Balls Park in Hertford

Fancy a little place in the country? Well, if you’ve got a cool £1.5 million to spend, a stunning apartment at historic Balls Park in Hertfordshire could be yours.

If, like most of the British public you love a period drama, buying an apartment at Balls Park near Hertford could make you the star of your own show.  A former stately home set in rolling parkland, the Grade I Listed Balls Park Estate has now been converted into a range of luxury homes in a historic setting. The 17th century mansion, built circa 1648, has now opened its doors again for the first time since the site was originally acquired more than ten years ago, with the first apartment in the West Wing released for sale in November.

Balls Park nestles in 63 acres of picturesque Grade II listed parkland, which features on the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. During the 1880s the house was let to the Faudel-Philips family, who purchased it outright in 1901. In 1924, Sir Benjamin Faudel-Phillips commissioned the Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer to enlarge the house, by removing a series of service buildings and constructing a new west wing, mirroring the form of the mansion. In true Downton Abbey style, the house was used as a convalescent home during the war and most recently as a teacher training college. The estate is believed to have been the inspiration for some of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice and has also been used as a location for the films The Young Victoria, Amazing Grace and The Golden Compass, as well as several television series, including Foyles War, The Inspector Linley Mysteries and Bleak House.

Developer City & Country Group, which specialises in bringing historic buildings back into use as homes, has created 17 apartments and two duplexes in the Mansion House and the West Wing at Balls Park. There will be seven one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom properties, ranging from 789 sq ft – 2530 sq ft. City & Country has worked hard to safeguard and improve the setting of the buildings and to guarantee that the original grandiose proportions of the principal rooms remain intact. Each of the homes in the mansion will have access to the private gardens and historic parkland, giving residents the opportunity to enjoy living in a substantial country house without the typical responsibilities of maintaining an estate of such a size.

Properties in the mansion boast grand living spaces that benefit from a combination of period style and original features but have been fitted out with elegant contemporary interiors. Many of the apartments feature beautifully restored plasterwork ceilings, ceiling to floor panelling and marble fireplaces. Bespoke kitchens have been designed for each property and include a range of integrated stainless steel appliances, while the bathrooms incorporate white sanitaryware and chrome fittings. Original flooring has been sensitively restored or replaced, featuring a mix of wool carpets, porcelain floor tiles, parquet flooring and original floorboards.

Elsewhere on the estate, residents have already moved in to homes in the Grade II listed Coach House and The Stables, built in 1902, which came on to the market in two phases in October 2010 and July 2011.

According to Helen Moore, Residential Managing Director at City & Country Group, it has been a painstaking but rewarding job to repair and restore all the original features of the building that have led to the property’s Grade I listing. These include elaborate decorative plasterwork featuring family motifs, the checkerboard marble floor in the vestibule, the stunning wood panelling (see front cover of this issue) and the original sash windows and fireplaces. Helen is delighted with the end result, as is George Clarke, TV’s ‘restoration man’, who has been working with City & Country Group to raise awareness of the dire state of many of our forgotten historic buildings.: “Across the country, thousands of old buildings lie forgotten and neglected, and many of these are steeped in history and are of outstanding architectural interest, but are sadly being forgotten about,” he said. “It is fantastic to see Balls Park, one of the finest examples of Britain’s architecture, brought back to life...”

The first apartment available in the mansion at Balls Park is priced at £1.5million. So what can potential purchasers expect for that rather hefty price tag?  The two-bedroom ground floor apartment covers 2,536 sq ft and features a large drawing room and very spacious dining kitchen, a pantry and a laundry room. Both bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms and the apartment has a garage and an underground parking space. Management fees at Balls Park range from £1,449 per annum for a one bedroom apartment in the Stables to £3,505 for a grandiose two bedroom apartment in the Mansion.

Explore Living is a co-developer with City & Country at Balls Park. City & Country are responsible for The Mansion building, The Stables, The Coach House and the West Wing. Explore Living are responsible for the North, East & South Wings and they've also built houses on Harrison Lane and Willis Grove.

Property manager Duncan Johnson from Encore Estates has day-to-day responsibility for overseeing the property management for both developers. The company manages another City & Country Group estate in (location?) and was delighted to win the contract for Balls Park. With a broad-based portfolio of different property types from four to 200 units, Encore has experience of managing estates at the top end of the spectrum on behalf of discerning residents who expect a lot for their money. According to Duncan, Encore’s philosophy is to “manage the estate as though we live there, which means we care about it in the same way the residents do. Our aim is to enhance the lives of residents and protect the value of owners’ assets.”

Services provided at Balls Park cover the day-to-day upkeep of the estate including landscaping and maintaining the gardens, cleaning internal corridors and hallways, service and maintenance of mechanical and electrical equipment such as fire alarm systems and vehicle gates, assistance with refuse and recycling and utility management. “On-the -ground services are carried out by a team of dedicated caretakers who take great pride in looking after the estate,“ says Duncan. “That way, residents get to see the same faces every week. We also provide a 24-hour call-out service to provide them with complete peace of mind. And a concierge service which can arrange anything from household services to lifestyle management.

So what are the particular challenges of managing such an extensive listed building? A listed property requires special attention but sound proactive planning, using a 10-year maintenance plan, helps us manage it effectively, Duncan explains. “For a listed development this plan should be reassessed at least every 12 months. This enables us to monitor the buildings and ensure they are kept in a good state of repair and redecoration so that building elements are not left to deteriorate to the point where they require extensive repair or replacement”. He adds that sometimes there may be a premium for certain works and materials because maintenance works have to be carried out sympathetically, using traditional building skills and like-for-like materials. Residents are kept informed of the planned maintenance programme and Encore writes to them throughout the year to update them on matters relating to the property. The company plans to launch an online portal in 2012 so that owners can log-in, manage their accounts and download information.

To find out more about Balls Park, go to www.balls-park.co.uk.