Laura Berkeley-Hawkes and her husband, Gary, share their home with their three children, Gracie, 19, Harvey, 17 and 15-year-old Luke. The house was built in 1888, but since then has only been owned by three other families. The last time it was sold before Laura and Gary took it on late last year was in 1979.
“I have pictures of the original Victorian family sitting outside the house,” says Laura, “and all the hand-written deeds with the wax stamps. From 1935, I have the Harrods Estate Agent’s brochure they did on the house.
“The last time any work had been done was in the 1980s. They’d taken out all the sash windows and put in German shuttered windows. Inside the house there were only three remaining ﬁreplaces. I researched and found a fantastic guy who does the most beautiful ﬁreplaces and he found ﬁreplaces from the period for us to have installed.
“Gary and I have always bought period properties and, while a lot of people strip them out and modernise them, what we do is a combination. We keep or put back original features and then give it a modern look through the use of paint and ﬂooring. We try to keep the soul of the house.”
The house has to work hard as it’s more than a home. Gary and Laura let it out as a location house for photography and ﬁlm shoots. It’s the third house they have run this way over the past 12 years. They buy a house, renovate it, live in it and run it as a location house.
“It’s been much more professional with the last two,” says Laura. “With the ﬁrst one, I just fell into it. I was complaining to a friend one day about having no money and she said, ‘why don’t you rent the house out?’ That’s how it started.
“The next one we renovated with locations in mind and now we know what they look for, what makes a location house suitable time and again. There are certain things I’d love to do. I’d love to have wallpaper, but those rooms can only be used a certain number of times. If you put panelling and beading in it can be used over and again and painted different colours.”
Running a location house is hard work. It needs to be kept perfectly and be super-clean and neat all the time.
“Someone commented the other day on how tidy the kids’ rooms are,” Laura says. “I tell them they’re not like that at the weekend! I do feel it’s a bit strange for teenagers to have bedrooms that are always tidy, but they know mum and dad have to make money, so it’s a bit of an exchange.”
It’s an arrangement that has paid off – even though the location house only launched at the end of February, many celebrities and brands have already used it.
“We’ve had Mica Paris and Little Mix in,” Laura says. “Charlotte Tilbury has been in shooting make-up. Zofany have shot sofas. M&S, Next Home and Next Fashion have used the house and there’s been an Airbnb commercial shot here too
When Laura and Gary met, she was a model and he was a Feng Shui coach. Laura gave up modelling full time when Gracie was born, although she did a few campaigns in her 40s. “Mostly it’s my house that models now,” she laughs.
Over the years Gary diversiﬁed into other projects, but his interest in Feng Shui has continued and he is about to embark on project with a well-known interior designer.
The house has been a labour of love and has taken months to complete, but it was well worth the effort as
it’s a beautiful, calming space. While remaining sympathetic to the building’s history, Laura and Gary have made changes to create a home that works perfectly for busy family life.
They have further extended the kitchen, giving themselves a huge workspace, and they have reconﬁgured the pantry and utility room. The cabinetry was created by Handmade Kitchens Direct.
“I basically designed it myself,” Laura says. “With this company you can choose the design of the door. I chose all the doors and drawers and the ironmongery. I put the designs together and then got a really lovely carpenter to make the prep table and the screen.”
The paint is by Farrow & Ball. The cabinetry is in Dove Tale. The island is painted in Brinjal and the windows are painted in Railings.
“I’d always wanted a Victorian house,” Laura adds. “The ones before had been Arts & Crafts houses, which were lovely, but I really love double-fronted Victorian houses. The screen idea came from Downton Abbey. If you remember the programme, they would go along corridors where there were lots of glazed screens.
“I purposely chose no wall cabinetry. There was only one cooker that was going to work in here and that was a black AGA. What’s amazing is that it has a traditional look, but the one we have is really modern. It’s a Total Control. I ummed and ahhed about whether to have an induction hob, but in the end I went for a warming plate as I wanted a traditional look.
“I thought about other colours, but am so glad I chose black. It’s really strong and handsome and I love it. People are drawn to it when they come into the kitchen.”
The new AGA cooker has been well used since it arrived. Laura says it has inspired the family to cook things from scratch. “Gracie’s really got into cooking and baking and the boys have started cooking too. They’ll come down, turn the hotplates on and make themselves something. We tend to cook more Asian-style food, or a salmon bake with roasted potatoes and vegetables. It roasts meat really well and I’ve slow-cooked lamb a lot. Gracie also does this great thing with kimchi rice.”