall beams, cross beams, and support beams. Their honey tones exude a sense of warmth, blended with ancient history. Oh, the feet (and hooves) that must have walked this space. Next, you notice the light. On the ground floor, windows have been cleverly cut into the space between the timber framing and on the mezzanine, which is accessed via a spiral staircase in the snug, the entire gable end has been glazed, throwing light along the entire space and making it the ideal place for Simon’s home office.

Christine has maintained a muted colour palette here, with the traditional white walls reflected by soft grey and deep blue accents, while the snug is made a little more cosy with a warmer tone on the walls and splashes of colour.

Great British Life: The hares were a gift from Christine's sonThe hares were a gift from Christine's son (Image: Currans Unique Home)Great British Life: Christine and Simon replaced the kitchen and added a garden room to the rearChristine and Simon replaced the kitchen and added a garden room to the rear (Image: Currans Unique Home)

This calm, almost coastal, feel has been extended into the dining room, which sits adjacent to the old barn, yet elsewhere Christine has allowed her love of colour and pattern free rein.

‘We haven’t really done a lot to the house,’ she says. ‘We replaced the kitchen when we bought the house,’ she says, ‘with a new kitchen from Martin Moore, and added the small garden room extension to the back of the kitchen, where we eat. Other than that, it was simply decorating throughout, as it was all painted white when we moved in.’

Simon interjects: ‘And the garden. Christine completely landscaped and planted the whole garden, planning it all herself. We were actually asked by the NGS if we would do it as an open garden this summer, they were so impressed. A neighbour won Channel 4’s Garden of the Year and when the NGS visited, told them they ought to see what Christine has done here. As well as the landscaped garden, we have five acres of wild meadow, which is just full of wildflowers. A local farmer cuts it back each year for silage, and we maintain paths through it and Christine has fruit cages there, but it’s very much a wild meadow otherwise.’

Great British Life: It's easy to imagine Jacobean feet walking these gardensIt's easy to imagine Jacobean feet walking these gardens (Image: Currans Unique Home)Great British Life: The family bathroom has a freestanding bath and wetroom showerThe family bathroom has a freestanding bath and wetroom shower (Image: Currans Unique Home)

Christine has chosen patterned wallpaper for most of her rooms, selecting from Cole and Son, with its archive dating back centuries, and Mind the Gap, which creates more contemporary, bold patterns.

‘It was all white when we moved in,’ she says, ‘and I loved the incoming trend for big patterns and bold prints, so used these in a lot of the rooms, where there weren’t the timber beams.’

The house is, as Christine describes it, bottom heavy. The upper floor is set into the roof space, yet remains light filled and with a spacious feel, no doubt due to Christine’s styling. The master suite is comfortably luxurious, with a smart en suite and a room close by that has been allocated dressing room status. Two further guest rooms and a family bathroom, with a glorious freestanding slipper bath, allow for sleepovers with the grandchildren, who are scattered far afield.

Great British Life: The master bedroom has been decorated with paper from Mind the GapThe master bedroom has been decorated with paper from Mind the Gap (Image: Currans Unique Home)Great British Life: Christine found the beds for her home at a specialist antique bed store, sadly now out of businessChristine found the beds for her home at a specialist antique bed store, sadly now out of business (Image: Currans Unique Home)

Brandon House also includes a small cottage, where Christine and Simon housed a family from Ukraine until very recently, with their three cats and a large dog, no doubt much to everybody’s relief, as finding space to accept animals would no doubt be tricky.

'I have two spaniels,’ Christine says, ‘and understand how important pets are to a family. They stayed with us for as long as they needed before they found somewhere that could take them all. It was sad to see them leave, actually, but we’ve decided to sell the house, so it was sensible for them to start looking for a new home before new owners arrived here.’

The move is based on sense, rather than sensibility.

‘We’re not getting any younger,’ Christine laughs. ‘Simon is semi-retired now and we want somewhere that requires less ongoing commitment. We’re not downsizing, exactly; the house itself isn’t too big, but there’s the cottage and the land and we have decided to be sensible and move somewhere simpler while we can choose to, rather than wait until we have to.’

The house is for sale for £2.25m, through Currans Unique Homes, in Chester, and it most certainly qualifies for that title.


Great British Life: Christine has created a stunning home, but feels it's time to move onChristine has created a stunning home, but feels it's time to move on (Image: Currans Unique Home)