The Vawdrey House

Montacute Down Tunbridge Wells

Tempted by its large grounds, stately rooms and kerb appeal, our clients fell in love with this striking Victorian villa in Tunbridge Wells, and made their move from London in 2014.

The refurbished and extended house now provides two grand receptions rooms; a large kitchen and dining space, which opens onto the garden; plus a study, a utility room and a garage. Upstairs, there are five bedrooms and three bathrooms all accessed from a light-filled stairwell. The cellar has become a playroom, wine store, occasional bedroom and plantroom.

Divided into two dwellings in the 1950s, the house presented significant design challenges. The stairs and circulation spaces had been compromised, while the kitchen sat in a cold lean-to extension at the rear, and the entombed cellar was often under several inches of water.

The main hall was marred by the awkward overhanging boxed-in staircase, which was added when the house was divided, and while walking upstairs visitors had to duck in and out of the main supporting wall via several low ceilinged 'doorways' – clearly this was not how such a grand house should feel.

Our clients initially asked us to help them design a rear extension to provide a kitchen and large entertaining space. At that point they felt the stairs represented an unavoidable compromise inherent in the way the house had been split - but they loved the rest of the house enough to live with this.

We soon saw that if we solved the issues with the circulation spaces we could give the house back the grandeur it deserved, and thereby lift its value - meaning every penny spent on extending and renovating would go that bit further on resale.

In the main hall the boxed stairs have now been concealed within joinery panelling. This also houses a mirrored drinks cabinet, a door to the cellar and masses of storage. Set into this panelling is a recessed day bed and bookshelf. This has transformed the space, restoring its grand proportions, while creating the perfect winter sitting room, with log fire, dramatic dark paintwork and huge chandelier. More crucially the hall now works as a room, rather than just a circulation space.

The cloakroom also glows out through its dark doorway, and is a treat for every guest in turquoise and charcoal.

At the front of the house, the main living room overlooks the garden through enormous floor-to-ceiling sash windows. The original marble fireplace has been restored and the room is now tailored to its proportions, changing what was an overwhelming space, into a homely, welcoming room.

Passing from the hall into the new extension the space continues to open up with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors bringing the garden right in. This area is delineated by the ceiling, which is lower over the kitchen, rising to 3m over the dining area.

A turquoise pocket sliding door closes off a separate study beyond, featuring a pitched roof and picture-window seat looking onto the garden.

To save on budget, the stunning blue-black panelled kitchen was cleverly adapted, remodelled and added to from the traditional Wedgewood-blue kitchen previously in the lean-to. This was high quality but dated and poorly laid out, without an island. The clients had hated it - but in its new form the kitchen now commands a dramatic presence over the entertaining space.

A garage/store/utility room has also been added, in the form of a new 'garage' extension to the house. This area can be opened up and used for cars in future should this be required.

Below, the cellar was dried out and tanked, and the original light well and windows restored (these had previously been concreted up). The cellar space now offers a fantastic playroom, a brick vaulted spare bedroom and wine store, plus other back-of-house functions.

The study offers a flexible space, for adult working, children's homework or piano practice and can be opened up or separated off accordingly.

On the first floor a larger bathroom was divided to create two glamorous ensuites, and both bedrooms were renovated to enhance their dramatic proportions.

On the top-floor we removed the dividing wall within the stairwell and opened the roof up to the pitch, adding a roof light to flood the stairs with daylight. Further openings at first floor level mean the stairwell feels dramatically improved.

The two large top floor bedrooms became three, without losing their lofty period feel, and the long thin bathroom was redesigned as a family bathroom offering luxury with bath and walk-in shower.

"The house is stunning and we enjoy it so much. One thing we hadn't expected was the incredible social life that has come with it. It's a house for kids of all ages..."

Photography by Siobhan Doran

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How it looked before

The lean-to on the rear was the kitchen.

The main hall (images below) was a thorough fare with no sense of how it could be used, and the boxed in staircase projecting in over your head.

The kitchen cabinetry was removed, saved and reconfigured, with new additions and an island added.

The staircase was very boxed in and dark.

More about us

Established by Jennifer Hamilton in 2012, The Vawdrey House offers a unique combination of bespoke design, strategic thinking and creative flair.

Now a RIBA Chartered Practice, we bring architecture and interior design together to create spaces which work for you from the inside out.

Jennifer Hamilton and Graeme Montague, two thirds of The Vawdrey House trio, have a shared history as Directors of award winning design consultancy MoreySmith, working with clients such as Sony Music, EMI Music, Cadbury and Channel 4 as well as on high end residential refurbishments.

Third partner Ian Chapman, a RIBA Chartered Architect, adds his expertise in contemporary architecture for exciting educational and public spaces.

Their combined experience of 55 years in the industry brings a level of professionalism and creativity to the design and management of your project which is invaluable.

Working across London and the South of England we have a growing portfolio of happy clients and inspiring spaces.

With a small, select team of designers and architects, The Vawdrey House is passionate about what we do and most of all, want you to love it too.

Whether for your home, or a public space, we take the time to get to know you, understand your requirements and find exciting design solutions for your project. Our 'top to toe' design approach involves bringing the client into the process, designing a space for you, with you.

Close affiliations with brand consultants plus graphic and web design teams mean we can also provide a fully coordinated scheme for your retail or business space, down to website, menus or signage, whatever is required.

We work closely with you throughout, following everything through to the smallest detail, and helping you through the process.
That is what we believe makes a great design, even better.

We are design-led, and like to review the way the whole building works, understanding how you use the spaces and suggesting functional and layout changes to improve the way the spaces work together. We design the exterior architecture, the internal layouts and all the interior design and fittings, right down to furniture and accessories. 

We progress the design in stages, working up the outline usually with a multitude of options in the first instance, then gradually firm up the scheme as you clarify which direction you want to go in. Once we have the overall scheme in place we work into the detail and start to specify every element, ending in a production package incorporating everything you need to tender and construct the project.

We can also manage the entire process for you, putting together the project team, gaining planning consent and party wall awards, finding contractors, tendering the works, managing the building contract and monitoring the works on site.

We stick with you to the end, ensuring all snagging is resolved, and produce a completion pack with all necessary certificates, guarantees, maintenance and supplier contact info so you have everything in one place.

Have a browse through our latest projects and see the end results!