Anyone who thinks that there is a bland uniformity about the outer London suburbs should pay a visit to the home of Trevor Wynne-Jones in the quiet, respectable village of Wraysbury, near Staines. There, among the Acacia Avenues and rows of mock Tudor semis and pastiche Georgian villas is The Dutch Gardens, one of the country’s most bizarre and original estates, created from the whimsy of its octogenarian owner.
Sitting in his office – which, with its computer screens and glass walls, is the only modern room in the house – Trevor explains the motivation behind his creation. “I am a romantic and I simply love beautiful things,” he says. “This has been my chance to create something of beauty. It’s as if I am an artist painting a picture.”
The result is a seven-bedroom house that looks like a cross between a medieval castle and a Venetian palace. “It’s an ongoing project. At the moment we’re building a grand stairway leading to a new lounge and library. Perhaps I’ll never finish the house but that’s fine with me – it’s always changing, always improving.”
Trevor employs a team of builders permanently on site. Based in their huge underground workshops, they have been knocking down walls, digging moats, building towers, recreating monastery walls – in short, bringing their employer’s fantasies to life – for the past 30 years.
If that sounds like hype, consider the principal reception rooms. The cavernous living room is designed as a set of catacombs around a mushroom-shaped brick pillar. The walls and ceilings are covered in frescoes, watched over by a suit of armour, and in pride of place there is a sanctuary with a vast stone fireplace and a ceiling inspired by the nearby Windsor Castle. With a pair of thrones at either side, each with a crown suspended on top, this could be a set for the court of King Arthur.
An iron spiral staircase descends from here to the master bedroom, where art inspired by ancient Greek legends – including a hand-painted recreation of John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs – lines the walls and delicate, ornate paintings adorn the ceiling. There is also a copy of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The Venice Lounge is the most formal public space, with its lemon walls, marble fireplace, grand piano and life-size bronze statues. There are yet more classical arches and pillars, to say nothing of the wall paintings of watery Venetian scenes.
The house as it stands today could hardly be further removed from the sad little bungalow that Trevor bought for £13,500 in 1966. He soon knocked that property down and built a bigger and better replacement, but it wasn’t until the Eighties that he decided the odd architectural nip and tuck was not enough for him. He wanted to reconfigure every detail in the property.
Trevor has turned the house into its present form without recourse to an architect or a garden designer; this perhaps explains why some of his more ambitious ideas – notably the enormous hole he had excavated for his sunken garden – have not gone down too well with the neighbours. The local council has also taken him to court, resulting in fines that he shrugs off as “slaps on the wrist”.
He was not born to great wealth. One of seven children, he was brought up in Willesden, north-west London, and went to school locally. With work scarce, he made a living as a salesman. “Someone said of me, ‘You’re just a showman really’, and there’s something in that,” he admits.
He went into property, starting as a fit-out contractor. His company built the Wynne-Jones Business Centre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, in the Eighties, then went on to build apartments in central London and work on the Guinness Park Royal project. He is now a successful developer, operating in both the commercial and the residential sectors.
It is all too easy to sneer at the wilder excesses of Trevor’s imagination – such as the huge paintings of Napoleonic battle scenes with his own face replacing that of the “little corporal” and those of his family and staff taking the place of foot soldiers’ visages. However, you could argue that he is simply following the example of Caravaggio, who peopled his work with friends from the streets.
What cannot be denied is the quality of the workmanship in the house. Every door is made of heavy, solid wood; the distressed, vintage appearance of the furnishings looks authentic and the bricks, from his Portland stone quarry near Bristol, perfectly evoke a period building. It is a first-class fake.
The gardens provide yet more surprises. From the Venice Room you walk straight into what appears to be a ruined church. “I visited Tintern Abbey a few years ago,” says Trevor. “I loved its monastic feel and I felt I could copy that.”
A terracotta square is at the centre of the courtyard, alcoves are lined with faded murals and there is a grotto; a stream, fed by an artesian well, gushes about 10ft above ground level and a walkway leads to a 45-seater amphitheatre still under construction. This is Hilary’s Amphitheatre – a memorial to his late wife, who passed away last November.
Around to the side there are seating areas, a koi carp pool and a waterfall. There is a small tower that could be a turret from the Disney castle, with views of the remarkable house in one direction and bland Wraysbury suburbia in the other. With jets from Heathrow flying overhead, this is the stuff of hallucinations.
The property is on the market for £4 million with Dexters and Waterview. Trevor is selling up to pursue a romantic endeavour beyond bricks and mortar. “I have a friend – a contessa – but I don’t want to say too much about her,” he says. “If things work out I’d like us to settle in Venice.” He means the real one, this time.