A glut of architectural oddities have come to market since The Vivat Trust – which owned and managed Britain’s tallest folly, Hadlow Tower in Kent – went into liquidation last year. From ultra-modern Grand Design conversions to let’s say idiosyncratic hyper-luxe, towering landmarks to castellated cottages, follies are eccentricity incarnate, and as such always attract attention. But actually buying, converting or living in such a structure takes a rare combination of whimsy and pragmatism…
“Special buildings need special buyers” says Savills Head of Country House Consultancy Philip Eddell, which helps to explain why it’s taking a while for these properties – which actually deserve the “quirky” label without applying the usual euphemisms – to shift. But they are good to look at…
Here’s our pick of ten of the best follies and one-offs currently for sale:
- Tonbridge, Kent
- No guide price, Eddisons
The crowning glory of The Vivat Trust’s portfolio, this Grade I listed 53-metre tower absolutely delivers on The President of the Folly Fellowship, Gwynn Headley’s vision of the ideal folly: it should be “a big, Gothick, ostentatious, over-ambitious and useless structure, preferably with a wildly improbable local legend attached”.
It decayed for many years, with the storms of 1987 inflicting particularly brutal damage, before The Vivat Trust took over the building 2008 and carried out a full-scale restoration. Hadlow now features a steel staircase rising all the way to the summit of the tower, with living accommodation over five storeys including three bedrooms, a drawing room, dining room, two bathrooms and a wet room.
Lymm Water Tower
- Lymm, Cheshire
- £2.5m, Strutt & Parker
Probably the best – and certainly the most thoroughly-documented – modern folly conversion in the country, Lymm Water Tower’s seven-year conversion featured in a 15-part TV series (The Seven Year Makeover). The project has won multiple awards, including accolades from RIBA and Grand Designs, and really sets a standard for how historic/fairytale and contemporary architecture can be combined to create a family home. And it could even pay for itself, thanks to a c.£50k annual income from subtle phone masts at the top of the tower.
What the agent says: “Owning your own Grand Design translates into being a proud homeowner of something truly unique; often cutting edge in design and forward thinking in its build. Buying one readymade, as opposed to doing your own from scratch, can be hugely beneficial for those buyers without the time, patience or know-how to undergo such a full on task. The opportunity to purchase Lymm Water Tower offers just that.
“Buying an actual ‘Grand Design’ from the TV show certainly adds an extra string to your bow, investing in something special and innovative enough for a TV show to be made about its creation, rather than just another brick new build. The natural association makes us think of something cool, sleek and modern. If we ever sell something that has appeared on the show, we tend to shout about this. Kevin McCloud often cites Lymm Water as one of his favourite properties to ever feature on the show, something we note in the brochure, also that is has won numerous awards including The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) award.
“Super contemporary homes or those with an unusual layout or style will not attract the same buyer as a country cottage or converted farmhouse. Its buyer will be like the property; a little niche. This can mean they take longer to sell, but command a higher price tag to reflect this distinct one-off nature. For example, there is no other property in the this part of the country which offers amazing 360 degree views boasting a roof terrace and hot tub 70 feet in the air – if this doesn’t impress your dinner guests, I don’t know what will!
“Lymm Tower has attracted many footballers in the past because of its Cheshire location, as well as young professional couples and bachelors. It’s worth noting that these unusual conversions make very good holiday rentals and airbnb’s – renters really embrace quirky houses and will pay a huge premium to stay.” – Jamie Carter, Head of Strutt & Parker in Chester
Sway Tower / Peterson’s Folly
- Sway, Hampshire
- £2m, John D Wood & Co.
It’s been described as “Hampshire’s finest folly”, and is everything you’d want or expect from an eccentric Victorian folly. Novel India-inspired architecture (the world’s tallest unsupported concrete structure) was supposedly created with a little help from the long-deceased Sir Christopher Wren (via a medium). Converted back in 1990, the 14 storey property now offers up a 60′ swimming pool, walled gardens and epic views over the New Forest and Solent.
What the agent says: “This is a unique opportunity to acquire an iconic New Forest landmark that affords unsurpassed panoramic views over the surrounding countryside, The Solent and Isle of Wight.” – Hayley Kemish, Sales Manager of John D Wood & Co. in Lymington
The Round Tower
- South Cerney, Gloucestershire
- £1.75m, Strutt & Parker
This is a glorious amalgam of ultra-modern ultra-luxe and proper historic eccentricity which evokes Bond and Rapunzel in equal measure, set in the heart of the rolling Cotswolds. Believed to have been a former hunting lodge, windmill and castellated folly, the original round tower dates back to the 18th century and was formally owned by the Bathurst estate. It’s since been sympathetically enveloped in a very swish (and award-winning) four-bed contemporary home.
What the agent says about the allure of follies: “What makes follies and unique homes so appealing? Their individual nature and style. A folly is typically quirky and intriguing and usually of great architectural interest. All sorts of people want to be one – from holidaymakers who typically go to the Landmark Trust to weekenders – and the Cotswolds has always been a very popular place to have a second home. Although a period building will always need upkeep and repairs, and follies in particular will have an unconventional layout, any such constraints are often outweighed by the charms of the architectural style.” – Sam Trounson, Head of Strutt & Parker, Cirencester
The Summer House
- Alderley, Gloucestershire
- £990,000, Knight Frank
This is a proper folly in the Capability Brown “Eye Catcher” style. Built in around 1770, the Grade II listed building sits in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and comes with some delicious rural views. It was converted into a residence back in 1996.
