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Before and After: Must-See English Manor Home

A British couple gloriously restores an 18th-century manor house in Northern England

Written and produced by Doris Athineos
  • Francis Hammond

    It seems hard to believe that only a decade ago this handsome circa-1740 manor house surrounded by rolling countryside was a crumbling warren of hostel-like “bedsits” with a trailer park in its walled garden. In those days, the house and garden served as a makeshift campsite with entire rooms roped off because they overflowed with garbage. “The house was in near-derelict condition,” recalls Londoner Paul Townley, who, together with his wife, Gaynor, was attracted to the rugged northeast England countryside and boldly acquired the property in 2002.

    Known as Thorpe Hall, the classical-style stone house in Wycliffe, County Durham, underwent a lengthy renovation. The trad-minded Townleys, with the assistance of talented designer Mark Gillette, realized their ambitious vision—a beautifully restored and decorated home that seamlessly weaves past and present. In 2010, their massive restoration of the house won commendations from England’s prestigious Historic Houses Association and The Georgian Group. Today the property sustains the Townleys’ sporty, country lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and shooting as well as entertaining. 

    Photography: Francis Hammond

    Interior designer: Mark Gillette, Mark Gillette Interior Design Ltd., Mollington Grange, Parkgate Road, Mollington, Chester CH1 6NP, UK; 011 44 124 485 1897, markgillette.com.
    Garden designer: Arne Maynard, Arne Maynard Garden Design, 14 Baltic St. E., 2nd Floor, London EC1Y 0UJ, UK; 011 44 207 689 8100, arnemaynard.com.  

  • Francis Hammond

    Front Entry

    “Until all the bits go in, it isn’t really a home,” says Gaynor, who collects porcelain and early paintings and prints including the two 17th-century British ancestor portraits flanking the outer hallway.

    The front door to the attractive entrance is crowned by a decorative fanlight. The unfussy Georgian facade has sash windows divided up by delicate new glazing bars mirroring the originals.

    Wallpaper (strie): Brunschwig & Fils, brunschwig.com.
    Hanging lantern; area rugs: antique.
    Portraits: owner’s collection. 

  • Francis Hammond

    Drawing Room

    To decorate the home’s interior, Gaynor turned to 20th-century icons Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler for inspiration. (There’s a well-thumbed copy of Chester Jones’s Colefax & Fowler: The Best in English Interior Decoration in her library.) “It’s an interpretation of the style,” Gillette says. “The quintessential English drawing room is about layers and subtleties.” 

  • Francis Hammond

    Drawing Room

    In the double-height drawing room framed by Doric columns, the mood is set with an attractive mix of English and French antiques. A curvy canapé (settee) is dressed in a sumptuously textured floral jacquard, and a pair of cushy sofas are wrapped in rich, olive-green velvet trimmed with deep bullion fringe.    

    The elegant room is distinguished by its Doric columns and decorative plaster cornices; the “Venetian Damask” wallpaper is by George Spencer

    Wallpaper (“Venetian Damask”): George Spencer Designs, georgespencer.com.
    Area rug (antique Aubusson); chairs flanking mantel: Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Sofa; lounge chair to right of sofa: owner’s collection.

    Lounge-chair fabric (“Beaufort”): Pierre Frey, pierrefrey.com.
    Sofa end tables: antique.
    Fauteuil to left of sofa; area rug (antique Aubusson): Mark Gillette Interior Design
    , markgillette.com.
    Fauteuil fabric: Claremont Furnishing, claremontfurnishing.com.
    Tapestry pillows on chairs: antique.
    Settee behind sofa; art above settee; tables flanking settee: antique.
    Settee fabric (“Beaumarchais”/Ivoire #B7510002, by Braquenié): Pierre Frey, pierrefrey.com

  • Library Before

    The library had dark green walls, red drapery panels, and white bookshelves.

  • Francis Hammond

    After: Updated Look

    The original carved fireplace mantel and marble surround define the room. Faux-suede wallpaper and emerald silk damask curtains by Lelievre frame the arched windows. The bookshelf exterior was painted a cool blue color while interior shelves were painted a complementary hue.

