Smugglers rest...


In the 18th century, Ingram House was a coaching inn and a favourite haunt of the infamous Hawkhurst Gang. Fortunately for its owners, Anthony and Simon, shoot-outs are a thing of the past. It is now a tranquil rural retreat, beautifully refurbished and brought back to life - yet still full of treasure...

I once met a very affable and, in the circumstances, sane apartment in London Docklands and we spent a very pleasant few hours together in the company of its owners. My surprise at its state of mind stemmed from the fact that it had been through so many changes of use in its 200-year life, it seemed inconceivable that it was not suffering from, at very least, the severest of personality disorders.

It had begun life as part of a cloth warehouse at the height of the Empire and gone on to serve variously as store rooms, a scurrilous pamphleteer's printworks, an import-export office, a soft porn photographic studio, an advertising agency, a dubious premium-line telephone operation, a bookie's and a refuge for unemployable IT geeks. With each careless owner, a wall was knocked down or put up, a ceiling lowered or raised, woodwork stripped or painted.

Finally, the whole building was gutted and redeveloped as very swish flats and it was now the London home of a Californian couple who sustained a considerable lifestyle by doing something very clever and largely incomprehensible with their MacBooks.

With such a variety of past lives, it seemed incomprehensible that this now elegant abode was not at least mildly schizophrenic. But, in truth, I've encountered more emotionally disturbed oasts. After all it had been through, it was calm, cool, collected and gave every sign of enjoying its latest incarnation. The encounter just served to demonstrate once again how adaptable and forgiving of outrageous fortune - and of us - our architecture can be.

Which brings us to Ingram House. This handsome listed Georgian farmhouse probably began life as something altogether different, perhaps a humbler farmhouse, perhaps farm-workers' cottages. If it did, one day someone cheerfully wiped them off the face of the earth. In their place, they built the present pleasing structure. Perched on top of a hill near Hurst Green, it was blessed with views to die for and its days as a smart new rural home must have been close to idyllic.

Without so much as a by-your-leave the farmhouse became a pub, the White Horse, and a watering hole of the infamous smugglers, the Hawkhurst Gang

But then one day, life suddenly changed and the rooms that once rang with the laughter of children became a favourite haunt of one of the most violent criminal gangs in the south of England. Without so much as a by-your-leave the farmhouse became a pub, the White Horse, and a watering hole of the infamous smugglers, the Hawkhurst Gang. However, the Gang ultimately met their end in a gun battle with the local militia around Goudhurst church and the White Horse gently slipped into the role of sleepy rural pub, a role it would play well for the next two and a half centuries.

However, what it didn't know was that, on one summer's day in 2004, Anthony and Simon would come down to Hawkhurst to stay with friends Siobhan and Charles Mavor. Indeed, why should it care? It should have cared because Anthony and Simon were owners of one of London's best-known restaurants, Nikita's in Chelsea. And they were looking for something new.

"We decided that, for us, Nikita's had run its course - we had run it for five years - and we were thinking of something in the country," says Simon. "We wanted to be within an hour of London and when we came down to see Siobhan and Charles we saw how beautiful it was around here."

The couple's problem in finding the right property stemmed from the fact that so many period pubs in the Weald are beamed with low ceiling and they wanted something with high ceiling and as much light as possible. "To start with, everything we saw was just too pokey," says Anthony.

And then they saw the White Horse, its lovely Georgian proportions and spectacular view and that was it. They bought the property and spent four months completely renovating it. The property must have wondered what had hit it. In a few short months it went from a traditional British pub to stylish restaurant run by two of London's top restaurateurs. They opened in November 2005 and ran it successfully until 2014.

All good things, however, tend to come to an end and ultimately they decided to sell. But this isn't a property that's easy to walk away from and soon it was Plan B - go for change of use and planning permission for a private house which would not only be their country home but one that could be rented out as a short break holiday home. The transformation would be funded by the sale of a London project. Permission was duly granted and the White Horse entered its current incarnation as Ingham House, named after Simon's grandfather.

Although some of the touches are sheer metropolitan chic, they have never for a moment endangered its true identity as an elegant period country house

So the farmhouse is once again a private home and, says Simon: "I think it's happier this way." It certainly could not be happier with the care and flair they have brought to its renaissance. Although some of the touches are sheer metropolitan chic, they have never for a moment endangered its true identity as an elegant period country house.

Their use of a single neutral wall colour throughout- Little Greene's 'Mortar' - has enhanced the overall impression of light and space and provides a versatile canvas allowing them to go to town with imaginative furniture, furnishings and art

Their use of a single neutral wall colour throughout- Little Greene's 'Mortar' - has not only enhanced the overall impression of light and space but provides a versatile canvas allowing them to go to town with imaginative and personal furniture, furnishings and art.

Walking in through the front door, one is greeted by the bar they created for the restaurant. The divided shelving behind it now sports not alcohol but a lovely collection of glassware. "We had the bar made, really liked it and like to entertain, so we decided to keep it," said Simon.

The drawing room, with its French windows to the lovely garden and killer view across as far at Brightling, is a joy

The drawing room, with its French windows to the lovely garden and killer view across as far at Brightling, is a joy. The matching French deco wall and ceiling lights from WBR Interiors on Wandsworth Bridge Road steal the show but there's a stunning supporting cast led by a glass-topped coffee table formed from a sheet of plate glass on four Kartell Stone stools and reclining on it, perhaps a little uncomfortably, is a putto from Prague.

