Through the Keyhole: Shilstone House, Modbury

PUBLISHED: 10:37 23 October 2013 | UPDATED: 10:37 23 October 2013

Much of the furniture at Shilstone is inherited

Much of the furniture at Shilstone is inherited


Nurtured with a passion for period properties, this Georgian mansion comfortably mixes new and old, as KATE WILLIAMS discovers

The stately grandeur starts coursing through your bones and making you stand tall as soon as you set foot in Shilstone House.Set within the rolling hills of South Devon, this magnificent Georgian country house is stunning in its architecture, design and decor - and that is not the half of it…literally.

When owners Sebastian and Lucy Fenwick bought the property in 1997, Shilstone House was less than half the size it stands at today. Purchased as a rather rundown farmhouse reduced in size over many years from its former medieval glory, the Fenwicks had a vision of a Georgian house and they have spent many years rebuilding and remodelling it to create their beautiful home.

Having previously owned a Grade I listed house not far from Modbury and with a keen eye for architecture, Sebastian was experienced in dealing with the listings on period building, but his wife was relatively new to country house renovation.

“I had never decorated before, not on this scale. My husband had but I hadn’t,” says Lucy.

“We knew that we wanted to create a classical house and when we saw Shilstone we thought this is the most wonderful place, particularly the passageway,” says Sebastian.

Shilstone’s USP is the surprising mix of a classic period mansion blended with contemporary, clean lines and the beautiful finish of a new-build.

After working on the outside - hedges, landscaping, courtyards - the house build didn’t begin until 2000 and, since then, the couple, along with architect Christopher Rae Scott, have worked tirelessly to create their masterpiece.

Winning awards and accolades aplenty for the architecture and design from prestigious organisations including the Georgian Group and English Heritage, Shilstone is rich in history too. Whilst digging and delving throughout the vast renovation work, much was uncovered, not least the lost water gardens and terracing which prompted Sebastian to initiate the inauguration of the Devon Rural Archive (DRA), a charity-run resource dedicated to rural architecture. From its building on-site at the Shilstone estate, the research centre is open to the public and aims to encourage the preservation of such sites.

With stone quarried from land within the estate, the facade of the existing property was developed into the casing of this stately home but it is the interiors which really set Shilstone apart.

The cool, calm colours flow freely throughout all of the vast room and those stunning Georgian style windows reach up to the sky-high ceilings allowing the light to flood in. It is a rare sight in a period house to such painted wood. Ordinarily, classic panelling is stained, but at Shilstone the carefully picked shades accentuate the detailing and bring a new feel to the features.

One of Lucy’s favourite rooms is the sitting room at the heart of the house with its ornate carpentry.

“This is Jacobean panelling which was kept when the house was being rebuilt. We had to restore a lot of it as it was broken,” she explains. “I wanted it to be light and English Heritage thought it was a good idea to paint it [the panelling] as you couldn’t see the carving properly before.

“This colour is called Shaded White. It’s very fresh and cool, it’s contemporary but still feels traditional.”

Working as director at Sotheby’s on British pictures, Lucy’s artistic flair and attention to detail shine right the way through the house and are apparent in every nook and cranny. Her colour choices flow throughout each room exquisitely merging classic and contemporary which feels right for the house.

“I love this room,” Lucy gushes of the bespoke kitchen, oozing country style. “I designed it with the carpenter who worked on the house from the beginning. It gets the morning and evening light and it has these brilliant ideas like these shallow cupboards so you don’t have to root around the back for the things you need.”

But her favourite room in the house is her bedroom, designed with everything she needs. Looking out across the estate, the room has a fantastic four-poster bed draped with lush floral fabric as its centre-piece and is dotted with pieces of inherited furniture.

“This chair seat was embroidered by my grandmother and the dressing table was mine as a child,” she explains.

The couple are clearly proud of their ‘masterpiece’ which has taken many years to complete.

“It’s been a long project and we’re still not quite finished, but when you’ve designed a house from scratch you really know it. There are no scary corners anywhere,” says Lucy.

When they first purchased the house, they planned it to be their private home, but since then the idea to hire part of the house out as a wedding venue has flourished. Shilstone has now been hosting weddings within the house, gardens and a marquee very successfully for two years. Sebastian says: “The passageway is really something and it captures people’s imaginations when they see it. Many people say that they like the idea of getting married in a classical house but it has a contemporary feel to it as well.”

“The tent is the same one Kate Moss used so, if it’s good enough for her…and the chairs are the same as Paul McCartney has used. This shows that we use everything of the highest standard, which is reflected in the wedding day.”

Couples are able to marry in the dining room looking out over the gardens or outside, depending on the weather and the grand passageway, which runs the length of the house, is perfect for photographs.

Being a wedding venue gives the Fenwicks’ beautiful home a dual purpose and the house is able to be shared with couples on their special days.

After many years, the painstaking research and hard work has paid off, and with a finish executed to perfection, Shilstone’s intriguing mix of classic and contemporary gel perfectly, making it truly comfortable in its own skin.

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