    Wallcovering (“Faux Suede”/Terra-Cotta, by Cole & Son, discontinued): Lee Jofa, leejofa.com.
    Ceiling paint (“Clunch” #2009): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
    Damask window treatment (“Tournelle”/Emerald #4128-07, by Lelievre): Stark, starkcarpet.com.
    Bookcases; mantel: existing.
    Sconces on bookcases (“Library Swing-Arm Wall Light” #WA0238.BR): Vaughan, vaughandesigns.com.
    Sofa (“Howard”); coffee table (custom): Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Sofa fabric (by Colefax and Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.
    Coffee table fabric; tan fabric on lounge chair by sofa: Isle Mill, islemill.com.
    Coffee-table top: antique tapestry.
    Plaid fabric on lounge chair: Nobilis, nobilis.fr.
    Floor lamp; fire fender; round table to left of plaid chair; desk; desk chair: antique.
    Desk pad: Asprey, asprey.com.
    Magnifying glass on desk: antique.
    Area rug (needlepoint): Gallery Yacou, galleryyacou.com.
    Sisal carpet: Tim Page Carpets, timpagecarpets.com.   

  • Inner Hall Before

    Though the Georgian facade dates to 1743, a 13th-century tower that once occupied the property probably shaped an internal courtyard that also gave form to the rest of the house. 

  • Francis Hammond

    After: Blue Beauty

    Enclosed in the early 20th century, the Wedgwood-blue space is now called the inner hall. Sunlight streams through an octagonal cupola (or lantern) into the inner hall, which like almost every room in the house is graced with superbly crafted architectural elements—neoclassical Adamesque plasterwork, a delicate wrought-iron balustrade, a fireplace framed in marble with a crisply carved mantel, and arched niches for displaying sculpture. “The work was all carried out by local painters and craftsmen,” Gaynor says.

    The internal courtyard was enclosed and incorporated into the rest of the house during the Edwardian period, but designer Mark Gillette took it to another level with elaborate plasterwork and a new chimneypiece as well as mirrors that give the illusion of an even bigger space. 

    Blue wall paint: Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
    Area rug: Crucial Trading, crucial-trading.com.
    Chandelier; mirrors; armchairs: antique.
    Tables under mirrors: Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Art over mantel: David Wade Fine Art, wadeart.co.uk.
    Striped fabric on armchairs: Claremont Furnishing, claremontfurnishing.com.
    Blue under-skirt on tablepatterned over-skirt on table: Zoffany, zoffany.com

  • Kitchen Before

    A focal point of the kitchen pre-update was a large fireplace dating to the 18th century.

  • Francis Hammond

    After: Modern Kitchen

    An 18th-century stone-arched fireplace now houses an Aga range in the original kitchen. Paul and Gaynor often gather with friends in the kitchen’s dining area. 

    Paint (“Off White #3 and “Light Blue” #22): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
    Stove: Aga, agaliving.com.
    Backsplash behind stove: Fired Earth, firedearth.com.
    Island cabinetry (custom): Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Flooring: French limestone, honed and tilled. 

  • Francis Hammond

    Kitchen Dining Area

    Just beyond the kitchen island, a casual, accommodating dining spot exudes country charm.

    Dining table and chairs: antique.
    Chandelier and wall sconces (commissioned, custom, by Richard Taylor Designs): Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com

  • Francis Hammond

    Breakfast Room

    The carved mantel, elaborate pediment, and ornate dentil cornice survived intact and just needed cleaning. A collection of intriguing 19th-century botanical specimens hang on the wall above a painted console. 

    Dining table; chairs (Gustavian): owner’s collection.
    Seat fabric on dining chairs: Brunschwig & Fils, brunschwig.com.
    Console table (20th century); lamps on console (antique): Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Plant specimens above console: Julia Boston Antiques, juliaboston.com.
    Art flanking mantel: owner’s collection.  

  • Francis Hammond

    Dining Room

    The decorating details sprinkled throughout the house are equally ravishing—rock-crystal sconces and chandeliers, hand-block-printed wallpaper, plus tasseled and fringed pillows covered in damask, needlepoint, and antique tapestries. The dining formal space features Farrow & Ball’s ornate “St. Antoine” damask wallpaper and the original chimneypiece.

