Rick Englert, Richard Taylor and the home they built from scratch
PUBLISHED: 16:03 23 November 2015 | UPDATED: 16:03 23 November 2015
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036
Rick Englert and Richard Taylor have not only built their dream house from scratch, they’ve also surrounded it with the most beautiful gardens and parkland. Alice Cooke was hard pushed not to take up residence
A stone’s throw from the charming village of Kirdford lies Whithurst Park – as you approach it along a sweeping drive its imposing silhouette comes into view, and it is a wonder to behold. But before you conjure up images of Howard’s End or Pemberley, I should add that there is nothing unfriendly or intimidating about the façade of this beautifully constructed edifice. And why should there be? This is a house built for fun, for frivolity, and for welcoming in the local community in many guises, from NGS Open Days (the week before I visited they hosted 456 people in the garden, as you do), educational projects and – if plans go ahead – maybe even a ballet school.
For in this house nothing is impossible, nothing is implausible, and you’d certainly never dare to say never. This is entirely due to the radiant personalities that bought it to fruition and continue to help it grow and evolve: designer Rick Englert and Texas-born entrepreneur Richard Taylor.
Although they moved here in 1999, Richard had already lived in the area for about 25 years, and Rick has lived in Sussex for around the same amount of time – he knew the area well from having ridden and hunted here, as well as having owned a lot of property between Kirdford and Plaistow.
Rick and Richard’s combined CV would be as thick as the phone book, but includes roles as diverse as international property magnate, an internationally successful entrepreneur, and starting and running a local dairy business just down the road from where we sit in the kitchen, eating an almost entirely home-grown lunch.
“We try to eat as much as we can from the garden,” says Richard.
Which brings me to the 100 acres of parkland – it is no wonder that there was such a fantastic turnout on the recent NGS Open Day. The walled garden at the foot of the drive is like something out of a novel – on entering I was convinced it was the Secret Garden of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel but to describe it thus is a disservice to Dr Celia Boyle, the amazing head gardener. Everything is pristine, and for every bed, plant and bed there is a game plan. There are trees, shrubs and fruits galore (the latter of which seem currently to be feeding the wildlife more than anyone else) “but when they came out they were briefly beautiful, before they were snatched away”, laughs Richard as we stroll around, followed by Stella and Yooee, two rescue dogs that they brought back from Greece. “There were apples, peaches, figs and pears, to name but a few of many, many more.”
Starting to think about making the garden profitable, they have sold vegetables in the local farm shop, but also sent local produce up to restaurants in London, run by Sussex people who were eager to use produce from the county.
While they were making plans for the house and actually building the thing, they lived in a two bedroom flat underneath it. “It was fascinating but also useful to be here to watch it develop,” says Richard. “We always knew exactly what was going on, which was great.”
They make the planning process for this Jacobean-style replica mansion house sound both extremely exciting and incredibly straightforward, and though they modestly attribute this to having a fantastic architect in Kit Rae Scott, who designed both the house and the garden, I have no doubt that it was the clarity of their vision and industry knowledge that helped calm the often stormy seas that accompany the planning process.
“Rick drew a square on a piece of paper,” says Richard, “and 72 hours later we had a plan for the house. Kit is brilliant, a genius. He worked so hard on the plans that it went straight through the planners.”
Completed in 2004, the house now sits fort-like, facing a beautiful four acre lake, and looking out across the rolling lawns and woodland in all directions.
But as these things tend to do it went vastly over budget, so they had to rent it out for a while before they could move in to it themselves. It was singer Robbie Williams that decided to move in for a short time, “I think to see if he could get along with living in the countryside – he quite fancied a bit of rural life,” says Richard. “But it wasn’t his cup of tea in the end, and to be honest the timing of it all worked out rather well – we were able to pay for the thing and then move into it ourselves.”
The house may look like it was built hundreds of years ago – such is the beauty of its design – but it is extremely environmentally friendly, harvesting all its own water, using compost loos and plenty of solar energy. Rick and Richard have installed an eco friendly closed-loop water source heat exchange system, whose loops of submerged pipe extract heat energy from the nearby lake, and through amplification and compression supply hot water to the radiators, underfloor heating, sinks, baths and showers, as well as the indoor swimming pool. Richard took a course at the Open University to understand what was required as much as he could. “I continue to try to steer the house towards my idea of sustainability. I want it to be here and still being efficient in 500 years’ time. We hope that we have built it to last.”
It is worth mentioning that during the six years that Whithurst Park took to build, Rick underwent surgery for oesophageal cancer and some extremely aggressive three month stints of chemotherapy. Not that this was enough to stop the progress, or in fact even slow it by all accounts. I notice from a framed newspaper cutting as we walk around the house that Rick was also once shot and mugged in America – not that anyone mentions it until I ask. You know what they say about keeping a good dog down? Well these two are both very good and totally irrepressible.
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