A country estate for all seasons
Take one talented architect, two visionary interior designers and three hectares of rural paradise in a Nature Reserve so privileged it can never be further developed and you have the foundations for a dream home.
Cavatina is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of music ever written and The Deer Hunter theme could have been composed specifically for this stunning country estate in the rolling hills of Ojén, where wild deer are never far away. The architecture is harmony personified.
The location is music for the soul. And, when the afternoon light streams through the French windows of the library, it falls on the very architect’s table at which this evocative guitar piece was penned, by the owner’s husband.
Like his music, this classical Palladian-style mansion cradled between the Mediterranean and the Serranía de Ronda is a work to make the spirit soar.
Indeed, that was the owner’s intention when her husband died and she decided to make a new life in Spain. Her mission was to build a gracious new home that would appropriately accommodate the treasured possessions she has collected over the last 40 years from the four corners of the world; no small consideration since her huge London loft apartment (where the drawing room alone boasted a 5.5 metre ballroom ceiling) was filled with antiquities and objets d’art on a grand scale. In fact, everything in the property was brought over from London, excluding two of the beds, and the owner knows the history of every piece.
It may be an old-fashioned idea (since many home owners moving out here tend to buy new, often from just one décor shop) but it works, creating a look that is individual and quirky rather than sterile and artificial, like a furniture showroom.
An interior designer herself, she had a long-time close friend in Hugh Henry of the prestigious London design company, Mlinaric, Henry & Zervudachi, whose award-winning work can be seen in private villas, apartments and mansions all over the world. Henry had worked with her on four properties, including her last home, so it seemed natural to collaborate once more, especially as she shared his philosophy that a project should be dictated not only by the client’s desires but also by the culture and topography of the region, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all aesthetic.
Thus, when she found her perfect plot in the hills above Elviria, she already knew exactly how it had to be: of an architectural design that would bring the outside in, with interiors designed to complement the exterior, thereby achieving a oneness with nature. To make sure, she took pictures of the plot from all angles, including every tree in what was a veritable cork oak forest – the beginning of a labour of love that she has recorded for posterity in a photograph album tracking every phase of the build. Incredibly, it was completed in just 10 months.
That was 10 years ago and it’s fascinating, today, to look at those photographs and see what transformation has been wrought, with nature’s assistance. Where once there was dry, untended scrubland, lush greenery has sprouted while the gracious property itself looks as if it might always have been here. Also, just as the owner had planned, the muted interiors in natural pastels of powder blue, sand, sage and soft aquamarine emulating the colours of the earth, sea and sky, merge seamlessly into the sylvan scene outside.
Endless mature gardens preserve almost all of the land’s original centenary cork oaks so that it’s hard to know where the estate finishes and the wild campo begins. Paths, illuminated at night, meander through carpets of pungent rosemary and lavender, oleander hedges and orchards planted with peach, pear, lemon, cherry, fig, mandarin and almond trees whose delicate blossoms stipple the woodland in springtime like an impressionist painting. And then there are the 360 degree views.
From an enchanting wisteria-woven pergola on the cobbled front terrace of the main house, overlooking a formal rose garden, the whole coastal panorama is laid out like an aerial map, stretching from Benalmádena to Gibraltar, affording glimpses of the Sierra Nevada and across the Straits to the peaks of Africa’s Rif mountains. On the other side of the house, the extnesive gardens run down to a secluded pool built on a plateau where tall cypresses stand sentinel and the encircling granite sierras form an awe-inspiring backdrop.
Nearby is a kitchen garden which, together with the fruit trees, kept the larder full all summer long. The owner, who was only a tub gardener before (her London apartment had a roof garden) did all the landscaping (a super-human task), learning from books as she went along. In another secluded part of the estate, there is another surprise: a second three-bedroom villa (with 350m2 of living space, its own pool and entrance drive, plus underfloor heating, it could never be called a guest apartment), perfect as a family home or for letting. And there is still more land beyond the garden proper, part of it grazed by goats, which would be ideal for keeping horses.
For the principal four-bedroom property, which totals 759m2 in built area and terraces, all on one floor, the owner wanted a year-round home, comfortable and warm in winter, cool and airy in summer. Henry’s idea for a cruciform floor plan, with a hall running the length of the house crossed in the centre by another, was inspired. There are tall French windows at every turn and, when standing at the centre where the two halls converge, you can see trees and sky at all four points of the compass. Where they meet, a roof tower rises up, set with circular windows on four sides that allow light to stream in. Thus, sunshine is thrown back from the off-white walls to illuminate even the very heart of the house. This clever layout allowed the owner to locate all the entertainment rooms at the front of the house, with two guest rooms at the back. The master suite, with its separate bathroom and dressing room, occupies the west wing; the kitchen, pantry and dining room are found across the hall in the east wing.