    Wallpaper (“St. Antoine,” colorway discontinued): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
    Ceiling paint (“Beige Shadow”): Sanderson, sanderson-uk.com.
    Sisal rug: Crucial Trading, crucial-trading.com.
    Area rug (antique): Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Chandelier: Vaughan, vaughandesigns.com.
    Dining table (antique): Patrick Sandberg Antiques, antiquefurniture.net.
    Dining chairs: Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Chair-front fabricchair-back fabric: Brunschwig & Fils, brunschwig.com.
    Server to right of dining table; table to left of mantel; mirror over mantel: antique.
    Drapery (“Lulli”); drapery trim: Pierre Frey, pierrefrey.com.
    Dinnerware; stemware; flatware; table accessories: owner’s collection.  

  • Francis Hammond

    Stairwell

    On the ground floor, a dogleg staircase leads to a grand landing and lovely arched window fancifully dressed with fluted pilasters and a pediment.

    Wallpaper (strie): Brunschwig & Fils, brunschwig.com.
    Carpet on stairs: Roger Oates Floors & Fabrics, rogeroates.com.
    Settee; commode beside settee; area rug: antique.
    Settee fabric (by Boussac): Pierre Frey, pierrefrey.com.

  • Master Bedroom Before

    The grand space had a lot of red going on.

  • Francis Hammond

    After: Country Charm

    “Waking up here on a Saturday morning is a joy,” says Paul, who enjoys a bustling house full of life—barking dogs, roaring log fires, and overnight guests sleeping under canopied beds in some of the 15 bedrooms (with nine bathrooms decked out as comfortably as sitting rooms).

    The elegant, comfortable room has a 19th-century canted bay window, which is now framed by puddled curtains. 

    Wallpaper (“Plain Stripe”): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
    Chandelier: antique.
    Area rug (Aubusson): The Rug Co., therugcompany.com.
    Carpet: Stark, starkcarpet.com.
    Drapery (by Hodsoll McKenzie): Zimmer +Rohde, zimmer-rohde.com.
    Bed: Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Duvet: Chelsea Textiles, chelseatextiles.com/us.
    Canopy fabric (silk): Zoffany, zoffany.com.
    Canopy trim: custom.
    Sconces at bed (“Library Swing Arm Wall Light” #WA0238.BR); lamp on 3-drawer chest (“Villandry Crystal Vase” #TG0049.NT): Vaughan, vaughandesigns.com.
    Bedside tables (18th-century); sofa; bench in front of sofa; desk; 3-drawer chest (18th-century); mirror above chest (19th-century): antique.
    Sofa fabric: Brunschwig & Fils, brunschwig.com.
    Lounge chair facing sofa: existing.
    Chair fabric (by Colefax and Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.  

  • Francis Hammond

    Master Bedroom Detail

    A crystal vase table lamp by Vaughan sits on an 18th-century Italian painted chest of drawers.   

  • Francis Hammond

    Dressing Room

    Homeowner Paul’s French-polished, mahogany-paneled dressing room by artisans Houghtons of York. 

    Hanging light (antique): Christopher Butterworth Antiques, christopherbutterworth.com.
    Chair: owner’s collection.
    Paneling (custom, French polished mahogany panels): Houghtons of York, houghtons.plus.com.

  • Francis Hammond

    Blue Bathroom

    One of nine bathrooms in the home, this spacious room is defined by a cool blue-gray color scheme. A lovely wallpaper wraps the walls, while a coordinating paint color makes an appearance on the trim, the chair, and even the tub. 

    Wallpaper (“Hummingbirds,” by Cole & Son): Lee Jofa, leejofa.com.
    Trim paint (“Dufour”): Zoffany.com/paint.
    Bathtub: AstonMatthews, astonmatthews.co.uk.
    Bath faucets: Barber Wilson, barwil.co.uk.
    Chair: antique.
    Chair fabric (by Colefax and Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.
    Mirror (“Handpainted Chinoiserie Mirror” ): Paolo Moschino for Nicholas Haslam, nicholashaslam.com.
    Sconces (“Welford Mirror Wall Light”): Vaughan, vaughandesigns.com.
    Towel rails: (for similar, Towel Rails by Drummonds): Architonic, architonic.com.
    Chair bysink: antique. 

