Giles and Heidi Thompson’s sensitive renovation and extension of a Victorian villa involved some impressively radical solutions.
For Giles and Heidi Thompson, the purchase of The Fosse, situated in the quiet backwater of Batheaston, Somerset, was a case of heart ruling head.
“We absolutely fell in love with it,” explains Heidi, “but we couldn’t see how we’d use it as a family home.”
The problem with the detached house was not its site — indeed it enjoyed an elevated view over the town and splendid gardens, particularly to the front, which really set off its main formal front elevation. Nor was it the house’s Victorian-built core, which was a picture in period double-front formality outside and oozing with character inside.
- Name: Giles and Heidi Thompson
- Build cost: £250,000
- Build time: 1 years
- Region: Somerset
The issues the house faced mainly revolved around a series of unfortunate additions, alterations and ‘improvements’ that it had suffered in the century-and-a-half since being started.
Upon purchasing the property and, to be frank, not really knowing what to do with it, Giles and Heidi engaged local architectural practice Designscape to identify and address the key problems. “Designscape’s director, Chris Mackenzie, reckoned there were several issues,” explains Heidi. “First of all, put simply, the old house was falling apart — particularly the side lean-to extension. It was completely uninhabitable.
“Secondly, the previous alterations and additions had introduced several dark corridors into the house that needed to be dealt with. And lastly, the house felt like it was facing the wrong way. So the brief was simple,” she laughs: “Make it useable, and make it a family home.”
Chris takes up the story: “The key concept we decided on was to reverse the roles of the house by excavating the rear north-facing garden and moving the entrance to this side of the house. This would create a front courtyard to receive visitors and vehicles, whilst allowing the elegant south (formerly front) façade and garden to become a private sanctuary for the family. The removal of this top garden also afforded the opportunity to introduce daylight into the north of the property, as well as level access from the highway.”
Elsewhere, Giles and Heidi undertook a programme of structural and cosmetic renewal of the original Victorian part of the building. The original living areas and bedrooms upstairs have been beautifully refurbished, with new shutters and, unless absolutely unavoidable, the re-focus on original features, such as the restoration of the charming encaustic tiles in the hallway.
Carried out by a main contractor, with Giles and Heidi renting a place locally to enable them to keep a check on progress, the key to the success of this project has clearly been in finding designers who were able to identify and solve the problems that this very complicated house brought up. Through a bold approach – after all, it doesn’t get more radical than turning a house around – the result more than matches Giles and Heidi’s expectations of a workable, characterful family home.