Sunnedon House was built in 1870 in the historic village of Coggeshall near Colchester. Originally built by a factory owner who manufactured Isinglass, the building was sold to the Church of England in 1920 who ran it as a charitable home for unmarried mothers for 40 years. References to the house can still be found on adoption forums to this day. In 1960 the building was bought by a renowned London artist who divided the house into three properties, the middle of which is now my home.
In 2012, after 18 years of living and working in London, most recently as a partner for a global management consulting firm, it was time for a change in career and lifestyle. Having completed the diploma course at Leith’s School of Food and Wine when I was younger and with a background in catering, I decided to start a cookery school giving day lessons that are fun, inspiring and help participants improve their cooking skills.
I engaged Searchwells, a property search agency, and asked them to help me find a character property in the Essex countryside that had enough potential and space for a cookery school. Originally I was looking for a small cottage with a large outbuilding I could convert but as soon as I walked into this property, despite being different to my original brief, I fell in love with it. However, it did mean that with no outbuilding I needed to develop a different plan to house my cookery school.
When I moved in, the house had a basement kitchen, which was very charming as it contained the old original wine cellars and had lots of original features but although it provided lots of storage it didn’t have the space to run cookery classes. There was also a small conservatory to the rear of the building, which, whilst it added considerable space and footprint to the house, was unused because of the classic ‘too hot in summer, too cold in winter’ issue that you get with some conservatories.
I knew I needed to adapt the house in some way. The best option seemed to be to use the existing conservatory but it was too small and therefore needed to be adapted and extended to be made suitable. I also didn’t feel that the conservatory in its current form complemented the style of the house. At this point, I decided to seek help from a professional.
As I didn’t know Essex well, having lived in London, it was Searchwell’s who recommended Westbury. I first met Jonathan (the founder) from Westbury in August of 2013, and after meeting with him at the Westbury workshop and explaining what I was trying to achieve I decided not to investigate other companies as I liked his ideas so much, and the quality of the workmanship was clear. Jonathan suggested tearing down the unused conservatory and adding a garden room to house a kitchen extension in its place. As this would add to the footprint of the house, we needed planning permission, and much to my delight, after finalising the designs, Westbury took care of this, so it was no hassle at all.
One of my main concerns was whether the new garden room would get too hot, especially with it being south facing and home to a kitchen. However, Westbury worked solutions into the design as a matter of course, including extractor fans in the ceiling to cool the room as well as to remove cooking odours as I have induction hobs incorporated into the kitchen island. They also suggested incorporating an outside tap and lighting into the build, making it truly practical. It’s these details which really set my mind on Westbury – they really did think of everything.
After planning permission was granted, the build commenced late November/early December 2013, and took only eight weeks. Westbury worked hard to ensure that the new extension would fit with the original design of the house, with the fascia and soffit mimicking that of the main building in both design and colour. For example, blue beams and a circular window were designed into the gable end of the house to mirror the woodwork and the circular window seen in the main house, above the new extension.
To complete the new space, Westbury recommended kitchen company Nicholas Anthony, who designed the layout and décor of the new kitchen and the fit out was complete in April 2014.
The Cookery School
The new kitchen extension is not only a great family kitchen but is perfect for my cookery school, The Green Apron which I launched in Spring 2016. The original basement kitchen is also still in place and acts as the ideal storage and preparation area for cookery school classes and all the washing up is instantly whisked downstairs.
The cookery school has proved popular. I host day classes for all abilities with a variety of themes; Everyday Italian, Cooking Fish with Confidence, Vegetarian, Baking, and Thai and Moroccan cuisine. The new garden room is big enough for a sizeable kitchen island, which allows myself and up to eight course participants to all cook in the same space so classes are very relaxed, sociable and fun.
Having the garden room as part of the house rather than as a standalone construction in the garden has also enabled us to use the garden really comprehensively. Westbury recommended a landscape gardener who redesigned the outside, creating a beautiful patio area which is perfect for entertaining or relaxing in summer. As well this there is a lovely lawn area, space for my chickens and a sizable vegetable patch which is a real boon for the cookery school; using homegrown, organic seasonal produce is very popular with class attendees, and makes the end result that bit more satisfying to eat!
Westbury made every step of the process very easy, from the initial concept, to the planning permission, to the build itself. Jonathan visited the house and immediately understood what I wanted to achieve and explained how it could be done through the garden room design he conceived. Right through the process both he and the team at Westbury managed my expectations well; Sally, my first point of contact, was there every step of the way, proactively providing me with information and timescales as the project progressed. To top it all off, the garden room has a generous guarantee and the few niggles I’ve had in four years, such as a door handle becoming misaligned or a window lock not securing properly, have been resolved within a day or two of my phone call. I am completely delighted with my garden room, spend all my time in here and couldn’t imagine the house without it now. Westbury has been brilliant throughout the whole process and I would wholeheartedly recommend them to others.