Stay in this exclusive luxury manor house in Surrey
PUBLISHED: 11:28 21 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:27 11 November 2020
Mark Ashbee Photography
You won’t find many homestays quite so quirky and full of character as this property in Shamley Green
There’s little doubt that UK staycations and secret escapes to privately let properties around the country are set to remain as popular as ever into next year. But very few offer such unique character and classical charm as Guinevere – a restored 16th century country house in Shamley Green. Its current owners, Helen and Graham Richardson purchased the property in 2002 and undertook a total renovation to transform it into the spectacular homestay location it is today.
Set within the highly prized surroundings of the Willinghurst Estate, the Richardsons, who had previously lived in Sussex, were bowled over when they first came across this historic house. With its own 38-acres of grounds, it was by Helen’s admission, “in a pretty poor state,” but the couple could see its potential and loved the secluded location. “We engaged the services of an architect,” Helen explains, “he encouraged us to work with the character of the property, but also embrace the Arts & Crafts vernacular so typical of the Surrey Hills.”
And so, the three-year project to remodel Guinevere began. The couple lived in a barn on the grounds while the renovation was in progress and collaborated closely with the architect and the local planning team to make sure the preservation stayed in line with strict requirements. Being not only a listed building, but also in a conservation area meant that they weren’t able to alter the structure of the existing property too much, but the result is a triumph of old and new.
Characterised by its low beams, exposed original bricks and open, wood-burning fireplaces, there are plenty of authentic, original features. But luxurious modern touches are ingeniously intertwined to give Guinevere its real wow factor. For instance, the master suite – incorporated into the new part of the building - is spectacular. Wrapped by three floor-to-ceiling windows, the supremely comfortable king-sized bed takes centre stage. Its en suite bathroom has a walk-through rain shower, plus a Philippe Starck ‘spoon’ bath.
A superbly serene spot, Helen describes hearing the sound of nightingales singing in early summer from this room, while the dawn chorus peels through the encompassing landscape, which comprises nothing but greenery in its outlook over Shamley Green and Hascombe beyond. In the second king-size bedroom, there’s a stained-glass window onto the rose garden below and an imposing roll top bath. The dining room benefits from a double height ceiling and the couple have created a superbly sociable space here.
Little wonder then that four years ago when Graham retired from his career in the City, the couple decided that Guinevere would make a fantastic homestay property. “It’s hard work and it’s been a steep learning curve, but we get great enjoyment from welcoming people here,” says Helen.
Scattered with pieces collected from her travels, Helen was determined this place wouldn’t be your run-of-the-mill rental property. And while the structural enhancements are no doubt impressive, Helen’s eye for interiors has given this home-from-home a real edge. With a character that has been described as both Bohemian and eccentric, Helen professes a love for interesting textiles and fabrics in particular.
As you walk through the front door, there are two chairs upholstered in antique Suzanis from Uzbekistan and the dining table is adorned with a Bulgarian embroidered cloth. A trail of dark wood elephants from Sri Lanka and a collection of Murano glass are also clues to the couple’s travels. But there’s a real sense of local connection too. Artwork created by the Richardson’s daughter and an assortment of other Surrey-based artists are hung around the property. There are also musical references throughout (Helen has recently completed a PhD in Musicology), including a display of vintage brass instruments and an imposing Sousaphone sat above the mantelpiece in the dining room.
“Of course, there are certain compromises you have to make given that it’s a rental property,” Helen concedes, “But if you pare things back in the right way, we’ve found that guests really appreciate the quirkiness.” There is plenty else to appreciate too. Not least the indoor pool house and gym, located under a towering barn-style ceiling, it’s no doubt one of Guinevere’s most popular aspects and a real talking point for those lucky enough to stay here.
With its close connections to London and the obvious appeal of the Surrey Hills nearby, Guinevere is in high demand. Helen and Graham stay in a barn on the grounds and allow their guests to take over for the duration of their stays. Aside from a warm welcome, one of the only clues to the hosts’ presence is a generous hamper of local produce, like wine from the Albury Estate, and sometimes Helen’s own freshly baked bread left on arrival. Graham also made it his mission to ensure that while you may feel miles away from city while here, you can have all the benefits of modern life. In fact, he was instrumental in a local community enterprise to bring super-fast fibre broadband to its door – a real bonus for those who choose to work and stay here.
When asked the best time to visit, Helen is undecided. In early summer, the peonies and roses in the gardens that the couple cultivated themselves are in full bloom. There are two lakes for wild swimming, one with its own rowing boat too. But during the autumn and winter months as the nights draw in, the open fireplaces and cosy nooks provide idyllic spots to curl up and escape from the world and read a book, or pull down the projector screen and watch a movie. One thing is for sure, whenever you choose to visit, Guinevere is most definitely an all-round special place to stay.
Stays at Guinevere start from £5,250 per week or £3,850 per short break and can be booked through Unique Homestays on 01637 881183.