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Short break: Christmas at Little Hayes in Hampshire

The dining room is decorated in the rich coppers, golds and russets of an autumnal New Forest. Image: Liam Upshall (c) Liam Upshall
The dining room is decorated in the rich coppers, golds and russets of an autumnal New Forest. Image: Liam Upshall (c) Liam Upshall

‘This is Little Hayes,’ smiles Caroline Winship, as she welcomes me into a warm hug of a home decorated in the rich coppers, golds and russets of an autumnal New Forest. It is a treat to have a peek beyond the front door. This is a house I have regularly admired as I’ve passed by: a pretty Victorian villa sitting behind a picket fence and overlooking a cottage-edged green on the outskirts of Lyndhurst.

When Caroline and her husband Mark, half of the four strong team who run Stay New Forest, bought Little Hayes last year it was the quintessential guest house, all swirly carpet and lace curtains. However, they had a vision: to restore Little Hayes to its former glory as a private house for family, friends, and holiday guests. This involved reconfiguring the ground floor and a complete refurbishment from top to bottom, attic to garden, to create a glamorous and stylish home from home; the latest addition to Stay New Forest’s portfolio of handpicked holiday homes.

Great British Life: Owners Caroline and Mark Winship (c) Liam UpshallOwners Caroline and Mark Winship (c) Liam Upshall

The old kitchen, with its views over the adjacent green, has been turned into a cosy drawing room with vintage leather Chesterfield, deep corner sofa, and library wallpaper. Instead, they have taken down walls and removed fitted furniture to transform what had been the guest house owners’ accommodation into a sociable open plan kitchen, dining, and garden room. This is a space with wow factor, complete with restored original wood floorboards, oversized island unit, old-fashioned butler’s sink, a dining table large enough to seat 14, smart TV posing as artwork and French doors opening onto gardens that feature a fire pit and dining terrace.

With seven en-suite double bedrooms, the plan was to create a house that comfortably provided both communal and relaxed break-out spaces inside and out to accommodate large groups coming together, such as extended families and work teams.

Great British Life: Little Hayes in full festive swing (c) Liam UpshallLittle Hayes in full festive swing (c) Liam Upshall

The interior design scheme is bold, with a warm colour palette and a confident use of pattern. Mark explains: ‘We wanted a modern take on the New Forest, not too ‘hunting lodge’. We wanted the design to be creative and elegant with a bit of fun.’

Every single room has been individually styled, although the rich colours and foresty motifs of foliage and ferns create a cohesive theme throughout. The dining room is dominated by a clever juxtaposition of wallpapers – one a woodland glade vibrant with autumnal shades of amber and berry, the other broad stripes of dark olive and tea rose. There are racks of lanterns overhead and plush upholstered dining chairs. The effect is colourful and dramatic, comfortable and cosseting.

Great British Life: Christmas decorations are, like the house, luxurious (c) Liam UpshallChristmas decorations are, like the house, luxurious (c) Liam Upshall

Striking patterned wallpapers are a particular feature throughout the house including the hallway papered in a William Morris design.

Each bedroom has been given a distinctly different feel. There’s the one Caroline refers to as the ‘Glam Bedroom’ where she and Mark stay. This luxurious boudoir of a bedroom has walls of burnished gold contrasted with tones of deep plum up to dado rail height and across the ceiling. There’s a luxurious half poster bed, art nouveau fireplace, original ornate plasterwork ceiling rose, large flamboyant mirror, gilt pineapple base occasional table and artichoke design lamp bases. Their son’s favourite room is in the attic - described as the ‘Tree Bedroom’ as its sloping eaves are covered in a deep green leafy wallpaper giving the impression of a dark canopy, as though you are high among the treetops. The ‘Calm Bedroom’ is a soothing wash of soft, cloud-hued blues and greens with subtle oriental influences. Another has a pattern of fir cones across the ceiling. The big comfy beds are piled with embroidered and striped cushions and textured throws.

