Buying a house is an emotive act, fuelled by all kinds of desire - protecting a family, starting a new life, following a dream. Three Muddy readers open the door to their homes to share their personal stories.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
Is there anything more fun than looking around other people’s houses? Er, NO! Every home tells a tale of histories, personal tastes and eccentricities, and we’ve been given the keys to three stunning houses owned by Muddy readers across Berkshire. Read on for home and life inspiration, and while you’re at it, go win yourself £500 off your mortgage in our exclusive Reader Treat, whoever you bank with!
1/ BACK TO MY ROOTS
Victoria Morris, 39, Ascot, Berkshire
‘Being a “town mouse” at heart, I didn’t want to feel remote,’ says Victoria Morris
I met my husband on a night out in Clapham, where we were both living at the time. It just so happened that I had grown up in Wokingham, and he had grown up in Chobham, Surrey, so we agreed that Ascot would be bang in the middle of both of our parents. It’s an area that also has really good schools for our boys and great transport links into London.
Luckily both my husband and I had been saving hard for a deposit. After years of renting in London, we both knew that we wanted to get on the ladder quickly. We bought our first home in Ascot – a 70s detached – in 2012 and due to a good deposit between us, it was fairly straightforward.
Before having our offer accepted on this home 2017 we were trying to buy a thatched cottage, but sadly the survey exposed some big problems, and we weren’t able to proceed. With two young children we realised we didn’t want a massive ‘project’, and I think it scared us into buying this home instead! We knew we’d have a better quality of life without having to do something major – the house needed a lot of cosmetic work, and I don’t think other buyers were able to see past it, but I was an estate agent for many years and had some good ideas to turn it from ugly to lovely.
Our house was built in the late Eighties and it’s within walking distance of Ascot High Street, and the Racecourse – we fell in love with the space (it’s a five bed) and I loved the idea of being able to walk to the High Street for a coffee! Being a ‘town mouse’ at heart, and having lived in London for many years, I didn’t want to feel remote.
Whilst we’ve done no structural work, we’ve stripped the house bare of the dated decoration, and replaced it with our own taste. All the bathrooms have been replaced and we are literally just in the process of changing the kitchen, and all the floors downstairs. We hope for it to be finished by Christmas.
My husband’s very keen to move once more, but I feel settled now, so he’ll have to be very persuasive to get me to agree to move again!
VICTORIA’S LOCAL TIPS …
Best restaurants: We love Coworth Park’s main restaurant for something special, and The Barn for a more laid-back evening. For breakfast, I love Fego on Ascot High Street, and you can often find me brunching in Eliane, Sunningdale on the Akuri (it’s spicy scrambled egg. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed).
Best Pubs: The Carpenter’s Arms in Sunninghill for the most fabulous French food. We go here especially for garlic snails.
Go-to shops: Peek Boutique in Virginia Water as Laura stocks some of my favourite brands that I can only find in London, it saves me the journey into town. And for Men, Greens in Sunningdale, which is a little like a mini Selfridges for Men. Jack really knows his stuff, so expect some high fashion styling in the suburbs.
2/ KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
Linzi Blakey, 40, Bucklebury, West Berkshire
‘Seeing the bond my parents have with my children is priceless,’ says Linzi Blakey.
It’s early days, but we’ve bought a home with Mum and Dad. We’re all in it together – and so far, it works. When we found the house, we weren’t really looking, we had vaguely put one foot in the ‘let’s move camp’, but our Chieveley home wasn’t even on the market.
We had tentatively asked a local estate agent that if anything came up that gave us more space, a bigger garden and wasn’t overlooked, to let us know. A few weeks later, he called and said a house had come up, and we needed to take a look.
Oh my gosh, It had an annexe! I immediately said Mum and Dad have to view it. A few years earlier, Mum and Dad retired following a health scare and took a gap year from their life in Lancashire to help my husband Freddie and I to care for our daughter Florence. Basically Mum was our support system and Florence’s main carer. They loved living in West Berkshire so much that they decided to stay. They sold up north, but were struggling to find a place they loved. Mum was coming from a four-bed detached house with a 200ft garden – and your money doesn’t get you the same in this area. Plus they didn’t want to put all their cash into another property.
When my parents saw the Bucklebury house, they weren’t convinced. It was higgledy piggledy, and they didn’t think it was big enough, but financially and, in terms of the space we all needed, it worked. So we hired an architect to discover the art of the possible. We looked at the plans and decided to go for it. It meant giving them half of the garage to modify the annexe into something they would be happy to call home. but there had to be compromise.
