At home at elegant Ousden House
PUBLISHED: 11:56 03 June 2014
James Marston accepts Alastair and Lavinia Robinson's invitation to view their historic house near Newmarket
There’s no denying that Alastair and Lavinia Robinson have made their mark on Ousden House.
They’ve turned what was once the stable block, granary and laundry of the now demolished Ousden Hall into a beautiful and comfortable home surrounded by one of the loveliest gardens you might ever see.
And you’ll get the chance when the couple open their doors to pre-booked visitors as part of this year’s Invitation to View scheme.
As we sip morning coffee in the courtyard, Lavinia explains how they came by the house.
“By pure chance my daughter was at a dinner party near here and heard about Ousden House so we came to look. We fell in love with it at first sight. We loved the position and luckily we both felt the same.”
While the house, which dates from the 1730s, was structurally sound it had only been partially converted into a home. So Lavinia and Alastair, then in their mid fifties, set about turning the garages into a kitchen and the former stable block into a stunning dining room. The middle of the house – which was once cottages, a pump room and a laundry – is where the elegant drawing room, library and main bedrooms can be found.
The couple, now 76, live in the house along with cocker spaniels Dart and Poppy.
“It is a comfortable country home. We love living here and we love the views,” says Alastair, a retired banker.
The house is approached from a long tree-lined drive and is surrounded by eight acres of gardens lovingly created by Alastair and their gardener Michael.
“The garden has grown and grown and Alastair is really the gardener,” Lavinia says. The garden is part of the two-hour tour Invitation to View visitors can enjoy.
“We had opened the gardens before, but weren’t sure the house was very interesting. It isn’t particularly distinguished, but people seem interested in hearing about how we converted it,” says Alastair.
Inside, visitors are guided by the couple through the main rooms – the hall, the library/sitting room, a large drawing room and the impressive dining room. The tour also includes Lavinia’s office and Alastair’s study which overlooks the main drive and front door. “So he can see who’s coming and going,” according to Lavinia.
“We saw it in the July and bought the house in the September of 1993,” she says. “That autumn we got the plans and planning permissions in place and work started after Christmas. We moved in November 1994. I did a lot of the furnishings which was a lot of fun – we really enjoyed it.”
In what is now the drawing room, the size of the windows was increased to allow in more light. Much of the furniture is family pieces while the couple, who have been married for 53 years, have collected some watercolours to hang on the walls.
Lavinia says: “Neither of us know much about art and much of what we have are family pieces, but it is good fun to pick a few paintings. If I were to do it again I would probably choose bolder art work for the dining room.”
Upstairs, the couple are happy to show visitors the guest rooms as well as their own bedroom which looks out on to the Suffolk countryside.
In the garden Alastair takes over the tour, clearly in his element.
“When we came here there was a small garden and a field.” Since then the gardens have been sympathetically landscaped and the couple have bought extra land. There are now formal areas in front of the house, a rose garden, a yew tree walk, lawns, borders, a spring woodland, a beech wood and lake. They are similar to a succession of outside rooms with one leading into the other. There’s even a water garden renovated from a boggy ditch.
“We love it,” says Alistair. “We’re not always bent over a flowerbed and we do take a break in the winter, but at this time of year I am out here most days and there is always something that needs doing.
“We don’t really garden for any other reason than our own pleasure, but we do enjoy showing it to visitors.”
There are also plenty of seats for relaxing sundowners. “The sun sets facing the house and we have some fantastic skies and sunsets.”
The property surrounds the village church of St Peter and it is in aid of the church that the couple take part in the Invitation to View scheme. The tour also includes afternoon tea in the courtyard.
“It is really good fun and very satisfying,” says Alistair. “People who have visited have been so lovely. We don’t rush them and they come to enjoy themselves. The gardens are quite large so there’s a bit of walking too, which they seem to enjoy.”
Ousden House is open on June 19 at 2.30pm. To book, call the Mercury Theatre on 01206 573948 or book on-line at www.mercurytheatre.co.uk/event/ousden-house