When sculptor Alex Hoda inherited his grandmother’s beautiful medieval home in Herefordhsire, he wanted to do the house justice. Today, it is the perfect blend of heritage and style for the perfect UK holiday, says Jessica Jonzen
THE KITCHEN IN THE GREAT HALL FEATURES THE PARQUET FLOOR INSTALLED BY THE TWININGS FAMILY IN THE 1920. ALEX MADE THE CENTRAL ISLAND AND SCREEN HIMSELF. IMAGE: MARK WATTS PHOTOGRAPHY, UNIQUE HOME STAYS
If our homes tell the stories of the people who have lived in them, then Hollyhocks in Herefordshire has more to tell than most. Sitting on the banks of the River Arrow in the enchanting village of Eardisland, this half-timbered longhouse dates back to before the Wars of the Roses. Indeed, the red roses found on the beam in the dining room were painted by the 12 knights who slept at the house the night before they fought at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461.
Today, the house is owned by sculptor Alex Hoda and his wife, Danielle, after Alex inherited it from his grandmother. He has fond memories of staying at Hollyhocks as a child, playing Pooh sticks in the river which meanders through the garden, and listening to his grandmother’s stories about her summers spent by the lakes of Rajasthan. “I always loved going to visit Hollyhocks. There is something kind of magical for children about really old medieval properties –those low ceilings are much more in proportion to you than when you grow up and end up banging your head on them!”
IMAGES (TOP) HOLLYHOCKS SITS ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER ARROW IN HEREFORDSHIRE AND PREDATES THE WARS OF THE ROSES. (BOTTOM LEFT) THE SITTING AREA IN THE KITCHEN. (RIGHT) THE DINING ROOM, WHICH FEATURES GRAFFITI FROM MEDIEVAL SOLDIERS. IMAGES: MARK WATTS PHOTOGRAPHY, UNIQUE HOMESTAYS
When Alex and Danielle got married in 2002, they held their wedding reception in the great hall – something the room was well used to. The Twinings family, who bought the house in the 1920s, installed the beautiful parquet flooring for their daughter’s wedding, and the hall was used for village dances and balls throughout the 20s and 30s: “it’s a very well-used floor!” Alex laughs.
When Alex inherited Hollyhocks in 2004, he and Danielle were living in London and so his parents rented it out for him. “The house looked very different then,” he laughs. “We called it the Bassett’s All Sorts house because it was all black beams with bright pink and bright green walls – it was pretty horrific really.”
“We called it the Bassett’s All Sorts house because it was all black beams with bright pink and bright green walls.”
Alex and Danielle decided to renovate Hollyhocks in 2016, at the same time as doing up their home in London. “We were going from a rock to a hard place – it was quite a tiring period!” Alex says. The couple decided to strip Hollyhocks back and honour its heritage, while making it appeal to modern tastes.
“We wanted to do the house justice. It had been languishing for a long time and you couldn’t really see the architecture of the building,” Alex says. “We wanted the house to be white and when I painted over the black beams inside people said ‘what are you doing?’, but we found a very old image of the property which showed that all the beams were originally whitewashed. Black beams are actually a Victorian invention. Traditionally, these houses would have been whitewashed, inside and out.”
(TOP) THE FORMER KITCHEN IS NOW A BRIGHT AND COSY SNUG. (BOTTOM LEFT) THE ORIGINAL LEADED WINDOWS IN THE GREAT HALL. (BOTTOM RIGHT) THE RENOVATION DIDN’T AFFECT ANY OF THE ORIGINAL BEAMS. IMAGES: MARK WATTS PHOTOGRAPHY, UNIQUE HOME STAYS
The result of the renovation – which Alex did himself with help from his father – is astonishing. Gone are the All Sorts walls, replaced with fresh, bright white. Upstairs, the master bedroom adjoins the twin bedroom and there is a family bathroom with a beautiful freestanding roll-top bath. Sisal carpets and vintage furniture found at Herefordshire interiors treasure trove Baileys Home, Vinterior and at auctions at Brightwells in Leominster add to the texture and character of the building.
Downstairs has seen the most dramatic change, however. Alex moved the kitchen into the great hall to make use of the fantastic space. Hollyhocks is Grade II* listed; how did he get around the planning? “They’re quite lenient in Hereford but the design of the kitchen was key. We didn’t want anything on or cut into the beams so that’s why we went for a big island unit and that got through planning easier.”
If you wanted to return the kitchen back to how it was before, you’d just need to remove the island and that would be that.”
The kitchen is made up of freestanding antique furniture grouped around a central island which Alex designed and made the concrete worktop for. “All of the services are in the centre of the island so that if you wanted to return the room back to how it was before, you’d just need to remove the island and put back a few pieces of parquet and that would be that.”
Inspired by British Standard Cupboards, who had recently installed a kitchen in his London home, Alex built an industrial-style screen to separate the kitchen from the sitting area. “It needed cosying up a bit and to have a bit of a focal point, so the screen works brilliantly for that.”
(TOP) ALEX FOUND THE SHOWER UNIT AT ENGLISH SALVAGE AND RECONDITIONED IT. (MIDDLE) HE PAINTED THE HOUSE’S BLACK BEAMS WHITE AND SOURCED ANTIQUE FURNITURE TO HONOUR THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE HOUSE. (BOTTOM LEFT) THE DOWNSTAIRS BEDROOM, INSPIRED BY ALEX’S GRANDMOTHER. (BOTTOM RIGHT) THE UPSTAIRS TWIN BEDROOM. IMAGES: MARK WATTS PHOTOGRAPHY, UNIQUE HOME STAYS
On their weekends staying at the house with their son Sebastian, now eight, the couple had realised that the sunken lawn made it difficult to keep an eye on children if parents needed to go in to cook so they raised the lawn to window height. “Now you can be in the kitchen and easily keep an eye on little ones.”
The former kitchen is now a wonderfully cosy snug, and the downstairs shower room features an original York stone floor with a Crittal-style shower unit which Alex found at English Salvage. The dining room is where, if you look carefully, you’ll spot some of the medieval graffiti of King Henry VI’s soldiers on the beam above the table.
There is another double bedroom on the ground floor, and it is the room Alex is most pleased with. The room features an antique Indian tea chest and a carved headboard from Rajasthan in homage to his grandmother. “I had this romantic idea of doing a bedroom inspired by her time in India. It’s got a fond place in my heart,” he says. If (wattle and daub) walls could talk…
Hollyhocks sleeps six and is available to rent via Unique Homestays, 01637 881183, from £1,995 per week or £1,495 for a short break [as of March 2022]