There are two aspects to restoring country houses. One is about repairing fabric, perhaps dramatically so after a fire. But the other, more subtle but no less important, is about revivifying a place, allowing it to recover its spirit. The results are not always spectacular. Sometimes they are hardly noticeable; but we mean that as a compliment. Our three shortlisted schemes, summarised in alphabetical order, have carefully retained patina and atmosphere. In the scrape versus anti-scrape divide, they would definitely fall in the latter camp. Given the necessary resources, it is easy to do too much, harder perhaps to exercise restraint. With each of these schemes, a private owner has revivified a home without sacrificing its quiet essence. It is a subtle process, but no less heroic and Herculean for that.
First is Boconnoc in Cornwall, designed principally by the first Lord Camelford. Empty for thirty years from 1967, after which it was naturally leaking and riddled with rot, the house has gently revived and renewed by the Fortescues, owners since 1834. An eleven-year programme has seen the roof and joists replaced and the drawing room, library, dining room and King’s bedroom restored. The eighteenth century paint scheme has been reinstated. But the pièce de résistance is the rescue of the dramatic double staircase that Soane inserted in a tower of 1250. Here, water damage has been repaired and the discoloured varnish painstakingly removed with cotton wool swabs to reveal the grisaille in all its original crispness.
Our second scheme is Regency Chideock Manor in Dorset, relatively recently acquired by Howard and Deidre Coates, who have breathed life into a tired house and landscape, unifying the two with ambitious works that allow the house – not scrubbed clean, still lichen-flecked - to be viewed from a new serpentine drive across a freshly-dredged lake. That view, and indeed the house, have been transformed by a fine new classical library extension by Andrew Stone on the site of a demolished Edwardian wing. As a result, a gaunt and scarred end elevation has been resolved and an unbalanced composition brought back into equilibrium, the extension answering a need to respond to the Romanesque church on the other flank, where the Catholic Chideock Martyrs hid and practised. Mrs Coates, an accomplished gardener, has revivified the grounds with a new box garden and allée.
The winner will be announced on the evening of 31 October 2012.