Parnham House has had a curious history-the 16th-century Dorset manor has been country club, nursing home and carpentry school (alma mater of David Linley) in its time. Good on Emma and Michael Treichl, then, for bringing the old girl back to her natural beauty.
It would be churlish not to love it here,’says Emma Treichl, chatelaine of Parnham House, a 16th-century, burnt-custard, lattice-windowed gem tucked into the southern Beaminster corner of Dorset. Shesitting on a large ottoman sofa in the aptly named Great Hall. Even taking into account the fact that she used to be a model, this is a woman with curiously long limbs. Shesix feet tall. And lean. Perfectly fashioned to stride through the mountainous landscape outside. But Emma, who has tucked her tight-fitting jeans into knee-length leather boots as you would jodhpurs, prefers the views from atop a horse. Her Austrian financier husband, Michael, is less convinced: dontrust horses. Theya little stupid.’Michael prefers a helicopter that can get him to the office within 50 minutes.
Life at Parnham is fast-paced. Ita slick operation where, before I even realise I want a mint tea, a butler in a suit and tie has presented me with one. I donspy a single moth-eaten Labrador clinging grimly onto life in a corner. Here the dogs work, and they live in smartly painted kennels. When Michael is away doing deals’, Emma doesnsit twiddling her thumbs. She brings on polo ponies, fundraises for local charity the Dorset Child and Family Counselling Trust, puts on women-only bridge nights and hosts music recitals in the Grand Flail-handily, it has a minstrels’gallery. Sheeven started a food fair, Eat Dorset, born of a book she self-published with the same name. Of course, the food at Parnham is properly delicious. The house speciality is venison from the park, stalked by Michael and cooked the Austrian way, in cranberry sauce. There are two kitchens, one for family snacking and one that is the exclusive domain of the two chefs, Ian and Rosa.
For all its grand designs-the exquisite original plaster ceilings, the ornate 19th-century oak library, the frescoed passage, the marble basin in the courtyard-Parnham is a family home. Evidence of this is more easily found upstairs, where four of the 16 bedrooms are claimed by posters and scribbled notes on their doors. The eldest children-Sophia, 21, an auburn beauty studying at Trinity in Dublin, and Carlo, 18, finishing his exams at the American School in London-are from Emmafirst marriage, to Stefano Marsaglia. The Treichl children are Max, 12, a guitar player and-we discovered-reluctant model, and Charlotte, 10, who has blonde curls and loves her pony. When Max first arrived in the house, he asked, Where can I explore?’With two tennis courts, hunters, polo ponies, a three-goal Argentine in residence, a swimming pool, swings, a trampoline, a pheasant shoot, a 200-acre park stocked with fallow deer, fishing on the River Brit and the seaside a 15-minute drive away, Max might have done better to ask if heever have time to sleep again.
Yes, this is a vision of how all our lives should be. But nine years ago Emma had misgivings: thought moving to the country was Michaelpipe dream. Weboth lived in cities and I couldnsee how it would work.’But she had an indemnity clause: struck a deal with him that if this didnwork after a year, wego back to London.’Michael, an immaculately presented, lissom man, had his own back-up plan. Herecruited architect William Bertram and decorators Robert Kime and Lady Llenrietta Spencer-Churchill to reinvigorate the house. Because Parnham back then was different from Parnham now. After a century of that classic stately-home malady where it was used as a country club, an old peoplehome and a school, what the place needed from its new owners was a major injection of cash. And courage. It took two years to complete the job. were so many people working on the project that the front lawn looked like the car park at a point-to-point,’says Emma, laughing.
Bertram built a central staircase and ingeniously brought in much-needed megawatts of natural light by removing a ceiling. David Linley, who studied at Parnham for two years when it was run as a carpentry school, saw pictures of a house so altered that he told Michael hebe completely flummoxed if he had to navigate his way around today.
Lady Henrietta, who specialises in reviving country houses, brought her feminine touch to many of the guest rooms, while the majority of the reception rooms are unmistakably Robert Kimehandiwork. An eclectic opulence is combined with his trademark palette of murky greens and terracotta reds. like Robert,’says Michael. Hevery precise. His numbers are impeccable-his bills, his expenses and his cost schedules are always spot-on.’Happily, hekeen on the decoratorinteriors too.
Hebasically an art expert. He can walk into a room and see immediately whether a piece of furniture is real or a fake.’We just happen to be standing five feet away from an ornate, marble-topped table. This is actually real,’he says, with a grin and a shrug.
Kimevision for Parnham began in Austria, in a storage warehouse of Michaelbursting with treasures as unusual as full sets of family armour. Most of this bounty came from his childhood home in the South Tyrol.
I thought it would be a good thing to impress an American girl with my ancestral home. So, as we drove up the drive, all of a sudden these figures came out from behind the trees clad in white.’Here, he stands up to do an impression of a man walking in a straitjacket. The loonies were on their evening walk! Totally macabre but totally harmless. We stopped the car and they came up to us. I tried to make light of it: look, thereUncle Joseph!”and so on. But that project didngo much further.’
Never mind. Michael eventually met Emma after moving to London from Wall Street. In her previous life as an artists’agent, she attended a dinner given to introduce a Spanish artist, Paco Carvajal. Michael left the meal enamoured. He decided to pretend his father would like a portrait of him. Complete bullshit, of course. That wouldbeen the last thing my father would have wanted!’Michael rang Emma the next day and asked her to organise some sittings with the artist. But I couldnsit down for long enough. I kept standing up or making telephone calls. Emma was recruited to distract me. One thing led to another… The portrait isnquite finished,’says Michael with a wry laugh, because we made progress.’