I fell in love with our part of house. There are double doors from the living space onto the garden and when I saw it for the first time I could imagine the kids playing outside and that it could be a forever home. One day, it will be a lovely social house when we don’t have a newborn baby.
We’ve not finished all the work yet. It’s a five-year project. Freddie and I want to extend the house a little bit but we have the land to do that. Mum and Dad’s is done, that was the priority. The annexe was an office with a random bathroom and a treadmill in a bedroom. It wasn’t liveable. The renovation of the annexe has set them up for the future. Mum and Dad can support us now, but in 20-30 years we can switch and support them when they need it.
For them it’s the last move they’ll make. They keep saying, ‘We’re going out of here in a box, because we are not moving again’. It was big decision and we’re still finding our groove. Mum comes in and helps in the morning and if I’ve been up with Hugo all night, she’ll take him for a couple of hours. It’s really helpful. When I was growing up, my grandmother lived two doors down. Seeing the same bond my parents have with my children is priceless.
LINZI’S LOCAL TIPS …
Favourite cafe: We love The Blackbird Café run by the talented Lara. The food is gorgeous, it’s relaxed and it’s within walking distance.
Best pub: We are spoilt for choice but The Old Boot in Standford Dingley is a favourite. We even booked in for Christmas dinner.
Go-to shop: BirchTree Bread in Pangbourne – run by the delightful artisan baker Lucy Steel, they sell amazing cakes and loaves.
3/ LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Maggie Macmillan, 67, Remenham Hill, Berkshire
‘It was that first house I had visited and, to my surprise, I’d known my new neighbours for 20 years,’ says Maggie Macmillan.
I live in an early 19th Century semi-detached cottage and the lovely thing is that it’s actually the first house I ever visited in the area! Back then, 25 years ago, it was part of a large home, owned by the chair PTA of the local Henley prep school Rupert House. We had been invited over for tea and I was shocked to find they owned a donkey and chickens. Having moved from London, all I could think was that we had officially arrived in the country.
My husband and I had moved from London to Henley with our two daughters. Over the years we lived in the three or four properties, then moved to France. Only when my husband died suddenly in 2006 did I return to the area with the girls (then 13 and 17). I remarried six years ago, and with my second husband planned to spend half the year in France and half of it in the UK so we started actively looking for a Henley property.
Rose Cottage came onto the market and it was love at first sight! It was that first house I had visited, but the big house was now two – and to my surprise, the original family were still living next door, so in effect I’d known my new neighbours for 20 years which was lovely. The family effectively downsized and carved a semi-detached cottage off the side. I just felt it was meant to be. Plus it was ‘Rose Cottage’, and me and my daughter have Rose as our middle name.
Two years ago, I lost my second husband – my girls now affectionately call me TWM (Twice Widowed Mummy) – and Rose Cottage is now my permanent home. By the time my kids were in their 20s, we had moved 17 times so I want them to have a place they could call home, and it really does feel like that to them. The cottage is spread over four floors, the rooms are small and cottagey, but it gives us three bedrooms, a courtyard garden and the garage has been transformed into my office. I have my own image consultancy, The Style Counsel, and I’m a trustee of the charity, SmartWorks Reading, so I’m perfectly located to whizz into London or Reading.
I’m just at the stage when I’m ready to make some changes. Because I work in fashion, my style is quite eclectic, but I’d really like my home to be a bit more modern and minimalist. My daughters are horrified – I have a lot of stuff.
Every wardrobe in the house is dedicated to my clothes, despite regular decluttering and more in storage. But I’ve never lived in a modern property and I’d like experience it without moving. I’m thinking something slightly Nordic would work – pared back, simpler, cosy, but with lots of texture. It’s a home and I want it to feel warm. For the first time in ages, I can please myself.
MAGGIE’S LOCAL TIPS …
Favourite Restaurant: Although I live in Berkshire, I’m within walking distance of Henley. Villa Marina – a family run Italian – is my all time favourite. We’ve celebrated births, deaths, marriages and birthdays here and never had a bad meal.
Go-to shop: If you’re in the mood to splurge, go to Fluidity (Paula Ka, Vince, Essentiel Antwerp, Stine Goya and ba&sh). I champion shopping locally, so head to Cecilia Quinn for amazing shoes, Busby & Fox for fashion and Stocks for gifts and cashmere. Harrods’ H Cafe has a changing room upstairs so you can order online, pick up at the cafe and have a try on session in between tea and cake.
MOVING TO BERKSHIRE?
Habito have crunched the numbers…
- Average house price £363,759 (London £474,601)
- Increase over last 5 years +25% (London +17%)
- Cost of a cappuccino £2.50 (London £2.81)
WIN £500 OFF YOUR MORTGAGE with
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