Tour This Revitalized English Country House
With its chimneys thrusting into the sky, its half-timbered brick façade and vast expanses of leaded glass, the stately structure exemplifies the moment when the English country-house tradition met the wealth of the Industrial Revolution and the aesthetic of the Arts and Crafts movement. It’s not difficult to visualize swirls of cigar smoke rising to the rafters in the vast main hall, and brandy being served by liveried footmen. Indeed, the estate was once owned by famed tobacconist Alfred Dunhill, founder of the eponymous luxury empire that still bears his name.
Decades later, the scene in the Old Barn, as it is affectionately known, was far more raucous when it belonged to music producer Robert Stigwood, manager of Cream and the Bee Gees. “The house was the scene of legendary parties,” says current owner Angelo Moratti. “It’s where George Harrison’s wife and Eric Clapton started their romance. Elton John stayed often. Virtually everyone who was important in the ’70s music industry was a guest here. There are so many wonderful stories.”
Stigwood sold the place to Moratti’s father, Gian Marco, in 1976, shortly before relocating to Bermuda. Gian Marco Moratti, like his father before him, was head of one of Italy’s largest oil companies—where Angelo Moratti himself works today. (The family had also long been involved with Milan’s championship soccer team Inter Milan.)
“My father immediately hired Renzo Mongiardino, who had designed our home in Milan,” says Moratti, referring to the legendary 20th-century Italian interior and set designer. Located on 43 acres, with two lakes, the property is only a 40-minute drive from central London, which made it an ideal refuge for the family. “I was attending boarding school only about a half hour away and would go to the house on weekends. My family had an office in London as well, so they were often there, and I still used it a lot when I was in my 20s and 30s.”
But over the years, the family’s connection to their country retreat weakened, and it was used only sporadically. “When my father died two years ago, I inherited the house,” Moratti says. By then, his own circumstances had changed as well. Through his work with the Special Olympics International, he had met his wife, Nadia, whose son, Adam, now 10, has disabilities. The couple had twins, Grace and Gian Marco, now 4. And the appeal of a home near London, where Nadia has family, only increased.