Built before noble materials were readily available on the coast, the natural sandstone used for the hall floor was imported from France while the owner travelled to Madrid for many items, including the door handles. Way ahead of the trend for wood floors, all the other rooms are laid with pine and covered with exquisite wool rugs hand-woven in China to ancient patterns. Contributing to the noble look of the house, all the ceilings are at least ??? metres high. As well as central heating, there are fireplaces in four of the rooms. These were hand-made on site and came as cast iron units around which the brick chimneys were built, comprising a hood which can be opened to let smoke out, or closed against draughts when not in use. In the formal dining room, the walls are covered in blue Chinese silk-on-paper panelling with a bird motif, hand-reproduced from a classic design, the pattern never repeated. The wood-framed French windows are sound-proofed and fitted with mosquito netting so they can be thrown wide in summer to create a cooling through-breeze. The furnishings reference many periods and styles yet nothing screams or jars and above all, the decor is understated, exuding elegance and class. At the same time, the clean and angular architectural lines would make this property equally suitable for a totally contemporary décor treatment.
After her Olympic-sized drawing room in London, the living room is of cosier dimensions yet still elegant, with French 18th century chairs upholstered in cream faux suede, a pair of antique gilt mirrors on either side of the fireplace and a magnificent crystal chandelier hanging from the Portuguese-style white wood ceiling. Across the hall, the library is lined with hand-made wooden bookcases topped with classical marble busts. But this is also a forerunner of today’s must-have home cinema, with a flat screen TV and a massive archive of films in all languages, on video and DVD, some so rare that Hollywood movie directors who can’t get hold of a copy ring the owner to borrow hers!
Although the trend for huge family-sized kitchens makes this house’s culinary engine room looks compact, louvre-doored cupboards and recesses concealed in the worktops reveal every modern convenience, from a chip pan and barbecue grill to a dish washer and an American fridge freezer. However, the adjacent utility room is only separated by a partition wall which could be opened up and joined to what is currently a serving area, lined with store cupboards, to create a much larger kitchen. However, with the current layout, finished in rustic country style, everything is easily to hand. Next to this is the formal dining room with three French windows features leading out onto south- and east-facing terraces which catch the morning sun – perfect for breakfasting outdoors in summer. Side tables around the room, one antique and two which the owner had made to match, look ripe for holding silver chafing dishes filled with kedgeree and scrambled eggs for a classic breakfast, country manor house-style! Flying cast iron lizards on the wall above the fireplace are a tasteful take on flying ducks; there are ducks too, also in cast iron and of an exquisite Japanese design. Throughout the house there are also framed, text book-style diagrams of insects and fossils and other subjects that fall into the category of nature study, one of the owner’s interests.
Across the hall in the opposite wing, the master bedroom and bathroom are separated by a spacious dressing room whose built-in wardrobes are made of cedar wood, which is known to repel moths and mosquitoes. In all the suites, the bathrooms are purity personified, simply designed with white fittings and hand-made Portuguese tiles in white and powder blue.
The spacious master bathroom also boasts a sunken bath and a show-stopping walk-in shower with a glass door to showcase its sumptuous finish in white and grey Italian marble. What looks like an abstract monochrome painting on the wall is in fact an original Jean Cocteau scarf, framed because it was just too good to wear.
From the window in the curtained-off w.c./bidet area, views of the Ronda mountains make stirring contemplation! Imposing beds are another feature, both in the guest suites and the master bedroom where the iron four-poster frame fashioned in a period French style can be hung with curtains to give the room a more feminine look.
If all this is not enough, with this house you also get a superb staff apartment with its own sitting room as well as kitchen, bathroom and bedroom; and, last but not least, the delightful second villa whose beautiful lounge, with windows on four sides, is a bowl of light, the whole surrounded by wrap-around terraces commanding equally spectacular views.
Being built on land which has since been designated a UNESCO Nature Reserve, the future occupant really will own something exclusive as no further houses can be built here, although existing property may be extended, providing unlimited potential.
The estate is available for sale through LuxuryForSale.Properties, Contact us.