Great British Life: The opulent master, where Caroline and Mark like to stay (c) Liam UpshallThe opulent master, where Caroline and Mark like to stay (c) Liam Upshall Great British Life: One of the ensuite bedrooms has a calming effect (c) Liam UpshallOne of the ensuite bedrooms has a calming effect (c) Liam Upshall

Even the en suites reveal a luxuriant and imaginative splash of pattern – one features navy with gold grasses, another cranes in flight. The principal bathroom on the top floor underwent several reinventions before Caroline achieved the effect she wanted: a fresh, bright room with bathtub positioned under skylights. This is where Caroline has enjoyed a soak, after a wintry Forest walk, along with a glass of prosecco - just to test the relaxation factor, of course.

Attention to detail ensures that everywhere you look there is something of interest: a dragonfly on a wall, a green glass leaf chandelier, a snug hidden under the eaves, a wing armchair covered in Orla Kiely Stem fabric. Colour is used to accentuate original features such as dado and picture rails, to create separate areas, and run over ceilings to add warmth and drama.

Great British Life: The drawing room is inviting and warm (c) Liam UpshallThe drawing room is inviting and warm (c) Liam Upshall

Period features have been restored and highlighted, among them arched and leaded light windows, the staircase with its wavy struts, and the original green floor tiles in the cloakroom. Even the old range has been renovated as a quirky side table in the dining room. In keeping with the house’s character, Caroline and Mark have sourced signature pieces from furniture auction houses, installed radiators that are a modern take on classic Victorian cast iron ones, and used Heritage bathroom fittings throughout.

The modern update on a Victorian house extends to the Christmas decorations. Caroline explains how she gets into the festive mood by decorating the house while Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas’ blasts out. Two Christmas trees, one in the dining room and the other in the drawing room, are hung in traditional red and gold baubles, crackers, bows, beads and garlands. Greenery was foraged from the garden. The look, like the house, is opulent and glamorous.

Great British Life: Take the inside out at Christmas with a chat around the fire pit (c) Liam UpshallTake the inside out at Christmas with a chat around the fire pit (c) Liam Upshall

Festivities can spill out into the well-screened gardens which have been similarly reimagined, creating three sociable break-out spaces. What was a pond has been recreated as a central fire pit. The shed is now a Scandi-style summer house and bar, and on a raised dining terrace is a bespoke table with benches, crafted from a huge piece of cedar and topped with lanterns and pots of dried hydrangeas. It is perfect for al fresco dining and drinking, or hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows.

Caroline reflects: ‘I love that inside-outside feel, especially as over the past few years, people’s ideas about socializing outside have opened up, so we can take entertaining spaces and living spaces outside. People like a fire pit where they can break out and socialize.’

Great British Life: Little Hayes is the perfect base for a cosy family Christmas (c) Liam UpshallLittle Hayes is the perfect base for a cosy family Christmas (c) Liam Upshall

Recent guests have included a film crew who needed space to congregate, collaborate and unwind. They commented: ‘The spacious communal areas were perfect for the team’s gatherings, meetings and birthday celebrations. We left with great memories and a desire to come back.’

Caroline and Mark have been led by ensuring Little Hayes provides an experience. Guests are welcomed with a hamper of delicious local produce as an introduction to the New Forest, and a local private chef can be brought in to cook and provide special dining experiences.

Caroline concludes: ‘It’s the memories you are going to create that make the difference.’

Great British Life: Little Hayes is magical at Christmas (c) Liam UpshallLittle Hayes is magical at Christmas (c) Liam Upshall

Do you want to stay?

Little Hayes can be booked via Stay New Forest (staynewforest.info). Through Stay New Forest, Caroline and Mark run a holiday home portfolio to provide a quality experience for guests and owners. Caroline says: ‘We want to deliver the best experience possible. We make the house feel as though it’s your own and no one else has stayed here.’



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