NESTLED IN glorious downland, the sun glinting on a golden lion atop the castellated roof, Bellamont appears to be an historic country house, possibly the centre of a grand estate.
In fact it is a farmhouse, just 10 years old, with 61ha (150 acres) of pasture, 450 breeding ewes, 30 suckler cows and a few outdoor breeding sows.
“I had my idea of a farmhouse,” says Bellamont’s owner and builder Anthony Sykes, who admits it might not chime with planners” ideas of one. “But then what is a typical farmhouse? The classical villas in the Veneto all had farms with them.”
Anthony and his wife Harriet had looked long and hard for the right place to create a special home based on the “footprint” of Anthony”s family home, West Park, Damerham, on the Dorset/Hants border. That house was pulled down after the second World War.
It is fair to say that when the planners and some locals realised what he was going to build they were not happy. But Anthony stood his ground. “Once planning permission is given it can’t be revoked, although I think they would have liked to revoke it. Some people thought we were putting a large lump of masonry in this valley and resented it, others were excited by it.
“Some thought of me as someone from London coming in, yet my family has owned land in Dorset for a quarter of a millenium,” he says.
Anthony comes from a family of soldiers and farmers, but much of his career has been spent building up-market developments in London. Today, the couple run the farm and its topiary nursery with help from two of their three children and a shepherd who comes in as needed.
The house, which is single storey on two sides and two-storeys in the middle, has four bedrooms and three bathrooms, a classically designed house with all mod cons. Built of breeze-blocks and render, it cost just 350,000 to construct. “I didn’t have to employ an architect and I was my own clerk of works,” says Anthony, who will be 70 this year. He is overseeing the addition of a small office block, designed in keeping with the rest of the house.
Bellamont took eight months to build and 20,000t of earth was dug out from the hill on which it was sited. “It was a cut and fill operation, but now the house sits very happily in its land.”
Its style, he says, is along the lines of William Kent. “Nineteenth century Gothick with a K.” But it is the interior of the house that pleases him most. Enter into the north-facing hall and it is full of light from the glass oculus in the roof which, when the sun shines, acts as prism creating light patterns on the walls. This room – open to the roof – has a gallery connecting the two upstairs bedrooms. “It’s a cube and well proportioned rooms are always pleasing,” says Anthony.
It is decorated with beautiful paintings including one of Anthony’s ancestors, Sir Eyre Coote, Commander-in-Chief of India in the 1770s. Keeping the connection is a circular display of Indian swords on the wall.
Enter from the side door and there is a cross hallway 90ft long where each doorway is topped with mirrors so that, from the right angle, the eye is drawn on seemingly to infinity.
But the house is built for modern living and nowhere is this more obvious than in the main room. “The concept was to live in one room. In most farmhouses, everyone lives in their kitchen and they don’t use the front room. We have reversed this and put a kitchen in our living room.”
The kitchen is adorned with oil paintings, but it is in constant use and the family sits round the marble topped bar – calling it a breakfast bar would be to understate it – during their breaks from farm work, to take meals or discuss business.
The combination works, but the room is 56ft long and 24ft wide. South facing, the room floods with light from 10ft high windows. Two pairs of 7ft tall panelled double doors are studded with gilded nails – “I had those made in Morocco for 10p each” – and tall blue pillars lift the eye.
Comfortable sofas, plenty of pretty objets, and a great bookcase (with the television hidden in the bottom) complete the country house look. It appears to be filled with heirlooms but Anthony and Harriet have bought 90% of furnishings and paintings themselves.
Outside, overlooked by the orangery and courtyards, an avenue of 88 trees has been planted. “It is nice to do things for posterity,” says Anthony.
The hen house would suit chickens with delusions of grandeur, and the lambing shed looks like a classical temple.
“It’s just a great front with a tin shed behind. It goes back to the 18th century when landowners didn’t like looking out on to ugly farm buildings, so they made them like temples and castles to make the landscape more interesting.”
Anthony has borrowed designs from great houses and created one for himself, but Bellamont, he maintains, is just a farmhouse with a rather curious exterior.