City businessmen transform Gothic mansion into luxury house for hire
Two businessmen have invested more than £2 million in a Gothic property to transform it from an "Addams Family"- style house into a thriving business.
Chris Badham and Damian Llambias bought Huntsham Court, near Tiverton, in January for £1.83 million after they decided to leave London in search of a better quality of life.
Huntsham Court, which was completed in 1869, was designed by the architect William Burges for the Ackland Troyte family.
In 1978, the family sold the house and its contents but kept the surrounding 5,000-acre estate. Since then, the house has been run as a hotel and as a self-catered rental property.
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Chris and Damian are part-way through a ten-year refurbishment of the house, restoring its original features, redecorating and upgrading facilities.
Damian has balanced work in the arts with a career in property development in London for the last 20 years while Chris was a high-flying City barrister.
They wanted to move away from the South East to buy a property which would be a home while also giving them an income.
They began their search by looking at three-bedroomed cottages. At the same time, they were scouring the countryside for a venue for their civil ceremony, growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of suitable locations.
They were looking for a large, self-catering property with a relaxed ethos and hassle-free approach but struggled to find somewhere big enough that allowed guests treat the venue as their home.
Eventually, they found their ceremony venue in Wiltshire, but the experience persuaded them that there was a gap in the market and they started searching for a larger property for their business idea. They moved into Huntsham Court, which has 30 bedrooms, sleeping 72 people, at the end of January with no bookings – but plenty of outgoings as they worked to carry out improvements.
Chris said its interior initially looked "like a 1970s working man's club", with its ivy-clad exterior resembling "something the Addams family would have lived in".
Although largely in good structural repair, the house has needed some cosmetic work with repairs also needed to the roof and windows.
Heating and other bills for the 33,000sqft property are likely to be in the region of £100,000 a year. They have now spent a further £300,000 to £400,000 on the house, something that Damian admitted had proved a nerve-racking experience at times.
"There have been times when you write cheques for £10,000 then you don't know if you'll manage to get some events in.
"You think 'I hope it's not a one-way street'," he said.
"If something has to be rewired or repiped it's not just 3m of cable.
"But it will get easier. In two years time we will know what our annual maintenance is and what our annual running costs are."
This winter, they will also be working to return Huntsham Court's grounds to their former glory with plans to remove ivy and conifers and to plant 800 beech trees, 320 yew trees, and to sow around 4,000 bulbs.
But although the outgoings are considerable, the businessmen are confident that they will get a healthy return on their investment with bookings rising all the time.
So far in 2012, Huntsham Court has hosted 30 events with 58 weddings booked for next year and seven already booked for 2014.
Hiring out Huntsham Court starts at £5,500 for 19 bedrooms, two days mid-week and goes up to £10,900 for 27 rooms for two nights at weekends.
"It's already been way more successful than we had hoped," said Damian.
Chris and Damian are now looking forward to spending Christmas in their new home after what has been a fairly dramatic lifestyle change that both are relieved to have made.
"I used to go to work and it was like dragging a dark cloud around with me," said Chris.
"Now, I look forward to my day when I wake up and I go to bed looking forward to the next day.
"I don't work any less hard – I still work 12 or 15 hour days sometimes – but I really enjoy what I'm doing now."