What the agent says: “The Summer House, and period follies in general, are very appealing to buyers who are looking for an interesting and quirky property and want to own a local landmark. There are not many of these properties that come on to the market – they are rare birds that buyers get very excited about as they may not get another opportunity in their lifetime to buy such a unique property.
“The Summer House is either going to be bought as a luxury weekend getaway for someone working in the City as a great lock up and leave or as the perfect investment for holiday lets. I would say the perfect buyers are investors or second home owners. We are including all the furniture in the sale so the property is ready to move into.” – Alice White, Associate at Knight Frank, Cirencester
The Chalet Estate
- Hampton Riviera, East Molesey
- £7.5m, Riverhomes
The Chalet on the banks of the Thames is frankly extraordinary. The building was imported from Switzerland in 1882, as a garden feature for a substantial house called Riverholm, before being turned into part of a luxury marina complex in 2010. Within touching distance of London, yet surrounded by acres of parkland which are protected by English Heritage, this five storey, four-bed listed building has been comprehensively restored to its original Swiss Chalet vibe, and then some.
The property comes with 185 metres of mooring for up to 25 boats – the largest being around 50 metres – and parking for around 20 cars.
And yes, that is an indoor beach.
- Monmouthshire, Wales
- £1.795m, Chewton Rose (and others)
Originally a rather grand hunting lodge, this folly dates back to the 1700s and was once owned by the Sheriff Of Monmouth. It’s now quite famous after featuring on Channel 4’s Grand Designs – being turned from a crumbling ruin into a contemporary six-bed home – and appearing in pretty much every property page since coming up for sale way back in 2011.
What the agent says: “Kemeys Folly is the most spectacular property, merging new with old and featured on Grand Designs, to truly appreciate what this property has to offer viewing is essential. The original Folly is Grade II listed, the modern extension has under floor heating with the most contemporary of designs. The Open Plan Kitchen, Diner and Lounge is elegant and just simply beautifully created with the most breath taking views, you can see seven counties from the rear terrace. There are six bedrooms five of which have en suite facilities.”
Little Gaddesden Lodge
- Little Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
- £1.35m, Hamptons International
This is an oldie; the Grade II listed castellated lodge’s foundations were laid back in 1280, although it was rebuilt in 1823. It’s since won restoration awards, and been lovingly upgraded to create a family home in delightful walled grounds. While there are gargoyles and gothic arches, this is definitely on the liveable side of quirky, set in the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate.
What the agent says: “A uniquely seductive gate lodge that won an award for the restoration of a Grade II listed building in 2000. The property was subsequently acquired by our clients who passionately improved both the interior and the gardens.”
Serpentine Galleries’ Summer Houses
- No location (buildings only)
- £95,000 – £125,000, The Modern House
These four structures – not residences – are a tremendous, fascinating contemporary art-meets-architecture take on the folly.
Every summer since the year 2000, the Serpentine Galleries have invited an internationally renowned architect to create their first built structure in England. The annual Pavilion has become a highlight of the cultural calendar, and is one of the ten most-visited architectural and design exhibitions in the world. Oscar Niemeyer, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry have all put up structures, with 2016’s Pavilion being designed by Bjarke Ingels.
This year, the commission was extended to include four art-meets-architecture summer houses – sponsored by super-prime property developer Northacre. Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi, Berlin studio Barkow Leibinger, Paris-based architect Yona Friedman and British architect Asif Khan have each created an architectural folly to accompany the main pavilion.
What the agent says about the appeal of follies: “I think, in large part, the appeal of follies or pavilions is less to do with making a financial investment and more to do with making a statement about your personal taste. In that way purchasing these structures is perhaps more akin to collecting art than purchasing a liveable space.
“This is certainly the case with the Serpentine Summer Houses we’re currently marketing, which sit on the boundary between sculpture and architecture. The primary function of these structures is to initiate an aesthetic and ideological response – they’re unfettered by the requirements of residential architecture to provide practical, inhabitable spaces, and I think this freedom and space for experimentation is what ultimately makes these structures really appealing for buyers.” – Matt Gibberd, Founding Director of The Modern House
- Weyhill, Andover
- £895,000, Hamptons International
This one is all about the grounds. A rather uninspiring bungalow comes with all kinds of grottos, turrets and sculptural treasures in a sunken garden, tucked away in the Berkshire ‘burbs.
What the agent says: “The Beeches is a secret gem hidden behind high fencing which offers seclusion to the property and its totally unique garden. In recent years the rear gardens have been landscaped to reveal the most amazing sunken garden which is of historical and horticultural interest and which has been featured in numerous books and magazines. There are walkways from which to enjoy the sculptured gardens below, and stone steps down into this magical world with a variety of places to sit and simply appreciate it. One can only imagine how incredible it would look lit up at night. The remainder of the grounds are beautifully manicured and feature some topiary and mature trees and shrubbery.”