The best time to experience the Summer House is in the early morning, just as the first beams of light break through the canopy of oaks that define this stretch of English countryside. As its owner, my twin brother, Anthony Paul, will tell you, dawn here is greeted by a rousing chorus of birdsong that mixes with the gentle sounds of water tumbling over the weir in the river below.
“There’s a joyful play of light in these ancient woods,” says Anthony. “My artist friends who have stayed at the cottage tell me they find it life-affirming.”
Five miles south of the old market town of Dorking, the Summer House sits on the grounds of my brother’s home, Black & White Cottage. Here, in the Surrey Hills, history is etched into the landscape: Nearby are remnants of the ancient Roman road that connected London and Regnensium (now Chichester). The medieval villages of Oakwoodhill, Ockley, and Walliswood bear witness to the significance of the forests, now shadows of their former glory.
Black & White Cottage is also the base for Anthony’s landscape-design practice. His projects, from Provence to New England, are defined by intimacy and restraint. “I try to keep a simple palette and work with materials and plants that look natural in the environment I’m given,” he explains.
"Born in England, at the end of World War II, my brother and I grew up in New Zealand, where our family moved when we were five. That country’s landscape made an indelible impression on Anthony, who developed a deep respect for its natural rhythms. “Holidays spent camping in the wilderness, exploring the native bush, rivers, and lakes,” he says, “were the best education a boy could have.”
Today, Anthony counts Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ringo Starr, racing driver Damon Hill, and other celebrities among his clients. “I have been lucky to work for a lot of inspiring people,” he says.
Still, his greatest passion has always been his own garden at Black & White Cottage. Over many years he has made it into one of the most compelling landscapes in Surrey, enhanced by the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden, which is open to the public and has gained global recognition.
Among the works installed here are an equestrian-themed piece by Stuart Anderson, stone carvings by Emily Young (who recently collaborated with Victoria Beckham), and a figurative work by David Begbie in a transparent steel-and-bronze mesh.
I remember the moment, in 1977, when Anthony bought Black & White Cottage. The 16th-century residence, previously owned by English actress Hayley Mills, was surrounded by ten acres of unkempt gardens that nature had set out to reclaim. “Hidden in the woods was a ruin completely covered in ivy and brambles,” says Anthony. “Can you imagine the excitement when we cut away the undergrowth and discovered a delightful old garden folly?”
That folly became the Summer House. I recall seeing it then—bats living under the roof and mice below the floorboards. Almost right away Anthony had the idea of restoring it as a seasonal retreat. Probably built some 70 years ago, it now looks much older—the result of painstaking hours spent creating layers of patina. “I used reclaimed materials to keep it looking rustic,” Anthony says. “The oak beams made from recycled timbers were treated with an earthy white lime to contrast with the terracotta color on the walls.”
He painted the exterior a soft blue-green and repurposed old clay tiles found in the woods for the roof, which is now covered in a thick layer of moss. Using wood from storm-felled trees, Anthony also built a terrace that offers magical views of the river and woods. “In the late spring,” he notes, “you see a panorama of greens—oak, ash, alder, and hornbeam, all English heartland natives.”
In contrast to the follies of many an English 18th-century garden, which were by definition glorious without purpose, Anthony makes frequent use of the Summer House and rents it out to guests. “At times, we all long for a secret hideaway,” he says. “I wanted to create somewhere to escape, a quiet sanctuary to be inspired by nature, curl up with a good book, or just sit and dream.”
The Summer House is bookable April 1–October 31; hannahpescharsculpture.com.