Period Property of the Month - October 2008
The Ryninks were looking for a little weekend cottage, close to their daughters' boarding school, when they stumbled upon a six bedroom Georgian Rectory in four acres of land.
Robert and Sophie Ryninks were lucky enough to have spent most of their married lives travelling the world on business. They had never lived anywhere for long - and were used to hastily packing up the children and a few other cherished items and relocating from Mexico to Mumbai at the drop of a sombrero. "But the children and our possessions were growing in volume," admits Sophie. "It was time to put down some roots."
The Ryninks had always imagined they would live in London, with their children at boarding school. But when they happened upon the Old Rectory in The Cotswolds, they decided on a radical plan. They would move the whole family to the Cotswolds instead. Their children would no longer have to board and they would buy a small flat in London for overnight stays. It seemed hairbrained at first - but soon the idea became a reality.
Sophie thinks the Rectory has just the right balance of elegance and practicality. She loves its beautifully-proportioned rooms, its high ceilings and the huge windows that flood every room with light throughout the day. "I think these Victorian rectories are amazing value," she enthuses. "You get a heck of a lot of house for your money."
Though much altered during the mid-Victorian era, the Rectory has the nucleus of a Tudor house, and was probably built around 1550. An intriguing entry in a faded hand gives some hint. It is at the back of the Parish record book, and reads: 'The ashes planted round the wall of the parsonage Anno 1713 by me, John Minn, rector.' "Minn's ashes are still with us," laughs Sophie, "but we only have four acres of the 454 that originally came with the house."
Those four acres are now tended by husband and wife landscape gardeners, Charles and Jenny Sutton. Sophie has a passion for vibrant hot pinks. "My favourites are peonies - and tulips of course, because my husband is Dutch." says Sophie.
The Ryninks had two major projects they wanted to undertake to make the house really work for them, and they decided to tackle the kitchen first. "We do a lot of entertaining and our teenage daughters always had chums staying at weekends," says Sophie. "It's like running a small hotel."
Sophie had always wanted a double Aga, which the Rectory's ample chimney embraced perfectly. Their architect suggested removing the breast above the range, so that you could see through to the dining room. Sophie was so impressed with the result she took out an adjoining wall and added a door. "We also set up a home office adjacent to the kitchen," explains Sophie, "I can now field my work and my cooking disasters simultaneously."
Sophie briefed her kitchen designer to use the full height of the kitchen walls to maximise on storage. Newcastle Furniture crafted the framed oak cabinets and they even designed a special ladder which travels along a rail to access them. Sophie's other must haves were a pair of Belfast sinks.
The second project was the conversion of the old stables block and coach house. Sophie wanted a day room, which brought the outside in. Its previous conversion, in 1993, felt a little soulless, so the sharp corners of all the walls were rounded and she added a little Romeo and Juliet window where the hay loft used to be. Reclaimed oak beams gave the room an identity, and the ash floor boards were sanded to lighten them. The old coach house doors can now be opened in summer on both sides of the space. Clever lighting - designed by Hugo at John Cullen Lighting, make this a magical place to hang out on a warm summer's night. "We bought all the furniture - sofas, trunk, side tables, candle holders - from this amazing warehouse in Portugal. I will give you their number if you promise not to tell a soul!" jokes Sophie.
In the upstairs rooms of the Rectory, Sophie was keen to leave things just as the previous incumbents might have left them. The small bathroom belonged to the maid and still has the tiny, original 'sitz' bath. "There's a fashion abroad to carve up these big bedrooms and create modern en-suite bathrooms," moans Sophie, "but I really think it kills the proportions and ruins the integrity of the house." Sophie and Richard have no plans to move, despite having finished the renovation project. "I can't believe we've been here nine years," confesses Sophie. "The kids have all left home now and the place seems huge when there's just the two of us. But if we moved, where on earth would we put all our stuff?" Where indeed? Robert and Sophie's huge collection of personal treasures have travelled with them all over the world. Their green armchairs have lived in seven different countries. "At least I tried to keep my collections small - like the snuff boxes," protests Sophie. Robert's bulkier passion for antique Persian rugs meant that they didn't have to buy a single piece of carpet when they moved in. Sophie's collects closer to home these days, supporting local 'affordable' art, whereas Robert is more likely to be found enthusiastically rummaging the architectural reclamation yards around Gloucestershire. "I fear we may be in danger of overcluttering the rooms with stuff," confides Sophie, "but then the Old Rectory always seems able to make space for just one more find!" It is a credit to the generous nature of a wonderful house.
The Reverend John Minn seemed to have benefited from the tradition of some Georgian rectors who farmed out their duties to curates. The parish church served at most 200 inhabitants, and barely saw one wedding, one christening and one burial a year. In 1817 the living of the rectory provided an income of £450 (well above average for the time) being supplemented by the rental of its 454 acres. The Rector, Laurence Eliot, was actually living very comfortably in Surrey whilst his curate dealt with day to day duties in the parish. Eliot visited the parish on average about once every two years, staying three days at the rectory, during which time the curate was expected to feed and entertain him. Subsequent vicars came and went until 1964 when the church sold the rectory to a man named Green who reputedly painted all the doors purple!