Voewood is one of the county's gems
A house that's now a home
By John Cranston
The Norfolk countryside is home to one of Britain's most striking Arts and Crafts buildings. Voewood housed institutions for most of its life, but it has been gradually restored back to its original use as a family home.
Voewood House is one of Norfolk's secret treasures: a country house built for a family who never lived in it.
It is hidden from view at High Kelling, near Holt, and is one of the country's most outstanding examples of Arts and Crafts architecture.
It has been compared with the stunning Barcelona landmarks designed by architect Antoni Gaudí.
In his definitive work, The Buildings Of England, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner describes Voewood as, "lavish and at the same time most violently idiosyncratic... full of mannerisms, yet it is inventive and daring."
For nearly a century this Grade II* listed building had a variety of institutional uses as a boys' school, a hospital and a convalescent home until it was finally bought and restored to its original purpose as a family home.
Voewood was commissioned by the Rev Percy Lloyd and designed by the architect E S Prior. The design follows the butterfly pattern of Lutyens' Papillon Hall.
Work began in 1903, the year in which Prior wrote, "When we care for art... she will appear as a controlling force, using not only painting and sculpture, but all the decorative arts to shape room and furniture under one purpose of design."
The Arts and Crafts theorists believed in local craftsmen using local materials. More than an acre of land to the front of the house was excavated to provide flints, gravel for the cement and clay for the bricks and tiles.
The excavated area now forms a sunken garden with croquet lawns and yew topiary.
"It had all mod cons - electric light from the start, plumbed hot water," said historic buildings consultant Bill Wilson.
"This was what those who could afford it wanted. This was the Edwardian high summer and no expense was spared - not least in the cost of extracting all those materials from the ground," he added.
Voewood cost a staggering £60,000 to build - today it would cost around £23m. But the Rev Lloyd never moved in. Shortly after it was completed, Voewood was leased to a tenant and its name was changed.
Some say the Lloyds did not wish to live next door to the newly-built Kelling sanatorium where tuberculosis patients were to be treated.
It wasn't until 1998 that the house finally passed again into the hands of a private individual. Simon Finch spent seven years removing the service lift, room dividers and other trappings of institutional use.
The 15 bedrooms and reception rooms, including the timber-vaulted, double-height central hall, have been restored.
The former kitchen garden, in latter years overgrown and derelict, is now landscaped and lined with espaliered fruit trees.
As a family home Voewood is not open to the public, but it is available at certain times to rent as a retreat and as a venue for private functions.
last updated: 17/04/2008 at 12:14