November 06 2011
Charles and Penny Orwell-Brown spent a full year trying to find the perfect house in the country. Well, actually, their beyond-patient seeker, Angie Doone, put in all the work. She schmoozed Cotswold estate agents to tip her off, pre-viewed all perfect-on-paper properties before letting the “OBs” in and even succumbed to dinner with a newly divorced country squire who was rumoured to be selling his Tudor manor. Had Angie realised this gent was known to locals as The Octopus (his hands go everywhere), she might not have done so. But it was this last assignation that proved successful, and her clients exchanged on Meadow Hall in March (£3.85m, since you ask). It is to be the OBs’ weekend retreat, to which they’ll entice their City friends with fresh air, exercise and supper parties.
Luckily, the building is in good nick and all they need do is to put their stamp on it, which, as Penny fancies herself as an interior-design aficionado, is pretty plain sailing. A former physiotherapist, she hasn’t worked since marrying Charles, a “whiz with hedge funds”, 21 years ago. She’s always envisaged her ideal country property to have about eight en suites, a kitchen large enough for an 18-seater table plus sofas and an open fire, and, outside, surrounding meadows, a walled garden, two tennis courts and a pool house. Meadow Hall ticks all these boxes.
The decorating has taken six months, with no expense spared. Cream and white furnishings and carpets throughout, rare-breed sheepskin rugs in the bedrooms plus bespoke cashmere Luke Irwin rugs in light tones and milky limewash walls have really brightened up the dark Tudor pile. And when the housewarming invitations go out to their favourite seven couples, the OBs are happy. Thrilled, in fact. As the guests arrive, the £50,000 Meridian Soloos multiroom audio system is in full flow. “It’s the world’s most advanced digital media system,” Charles delights in telling them as he pumps up the volume in the Great Hall (“easy listening”), kitchen (“esoteric African and Cuban music”) and cloakroom (“choons from college days”).
While Penny’s finishing off a Moroccan-themed dinner with “the Help”, Charles shows everyone else round with preprandial Negronis in hand. It’s on this tour that the first accident occurs. Unfortunately, as the 6ft 4in “Tiny” Milne whacks his head on a beam, his red, Campari-based apéritif ends up on the “Noodle”-coloured drawing-room carpet. On his way down, a small statue topples and he tears a brocade curtain, smearing blood on the Spina Design double-tassel tieback. Concerned only for Tiny’s welfare, Charles hides the stain under a chair, hoiks up the curtain as best he can, and forgets about it.
Dinner is a success. Conversation and drink flow, and there are speeches. Worse-for-wear “Gobby” (usually almost silent) rises to toast his hosts. Steadying himself as he does, he sends a priceless decanter (Charles’s great-aunt’s) flying.
Home movies in the cinema room follow, courtesy of Synthesis Systems by JBL with 11 S820 amplifiers and Everest II speakers, which have easily taken care of £300,000. As the lights go down and a 20-year-old Charles appears on screen in his college rugger strip missing a penalty kick, Penny’s spoon misses her mouth, and she dribbles Cookies & Cream onto the custom-made powder-blue velvet seat (too squiffy to notice, she’ll blame Charles in the morning). After much hilarity and nightcaps, everyone makes it up to bed – though not necessarily to the right bedrooms – without apparent further mishap.
Next morning, Penny is greeted by a trail of devastation: broken glasses; stubbed-out cigarettes in her precious Paphiopedilum orchids; cracked Hermès Marqueterie in the bin. A calming swim before Operation Tidy-Up is in order.
Tiny – ready for a head-clearing splash – spots a serenely floating Penny from the lounging area and starts his run-up… Unfortunately, he hasn’t realised she’s closed the sliding window that separates the David Mikhail pool house from the manor. Wincing as Tiny thunders into the glass, Penny realises it’s not just the curtain that will now need a few stitches.