On one wall, over a Swedish desk is a lovely oil painting of a rabbi. The painting once belonged to Simon's grandfather, Norman Ingram Hollowood

On one wall, over a Swedish desk is a lovely oil painting of a rabbi. The painting once belonged to Simon's grandfather, Norman Ingram Hollowood, and on another, there is a collection of beautiful woodcuts by a great uncle and aunt.

Another contender for attention is a huge gilt starburst mirror and a pair of mirrored side tables from R V Astley, which flank one of the deep and comfortable grey sofas gathering around the coffee table. In the front window is a grey and chrome table on which stands a vase from Zagreb and super spiral chrome light which once graced a five star hotel in Paris and which was bought, despite stiff competition, at an auction in Rye.

On the walls are the heads of various antelope, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two of them are now wearing Venetian masks. Over all presides a boar - named Margaux

The dining room table looks a million dollars but was in fact being thrown out of a local golf club when Simon rescued it, painted the top F&B 'Railing' and the legs an absolutely shocking pink. The cash saved on the table was then spent on the elegant R V Astley chairs. Above it hangs a great 1950s Murano glass ceiling lamp and at its head is a superb French oil and velvet triptych screen. In one corner is an excellent glass-fronted ebonite cabinet bought "for virtually nothing" at a Bentley's auction in Cranbrook. On the walls are the heads of various antelope who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - two of them now wearing Venetian masks. Over all presides a boar - named Margaux.

The kitchen, which was the original chef's kitchen, now sports chic grey Howdens units and a distressed marble-topped dining table surrounded by Empire chairs that were once in the restaurant. "People raise an eyebrow when I say the units are Howdens and not some hand-crafted bespoke number but I think they look great and work well," says Simon - and, of course, he's more than right.

And so to bed. Though, unless you've been made a particularly exciting promise, the upstairs landing is not merely somewhere to gallop through

And so to bed. Though, unless you've been made a particularly exciting promise, the upstairs landing is not merely somewhere to gallop through. A lovely pair of chalks of Simon's grandparents is the first treat, followed by a series of limited edition, black and white photographs and, round the corner, a large framed cloth print of an 18th century Caribbean harbour scene, a taste of Simon's outstanding butterfly collection and a truly spectacular gilt mirror.

Anthony and Simon's own suite has perhaps the best view of any room in the house. Here the black buttoned headboard of a contemporary bed from Bentley and Hall in Hastings is perfectly flanked by two very pleasing chrome and black 1950s French table lights standing on black lacquered bedside cabinets. Atop a white 18th century Swedish chest of drawers stand silver-framed family photographs and a pair of French gold leaf cloches.

In the window, is an old leather travelling trunk flanked by two of Simon's grandparents' chairs on which recline a pair of mink-covered cushions. "The mink came from my grandmother's mink coat, which, of course, nobody wants to be seen wearing today," says Simon. "But we thought this would be a nice way to use it."

Anthony and Simon's own suite has the best view of any room in the house - across the High Weald toward Brightling. The guest rooms share the considerable style of the couple's own bedroom but each has its own distinctive bed and period furniture

When the house is rented out, the couple's suite is closed which leaves five other bedrooms for visitors - four with double beds and one with twins. They all share the considerable style of the couple's own bedroom but each has its own distinctive bed and period furniture. One for instance, has a sleigh bed from Coach House flanked by Victorian bedside cabinets, another also has a Coach House bed but flanked by wonderful bedside lamps made from carved figures that probably came from a Belgian fire surround.

Simon notes that good-sized antique beds are not easy to come by, which is why only one of the bedrooms has one - a lovely thing with both head and tail boards embroidered with delicate flowers on gold silk

Simon notes that good-sized antique beds are not easy to come by, which is why only one of the bedrooms has one - a lovely thing with both head and tail boards embroidered with delicate flowers on gold silk. It's kept company by a Swedish period wardrobe and botanical prints.

My favourite bedroom, though, has to be the one with the bed Simon bought for his first-ever flat, a terrific soaring wrought-iron Gothic number complemented by table lights - from Foxhole Antiques - that probably started life as part of a decorative wrought-iron staircase

My favourite though, has to be the bed Simon bought for his first-ever flat, a terrific soaring wrought-iron Gothic number complemented by table lights - from Foxhole Antiques - that probably started life as part of a decorative wrought-iron staircase.

On the wall is a collection of signed Russell Flints.

Anthony and Simon are more than pleased with the house's latest incarnation and it would appear from its popularity that so are its visitors. "It really is a lovely base for a country break," says Anthony.

"We're surrounded by wonderful countryside and places of interest and the house and garden are perfect for a large gathering of friends or family. We will organise anything for our guests they may need - dinner bookings at local restaurants, entrance to local attractions, guides to the best country walks. So far, everyone has been delighted with their stay."

But what about Ingram House itself? How does it feel about its return to a home? Well, at one point I slipped away into a quiet corner and we had a little chat and it seems Simon was absolutely right - it is indeed much happier. Happier, in fact, than it has been for centuries. To be a home was really what it was brought into being for all those years ago and that's what it feels it really does do best.

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