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Through the keyhole: Hunterswood on the River Dart

PUBLISHED: 14:45 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 14:45 09 February 2015

Bathed in sunlight, Hunterswood sits in an almost unrivalled position on the banks of the Dart between Galmpton Creek and Greenway Quay with direct access to the water

Bathed in sunlight, Hunterswood sits in an almost unrivalled position on the banks of the Dart between Galmpton Creek and Greenway Quay with direct access to the water


IT took a decade for the Olver family to find the location for their dream home and a further five years to create it. But when you visit Hunterswood on the banks of the River Dart it is clear the arduous search and prolonged planning process was worth every minute. The ambitious project, which borders the Greenway Estate, is every ounce a ‘dream home’, writes NAOMI TOLLEY

Photography by Clague Architects

Originally the laundry buildings for Greenway, Hunterswood is brimming with both beauty and history.

The sweeping views and grand gardens, originally said to be planted in the 16th century, are fit to rival those of the neighbouring National Trust property, once the holiday home of Agatha Christie.

For Sir Richard Olver and his family, these were the ingredients which caught their eye after a decade-long search to find the location for their ideal home. That and a deep fondness for nearby Dartmouth.

“I spent 31 years in the oil industry and ten years in the defence industry and we have lived in Canada, Calgary, New York, Houston and Glasgow. In between that I have been working in London for BP and BAE Systems,” says Sir Richard.

“But there were always connections to and a fondness for the South West. Olver is a Cornish name and we are also sailors, having sailed a lot from Dartmouth and around Devon’s coast.”

After years spent travelling the world with work, Sir Richard and his family thought about settling: “We decided Cornwall was a bit too remote and initially thought of Salcombe, as we had many memories of visiting there in our twenties,” he adds.

This sparked a search for their ideal waterfront home in Devon, a hunt which saw them ‘gazumped’ on a property on Batson Creek and several further disappointments.

Then, in 2009, they came across what was then Hunterswood Cottage, a property on the market for £1 million with “exciting refurbishment or development potential”, set in around nine acres on an idyllic waterfront position on the Dart between Galmpton Creek and Greenway Quay.

The open-plan lounge at with far-reaching views over the DartThe open-plan lounge at with far-reaching views over the Dart

“A big draw was the 24/7 access, private pontoon with direct access to the Dart, which satisfied our desire to be by the water,” says Sir Richard.

But little did they realise when purchasing the property, there would be a further two years and three designs to satisfy planning officials.

The Hunterswood estate was once part of the Greenway Estate but was sold off separately before Agatha Christie bought it in 1937.

The property, as the Olvers bought it, consisted of the 1860 former laundry building, which had been extended in two directions since the 1840s, an array of outbuildings including a stable yard, agricultural sheds and a shippen. The whole estate was once owned by Sir John Gilbert, who colonised Newfoundland in 1583.

With a vision to update the existing site, the Olvers brought in a close friend of the award-winning Clague architects, with offices in London, Canterbury and Harpenden.

“The first problem arose when a survey found protected Pipistrelle bats in one of the outbuildings,” says Richard. This started a prolonged conversation with planners, continual unsuccessful applications to develop the site, and a spate of bad press.

Eventually, however, permission was granted to the Olvers to modernise and extend the existing laundry building and to reorder and improve the house, making it more in keeping with the grandeur of its surroundings while providing a family home.

What you find today, both inside and out, is exactly that: a sensitive, modern development of an historical and beautiful site but with ‘home’ and ‘family’ very much at its heart. “We have two daughters and they often visit with our grandchildren - it always was meant to be a place for the family to be and that is exactly what it is,” adds Sir Richard.

Far gone are Hunsterswood’s humble beginnings. Today the former laundry buildings to Greenway are a fine example of elite architecture and interior design, housing state-of-the-art technology which can be controlled from anywhere in the worldFar gone are Hunsterswood’s humble beginnings. Today the former laundry buildings to Greenway are a fine example of elite architecture and interior design, housing state-of-the-art technology which can be controlled from anywhere in the world

“We loved the ‘garden jungle’ and the builders were really great at limiting the damage to the existing terraces,” says Sir Richard. “We then had a local firm of garden designers, Eden Design, to replant the new areas around the house. Caroline did a wonderful job and it is a pleasure to amble through the terraces,” he adds, delighted.

Far gone are Hunterswood’s humble beginnings. Today the property houses the latest audio, visual, and heating technology, with heat created by an environmentally friendly air source which pumps air through waste heat recovery systems. It can all be controlled from anywhere in the world.

“The work carried out by Clague was exemplary, we could not fault them,” Sir Richard continues.

The redesign saw a new basement level cut into the existing, steeply sloping site, creating space for a swimming pool. A new roof was also added, linking the two sides of the dwelling, creating a unified first floor and “a more fluid aesthetic”.

A modern extension, conceived as a lightweight glass box, sits on the existing garden walls, allowing light to pour into the property’s open-plan living spaces. Although you will still find very gracefully designed mezzanine levels and ‘private’ spaces, ideal for curling up and reading a book or simply admiring the breathtaking views.

The Olvers used Sarah Chenevix-Trench ( for interior design to create a minimalist environment of greys and neutrals with strong accents of warm colours. A favourite piece of furniture is their large wooden kitchen table while both Sir Richard and his wife enjoy the sedum roof features.

“We also have space for all of those items collected from around the world over the years. I particularly love the alcove which frames the Indian bronze we purchased in Phoenix, Arizona, decades ago,” Sir Richard remarks.

Adding as he sits back and admires their creation: “We know we chose the right location because of the wonderful friends we have made around the river, at the Royal Dart Yacht Club in Kingswear and in Dartmouth.

'You only have to look at the staircases to appreciate the quality of the workmanship''You only have to look at the staircases to appreciate the quality of the workmanship'

“The wonderful thing about this house is the way it blends into its surroundings, creating the most modern living space sitting comfortably into an ancient forest. This is a great credit to the architect and the planners.”

But the greatest credit goes to the local workmanship, says Sir Richard: “They built this amazing house. Simon Cannon is a Dittisham man, and his colleagues succeeded in building a difficult structure in a challenging location. You only have to look at the staircases to appreciate the quality of the workmanship.

“I just love being here,” he says.


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