From a Dairy Farm to a London Row House
The rolling fields of North Carolina are a world away from Sherri Snelson’s red-brick home in London.
Ms. Snelson, 38, who grew up on a dairy farm outside Asheville, N.C., is now a lawyer and finance partner at the law firm Fried Frank in London. In 2006 she bought a four-story row house, and having renovated it throughout she now plans to stay as long as possible.
“In the past I have lived in both New York and Richmond, and I think London is a great combination of both places,” she said, referring to the capital of Virginia. “From here I can cycle out to watch the deer in the park or run by the River Thames as the mist rises and the birds fly above. At the same time, London also has glitz and activity — there are theaters, restaurants and great shops.”
Life was busy growing up on the farm, with her extended family living on or near the farm and daily chores that included milking and feeding up to 50 head of cattle.
“I loved life on the farm but knew I wanted to be a lawyer from the age of 5,” Ms. Snelson said. “My great-grandfather was a deputy sheriff and friends with lots of state politicians and judges.” After attending college and law school, she decided to specialize in banking and finance. “I traveled with work and discovered that I was actually an urban creature, someone who loved big-city life,” she said.
In April 2004, Ms. Snelson was posted to London. After only a week, she knew she wanted to stay and began looking for a property to buy in west London.
“I loved the style of these Victorian terraced homes,” she said. “They have beautiful period features but can also be modern inside if that is what you like. They have large rooms that are great for entertaining and space for lots of bedrooms and bathrooms, as well.”
Her five-bedroom, 2,478-square-foot home in the Fulham section of the city was designed and built in 1904 by James Nichols, a popular builder in London at that time. Many of his properties have small stone lions sitting guard on roofs and balconies.
“I particularly liked the kitchen in this house; it was a good size,” Ms. Snelson said. “Previous owners had dug out the basement and gone into the loft space. I knew it would be a project to make the house suit my taste, but I looked forward to that.”
Robert Sturges, the director of Wellingtons, a Fulham-based real estate agency, said a property like Ms. Snelson’s could sell for around 1.5 million pounds ($2.24 million), despite the current turmoil in the British real estate market.
“Since the height of 2007, which was the turning point in the local market, prices have dropped between 22 and 30 percent in Fulham, depending on their level in the market,” Mr. Sturges said. “Long-term, however, we are optimistic that the balance will be restored.”
The central London market has seen prices drop 15 to 30 percent in the last 12 months, according to Lindsay Cuthill, the director of sales at Savills, a real estate agency.
“I would say that the coming weeks will show that precious few deals were done at those levels in the last quarter of 2008,” he said. “I think, as sales are completed, we will find that in reality there were price drops of 30 percent and above in the last weeks of the year.”
At Ms. Snelson’s house, the first renovation work was in the 14-by-13-foot kitchen. There she installed extra wooden cupboards along one wall, had black granite countertops put in and painted the walls an olive green.
“Most of the house has been decorated in light shades,” she said. “I brought a lot of furniture over from the U.S. that is strongly colored or patterned. I therefore felt it was important to use pale colors to prevent the house from feeling too dark.”
“The only exceptions were the loft, which is very light anyway, and the kitchen, where I wanted to pick up on the green color in some porcelain I bought on my travels to Italy,” she added.
The sitting room and master bedroom were part of the initial renovation. The 26-foot by 12-foot sitting room, which has original stained-glass panes in the front window, now has a dining area at one end.
On the first floor is the 17-foot-by-14-foot master bedroom. Ms. Snelson had a mahogany sleigh bed shipped from New York. The 10-foot-by-12-foot en-suite bathroom has a double-size Jacuzzi bath and walk-in shower. An iron, claw-foot bathtub that originally was in the master bathroom was moved to another bathroom that was decorated in a more traditional style. In addition, there is a walk-in dressing room and a study.
On the top floor, a former storage area and bathroom were turned into a guest suite.
“The other areas I have concentrated on have been the garden and the basement,” Ms. Snelson said. “The basement was a children’s playroom but I have now made it into another space for entertaining friends or relaxing after work.” She had a walnut media unit installed to house her flat-screen television and music system.
The 35-foot-by 17-foot back garden has paved decking. “I have had some great parties here yet the house also feels like home,” Ms. Snelson said. “Not too big and empty when it’s just me.
“Despite the decline of the British property market, I feel this was a good investment.” she said. “I return to the States as often as I can but for the time being, I have no plans to go back there permanently.”
But she added: “Who knows? I guess it’s a case of ‘never say never.’ ”