There’s a green field in the Cotswolds that has been garnering a lot of interest lately. “Private jets and helicopters are flying over super low to scout out the land,” says Guy Bradshaw, managing director at Sotheby’s International Realty UK, one of the agents selling the site near Chipping Norton. “If you have a really big jet, you could fly into Brize Norton. Small jets can land in Oxford. Then it’s just a couple of minutes in a helicopter to your helipad.”
There’s no doubt this is one of the hottest rural locations within West Oxfordshire’s golden triangle, which includes the Cornbury Park Estate and Blenheim Palace – as well as the Glympton Estate, which was recently bought by the King of Bahrain for £120m. Soho Farmhouse is a few miles away. Daylesford Organic, too. But why all the fuss over this particular field?
Because the 60-acre plot – which is up for tender for £20m, with bids to be received by 5pm on November 15th – has full planning permission for what its vendor Martin Hodgson intends to be “the biggest and most outstanding new Palladian home in the UK for more than 100 years”.
The architect who has designed this “modern classical masterpiece”, says Hodgson, is Professor Robert Adam (robertadamarchitect.com), known for his palatial new English country houses including Ravenswick Hall in North Yorkshire and Ashley Park in Hampshire’s Test Valley. In 2017, Adam won architecture’s highest value award, the $200,000 Richard H Driehaus prize for “the highest ideals of traditional and classical architecture in contemporary society”.
“He is the grand master of his art, one of the most respected and revered classical architects of our time,” says Hodgson. And there was no question, he adds, that this particular work of art had to be Palladian. “In pursuit of a masterpiece, I wanted to draw on the harmony and beauty that is inherent in the great works of Andrea Palladio and his knowledge of The Divine Proportion,” says Hodgson, referring to the mathematical concept that also inspired Leonardo da Vinci.
It will cost around £50m and take two years to build St John’s House, if the buyer sticks faithfully to Adam’s vision. But the end result will be a one-off modern stately home worth around £100m. “And there’s unlikely to be anything else ever built like it again in this area,” Bradshaw says.
Robin Gould, director of the buying agency Prime Purchase, adds that having a Robert Adam house comes with “a hallmark of design; he is the classical architect of this era”. A Palladian house – even a new-build one – is a trophy, he adds, and a new one comes with the added benefits of being designed to the owner’s specification, with the latest technology and energy efficient measures (not insignificant in a house of this scale, which could cost tens of thousands of pounds a month to run, including staff).
“It is a symbol. It buys the owner status,” says Gould. “Many buyers, particularly those from overseas who have made their own money, want to become part of the British establishment with the deer park, the long drive and the traditional house, even if it is a concept house in a vintage body.”
Currently there’s little to see on site but a barn – and views stretching 30 miles over the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Once built, with gardens impeccably landscaped by the 42,000 new trees that are being nurtured on site, the owner will sweep up a long drive to the “grand reveal”, says Bradshaw: the imposing, columned Cotswolds stone house that will include a 6,000 sq ft master suite that occupies the entire top floor, nine further guest suites, and a gargantuan ‘piano nobile’ designed for entertaining, with 4.5-metre-high ceilings. There’s also a vast ballroom, and a viewing room that peers onto a climate-controlled exhibition beneath the entrance courtyard, with space to store up to 50 classic cars.
As Hodgson explains, for the world’s elite, the perception of scale – and the need for such space – changes. “Holding a major charity fundraiser that will raise millions of pounds means you are responsible for the security and comfort of your guests. If the Obamas are your guests of honour, how do you accommodate them?” he asks. “If Celine Dion is your entertainment, how do you protect her? Equally, if you are an art aficionado or car connoisseur, where do you house your collection? These questions formed the bedrock of the design process.”
That process has been quite some time in the making. Before Hodgson even began his 15-year “planning journey” – with Adam involved for the last 11 – the previous owner had already spent a decade trying to get planning permission. “It was contested by the planning authority and local residents, but granted consent at appeal. When I acquired the site in 2006, these wounds were still raw,” says Hodgson, who says he has made “a great many planning applications” for the house during this time.
Two years ago, the plot first went on sale with planning for “a more radical design”, comments Adam, “but it didn’t get a buyer”. So he came up with a more classical version. “There is a huge tradition of English country houses going back 300 years, and both British and overseas buyers want to buy into that tradition – a bit like they do with English public schools,” he says.
But while he is famed for his love of the classical, his blueprint for St John’s House contains some contemporary surprises. “Classical architecture is a language and you have to understand it completely. This house is classical, but it is also original and modern. It doesn’t matter what the exterior is like. All interiors are planned for modern living,” he says.
They may be design nuances that the average billionaire buyer doesn’t fully see, but Adam explains how although he has used recognisably Palladian features such as columns and pediments, he has “ratcheted everything up a notch,” he says. “We haven’t used routine sash windows – we have designed them specifically as more modern windows. And the master suite is essentially a glass house on top of the house.”
For now, though, it’s a £20m field. A field that super-rich buyers are flying over and wondering where to put the heli-pad…
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