An artist’s Surrey home is steeped in plenty of light, period charm and warmth, says Cheryl Markosky
Name: Carolyn Dinan Spencer
Occupation: Carolyn, 72, is a renowned artist and author. She’s a favourite with both children, who adore her books, and their parents, with equally happy memories of reading her stories aloud to their receptive offspring. Some of her much-loved titles are The Kingfisher Treasury of Stories for Four Year Olds, The Witch’s Shopping Spree, Goodnight Monster, Skipper and Sam, But Martin and The Seal Singer. Carolyn also lectures part-time at Chelsea College of Art and Design and Putney School of Art and Design.
Property description: Carolyn’s lived for 36 years at her early Victorian home on The Avenue in Surbiton, KT5, Surrey. Her unusually spacious period house is bursting with character features, such as the original fireplaces, large windows, high ceilings and a splendid curved staircase. Roomy enough to happily accommodate a family, there are six bedrooms and four reception rooms, including an upstairs flat for guests or tenants and Carolyn’s studio, along with a garage and off-street parking. There’s also a cheery, 135-foot, south-west facing garden. And Carolyn’s home is conveniently close to the heart of Surbiton.
Asking price: £1,295,000
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Estate agent: Jay Chitnis, HJC Estates, 17 Brighton Road, Surbiton, Surrey, KT6 5LR
Area statistics: Confidence levels are high in KT5. The Avenue has 310 houses and flats, with the average value of a detached house at £747,052 (£485 a square foot).
Fun facts: Highest value streets are Seymour Gardens (£1,169,663), Pine Walk (£1,077,345) and The Crest (£1,036,072). Highest turnover streets are Grove Footpath (68.4 per cent), Minniedale (47.8 per cent) and Beaconsfield Road (44.7 per cent).
Why are you moving? This house was a wonderful place for my family to grow up. But now my son is off living his life and my painter husband, Roy, is no longer with me (he died six years ago), it’s time for me to move on.
Have you found somewhere to move to? I’ve found a terrific cottage with a studio in the garden in Thames Ditton.
What do you like most about the property? It’s a very special place to live. It’s full of light, nice and cool in the summer, and cosily warm in winter. I’ve always had relatives and students staying here. My niece lived here for five years with her new husband in the flat upstairs and my nephew came for three nights and ended up here for nine years.
What’s your happiest memory of the property and when did it happen? I have so many different memories – my husband painting away in his studio while I contentedly worked away in mine on the floor above, flinging open the French windows to enjoy the sunshine in the garden, and my son bringing his friends home to stay. I also have fabulous memories of about 14 here for Christmas. We all sat by the big, open fire in the drawing room.
When did you buy the property and how much was it worth? We bought the house for £32,000 back in 1978. We found it through a friend, who was an estate agent. I recall lying awake at night worrying that we shouldn’t go above £30,000. Although it was made up of lots of little bedsits with meters everywhere and bedsteads in the garden, I fell in love with it. The actual structure was okay, but there was lots of rewiring and re-plumbing to make it feel loved again. The new layout gave us six bedrooms (one can be an additional reception room) and a flat with a sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen at the top, which I’ve rented to a friend and acquired some extra cash.
Do you know your neighbours? We have lovely neighbours – an architectural illustrator and set designer with four delightful grown up children (the youngest is 17).
What do you like about the local schools? The local schools are amazing, from Tiffin Girls and Boys (top Kingston grammars), to private Surbiton High, Hampton and Lady Eleanor Holles. Our son Simon went to a good local Church of England state school until he was 11, when he then attended Claremont Fan Court in Esher.
What is traffic and transport like? Our tree-lined road is very quiet. However, it’s only an 11 minute walk to Surbiton station, with fast 17 minute runs to Waterloo station. Some of the trains also stop at Wimbledon and Clapham Junction. There are also plenty of buses. Kingston is just over a mile away and Heathrow airport about 9.5 miles.
What’s your favourite place for dinner in the area? I think the best place is The French Table on Maple Road in Surbiton Village. It’s family run and very welcoming. I would order a seafood starter and probably a seafood dish for my main course too. And every second Friday, there’s a great £10 menu where a set dish, such as boeuf bourguignon or moules, is served at next-door sister cafe, The French Tart, run by the same owners. We also have a wide variety of good local Italian places and relaxed cafes in the area.
How would you spend the perfect day off in your area? I would take the grandchildren to see the deer in Richmond Park, or take the boat from Kingston Bridge to Hampton Court Palace where we’d have a splendid picnic and get lost in the maze. I’d also maybe take a once round the monthly farmers market in Surbiton Village, followed by a spot of shopping at John Lewis and Bentalls in Kingston. If I was having a non-grandchild day, I’d meet friends for a riverside lunch at Cote, Jamie’s Italian, the Vegetaria or Carluccio’s. And I might take in a matinee at Kingston’s Rose Theatre.
What local secret do you know that would take a new resident awhile to discover? There’s a lovely little park called Fishponds that many people have yet to discover. It’s about a five-minute walk from here. I used to take Simon there in his pram and now it’s where I walk the dog. Fishponds has gentle grassy slopes, trees, rose bushes and two ponds inhabited by ducks, swans and herons. It’s quiet and a bit hidden away. Another hidden secret is a very good tennis, squash and fitness club just around the corner.
If you could change one thing about the house what would it be? I’d like to see a family living here again, as that’s how the house should be.
What items are included in the sale? Pretty much everything’s included in the sale. I’m happy negotiate over anything anybody wants.
Who would be your ideal buyer? I’d very much like a family to buy my house.
What do you most fear about the selling process? I worry about the timing of the sale. I do want to get it right so I can sell my house and then buy the cottage I like in Thames Ditton. I don’t want to be trapped in a chain. Also, with lenders making it more difficult for people to borrow money I’m witnessing those making offers on my house can’t sell theirs. But my agent’s very reassuring that all will be well at the end of the day.
Agents advice: Jay Chitnis of HJC Estates says: “The timing of a sale is the nub of our business. Unfortunately, we’re wholly reliant on information that comes to us, so we can process it and advise our clients accordingly. If we discover something isn’t accurate or a supposed cash buyer isn’t really a cash buyer, it can delay the sale and give us bad press for passing on poor quality information. We talk to clients as regularly as we need to, which could be every day, and as long as they are part of the process they’ll feel confident about what we’re doing. One solution is to rent and break the chain, but this would be hard for Carolyn at her time of life. She’s been unlucky, as loads of people say they want to buy her house, but they’re now struggling to sell in London where the market’s cooled a bit. But we don’t get paid until the sale’s completed, so it’s in our interest to communicate and make sure it all happens.”
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