  • Francis Hammond

    Guest Room

    One of 15 bedrooms at Thorpe, the flora bedroom's light green walls, framed botanical prints, and floral patterned drapery panels all make for a pleasing place to rest.

    Drapery and bed drapery (“Honeysuckle” #1090, by Colefax and Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.
    Paint: custom mix.
    Interior bed drapery; headboard fabric: Pierre Frey, pierrefrey.com.
    Bed (custom); botanical prints: Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Bench at end of bed: antique.
    Carpet: custom.
    Area rug: needlepoint. 

  • Francis Hammond

    Neutral Bath

    A twin vanity and "Oak Leaf" mirror in this bathroom are certainly beautiful, but an 18th-century Swedish chandelier over the tub is steals the scene.

    Ceiling paint (“Lime White” #1): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
    Door and trim paint: custom.
    Vanity (custom): Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Vanity countertop: marble. 
    Faucets: Barber Wilson, barwil.co.uk.
    Mirror (“Oak Leaf”): Paolo Moschino for Nicholas Haslam, nicholashaslam.com.
    Sconces (19th-century); chandelier (18th-century Swedish): antique.
    Carpet: custom.
    Drapery (“Honeysuckle” #1090, by Colefax and Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, cowtan.com.
    Drapery trim: custom.
    Bathtub; table beside bathtub: existing.
    Bath faucets: Barber Wilson, barwil.co.uk.

  • Hunt Room Before

    In the hunt room, there was room for cosmetic updates. The fireplace lacked lacked a proper surround. 

  • Francis Hammond

    After: Upgraded Hunt Room

    So immersed in country life is Paul that he’s been appointed high sheriff of County Durham. It’s largely a ceremonial role that requires a lot of entertaining, Gaynor says. But it’s one of England’s oldest offices, dating back more than a thousand years to Saxon times when duties included protecting the monarchy and collecting taxes.

    Wall paint (“Mouse’s Back” #40): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
    Ceiling paint (“Beige Shadow”): Sanderson, sanderson-uk.com.
    Paint on inside of closets (“Crimson”): Zoffany, zoffany.com/shop/paint.
    Flooring (limestone): Stone Age, stone-age.co.uk.
    Long table; umbrella stand: antique.
    Chair by umbrella stand (antique); table holding sink (custom); mirror (custom): Mark Gillette Interior Design, markgillette.com.
    Chair fabric: Pierre Frey, pierrefrey.com.
    Sink: Villeroy & Boch, villeroy-boch.co.uk.

  • Francis Hammond

    Hunt Room

    Painted in Farrow & Ball’s mossy gray “Mouse’s Back” and featuring a Victorian bird case, the hunt room offers country squire accoutrements—walking sticks, fishing rods, and Wellington boots. 

  • Francis Hammond

    Entry Hall

    The back entrance floor is paved in original black-and-white marble tile laid in a diagonal pattern. “We preserved what we could,” Gaynor says. 

    Furniture: owner’s collection.
    Art over console: antique.

  • Exterior Before

    An expanse of green lawn surrounded the home.

  • Francis Hammond

    After: Lively Plantings

    Arne Maynard, a Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner, designed the garden. Globe allium abound in this southwest view of the space. 

  • Francis Hammond

    Garden

    But even with a full house, the Georgian manor remains tranquil, which is a special part of its charm. “Thorpe Hall is a very still house,” says Gaynor, who relaxes on weekends in the orangery and garden designed by acclaimed garden designer Arne Maynard. “We spend every evening in the kitchen garden.”

  • Francis Hammond

    Gorgeous Drive

    The eight-year restoration project involved a lot of less glamorous work as well—the house required a new roof, for instance, and virtually every pipe and wire was replaced. The delicate Georgian glazing bars that divide up the sash windows, including the tall, arched windows, were also replaced. “About the only thing we didn’t touch is the exterior because it’s an official English Heritage listed building,” Paul says. 

  • Francis Hammond

    Portrait

    Homeowners Paul and Gaynor Townley in their vintage Jaguar in classic British racing green.

  • Werner Straube
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