George Clooney: What Amal wants, Amal gets

Amal and George Clooney may have spent twice as much renovating their property than what was paid for it in the first place. Photo / AP
Amal and George Clooney may have spent twice as much renovating their property than what was paid for it in the first place. Photo / AP

There was much anticipation among the residents of Sonning when George and Amal Clooney finally moved into their 17th century mansion earlier this year after an intensive, 18-month long refurbishment.

The wives of this enchanting village were especially hopeful for an invitation from the new chateleine to a housewarming at Aberlash House - or even just a cup of tea.

But it soon became clear that only a select number of villagers from Sonning - which lies on the Thames just two miles outside Reading, Berkshire but feels like a fairyland at the end of the world - were to be welcomed into the Clooneys' orbit.

The Clooneys, one of the most high-profile couples on the world stage, have been virtually invisible in their home village, screened by a veil of lush foliage that reveals only a hint of rooftop and a glimmer of a boathouse next to the water's edge.

And what a home it is. As planning documents submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council, and publicly available on their website, reveal, the building work commissioned by the couple has turned an illustrious property into a sumptuous home.

The Clooneys paid an undisclosed sum for the Grade II-listed property, which was put on the market for £7.5 million (NZ$13.2m), in September 2014, a couple of weeks after their three-day wedding extravaganza in Venice.

Remodelled during the Georgian era, the house, stands on a five-and-a-half acre island on one of the most idyllic stretches of the Thames, at Sonning Eye, which marks the boundary with Oxfordshire.

The village is a higgledy-piggledy mix of half-timbered houses, some dating from the 13th century, and more austere Georgian properties. There is a slightly unreal feel to the place, as though it's part of a film set.

George is said to have told the builders at the start of the project: "What Amal wants, Amal gets."

It was evidently not a throwaway remark. Budget? There wasn't one.

The brief was to create the perfect family home - whatever the cost. Not long afterwards, intensive renovation work began, with a 20-strong workforce tasked to create a dream family home.

For many months, the villagers endured a cacophony of building work. The skyline, for a time, was dominated by a 60 metre high crane, the streets filled by a constant stream of HGVs and goods vans going to and from the property.

It was reported that neighbours had expressed their annoyance.

There were also complaints about the height of the poles on which CCTV cameras were to be placed, and concerns about the position of the wooden fence erected around the island perimeter to repel intruders attempting to land on the island from the water. Now the building work has finished however, difficulties have been resolved and tranquillity restored.

The finished product has been declared a Grand Design on a truly monumental scale.
It is for the couple, who are believed to have moved into the property in April, their very own Xanadu.

How much it all cost only the Clooneys know, but judging by the extensive work done, the final bill could easily be in the region of £20 million (NZ$35m) - at least twice what the couple originally paid for the property.

Everything has been designed in impeccable taste, with a dreamy, romantic feel - an American movie star's vision of an English country estate. The interior, comprising almost 11,000 square feet in total, has been completely overhauled.

Original features have been retained but the interior now has a light, modern feel compared with the more traditional fixtures of old.

Staff quarters include a professional kitchen (neighbours says the Clooneys have an Italian chef), bedroom and office.

At night, the sandstone property, with its newly relaid Yorkstone terrace, is illuminated by floor lights.

A walkway connected to the house leads to a glasshouse and a spacious pool house looking out over a 60ft swimming pool, hot tub and a terrace of reclaimed Yorkstone, lined with a row of pine trees.

Next to the pool is a shaded oak pergola area in which the couple can relax after a dip. The emphasis has been on making everything appear natural and organic.

To that end the pool, for example, has a hard, decorative finish in grey Marbelite rendered lining 'to appear like a garden pond'; much of the pool house has been constructed from reclaimed brickwork.

Within the state-of-the-art leisure complex is a 12-seater private cinema - a must-have for a Hollywood superstar like George.

A short walk from the pool is an AstroTurf-covered tennis court surrounded by a black netting.

The long lawn leading to the river has been re-laid and fitted with a subterranean irrigation system.

There is also a gym with accompanying shower and changing area (well, it is a long walk back to the main house).

The boathouse, which has its own landing stage, has also been refurbished.

One of the most romantic areas of the property is the River House. This was knocked down and rebuilt, weather-boarded and has stone steps leading down to the river.

They have planted, at what must be a phenomenal cost, an abundance of trees and plants around the perimeter of the island.

The property used to be one of the loveliest landmarks in Sonning. Now it is concealed behind dense foliage.

Among the fully grown trees transported into Sonning by lorry - and responsible for some huge traffic jams over the 18th-century Sonning Bridge - were white willow, goat willow, black poplar, aspen, hawthorn, hazel, holm oak, yew, holly, wild pear, wild cherry, crab apple and small leaved lime.Shrubs and flowers planted in the grounds include tulips, roses, geraniums, dahlias, magnolia, wisteria and jasmine.

But what of the three dogs the neighbours say the Clooneys own - two spaniels and a bassett hound? Don't George and Amal take them out for a walk?

That duty, it seems, usually falls to their female Italian chef.

Indeed, despite their creation of a dream home, the couple do not seem to have spent much time in Sonning at all.

Last week, they were in Italy, staying at Clooney's palatial residence on Lake Como. Clooney also has a mansion in Los Angeles and a beachside property in Mexico.

"He's not here at the moment," said a neighbour. "He flashes in and flashes out. I think the weather's too bad."

- Daily Mail

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