When Barbara and Clive Dodman bought their house in Cobham in Surrey they never imagined it becoming a permanent home. Barbara is from St Louis in the United States and Clive's parents are British, but he was born in New York, and most of their lives together have been spend travelling the world. A geologist for a major oil company, his work took him to places such as the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Angola and Indonesia. Barbara loved the ex-pat life until her children left to come to boarding school in Surrey and she missed them terribly. It was one of the main reasons they bought the house – it was just down the road from their children’s school, so provided the perfect UK base when they came to visit them.
When one of their daughters decided she wanted to be a day pupil rather than a boarder, Barbara decided to move to the UK for the ﬁrst time and found she really loved living in Cobham. “I joined the golf club and met so many nice friends and found I didn’t want to leave. I just realised how much I liked it here. Clive was still in Africa at that point, but he worked for a month then came back for a month so it turned out really well for us all.” The house is relatively new. It was built in 2000 and Barbara and Clive bought it two years later. They have recently completely renovated it, including building an extension.
The huge, open-plan space houses the kitchen, a utility room, dining area and living area and the couple are loving the results.“The original kitchen was tiny,” Barbara says. “It was just a little galley, so it’s amazing now to have all this space.”They spent a couple of years planning to ensure they could create the perfect space and took on architect Eleanor Dodman – Clive’s cousin – to help with the design.
“I couldn’t have done it without Eleanor,” Barbara says. “She is a very talented architect. It was she who gave me the idea of the little utility kitchen to keep the mess at bay. In the States you have a similar thing but it’s called a butler’s pantry.” Barbara knew she wanted a clean, uncluttered space so the utility kitchen is built behind the main one. Hubble, who designed and built the kitchen, ensured maximum storage space was speciﬁed to ensure very little needed to be on the surfaces in the main kitchen.
The Hubble cabinetry continues the feeling of calm, with clean lines and no fussiness. The base cabinets and furniture surrounding the AGA cooker are painted in a Carbon Grey textured matt lacquer and the tall units are the same painted matt lacquer in Platinum Grey. The walls are painted in Morning Light by Dulux. These neutral tones work well with the pop of colour provided by the AGA, which is in a bespoke shade, and with the neutral ﬂoor which is by Neolith.
“We wanted wood for the ﬂooring,” Barbara says. “But we also wanted underﬂoor heating, so in the end we went for a wood-look porcelain. With children and grandchildren it made sense. The kids are big, but they’re messy,” she laughs. The worksurfaces and splashback are also porcelain designed to look like concrete and are also by Neolith. Together, they create a sense of drama in the room and real modernity. “They’re so easy to clean and maintain,” Barbara says. “I just wash them with water and Fairy Liquid. We’re really pleased with the ﬂoor and surfaces.” The house is autobiographical in its contents and Barbara and Clive describe it as “a journey of our life together”. The art collected on their travels – is either African, Indonesian or Middle Eastern.
“It’s been great for the kids,” Barbara says, “as we’ve had everything in all the different houses we’ve lived in. There’s been continuity, although some things we’ve only just started using here. We were in South Africa a few years ago and we saw the table runner. I really liked it and, even though it didn’t go with the house we were living in, I bought it and now it goes with this house.”
Of all the places the two have travelled, Indonesia has a special place in Barbara’s heart. “I loved Nigeria the ﬁrst time, but I have to say Indonesia was my favourite as my children were all small at the time. When you have small children life can be a drudge just trying to keep everything aﬂoat, so to leave California with three little kids and to arrive in Indonesia was amazing. It was like we’d checked into Club Med. It really was wonderful. I cried the day we left there.”
Creating a permanent home has been a real joy for Barbara and Clive, with every detail carefully considered. The space is full of light with huge terrace doors, skylights and an innovative window at the top of the wall behind the AGA.
“We have an outstanding builder. He had the same thing in his house, so we drove over to see it and decided it would work well here. I love having the light ﬂooding in and I absolutely love having the AGA.
“My daughter’s friend had one and my daughter was always talking about the amazing cakes they’d made. I’d never heard of an AGA before that and then a friend moved over here and had one and she absolutely loved it. She moved and bought an AGA Total Control model and it was at that point I thought it was for me as I wanted a cooker that can be turned on and off.
“At Christmas we cooked a rib of beef and made some Yorkshire pudding for Christmas lunch and then made gammon for Boxing Day.”
Barbara loves cooking and has been using a lot of the produce from the allotment they have that backs on to the garden. They grow courgettes, butternut squash, cabbage, tomatoes, all kinds of beans, leeks, beatroot, raspberries and asparagus.
“I’ve also been making lots of jams and chutneys,” she says, “which are turning out much better when cooked on an AGA because of the bigger surface. If you go too deep on a smaller hob, it just doesn’t get to the boiling point as easily. So I’m ﬁnding this much, much better.”
“We love Mexican food,” Clive says. “So we’ve been cooking quesadillas. We just make them up and throw them on the simmering plate and they’re great. Toasted fresh, thick-sliced bread never really works in a toaster, but it’s great on the AGA as you get the crispy outside and soft on the inside.”
“I’m enjoying cooking now more than ever,” Barbara says. “I cooked over the years, but now that we’re growing all this fresh stuff it’s great. We’re doing all the stuff that people our age are usually trying to escape from,” she laughs.