The journey to this bucolic scene, however, was long and complicated. Halard had, he says, been “visiting houses in England for years and years and years,” but, inspired by his grandparents’ French château, had restricted himself to 18th-century Georgian examples with high ceilings and tall windows, “because,” as he maintains, “that’s all I saw that I could possibly tolerate.”
The couple eventually found a superb example in a remote northern county, nestled in its own great estate. They were poised to acquire it when Brooks realized that with Halard traveling so much for ongoing projects in America and elsewhere, she would be alone in this isolated beauty for much of the time—and Halard realized that for all its elegance the possibilities for creative transformation in the house’s rigorously ordered spaces were decidedly limited. A visit to another house where 18th-century rooms were grafted onto others created centuries earlier proved an epiphany. Halard deemed it “fascinating—you were never bored,” and so the possibilities multiplied.
Meanwhile their friend the artist Dan Chadwick, who lives among Gloucestershire’s fabled golden valleys (immortalized by author Laurie Lee in his autobiographical novel Cider with Rosie), knew of a nearby dairy farm with a 17th-century farmhouse that he felt might be worth investigating. The farmer had died and his son had built a more conveniently appointed house next door.
Writer Plum Sykes, another neighbor, drove past and took a surreptitious picture for Brooks and Halard back in the States. “It was winter and it was so depressing and really, really gloomy,” recalls Brooks of the resulting snap. “But still, maybe it was something.” The next visit was in person. “Coming across it in the fields,” Brooks remembers, “was just amazing. All ruined buildings and lots of horrible old silos and barbed wire everywhere.” But when she sat in a field admiring the view across the buildings to an ancient woodland and a great dip of valley beyond, “it felt just magic. And so,” she continues, “I went back to New York and I wrote to the farmers. And then we never heard anything and so we carried on looking. And we did it every year, every holiday here, looking.” Nothing, however, was quite right, and the couple were ready to give up on Miranda’s mother country, and contemplated, among other places, Maryland instead.