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Inside Parnham Park: James and Sophie Perkins open the doors to stately Dorset home they saved from ruin

Entrepreneur James and Sophie Perkins bring their family's restoration skills and unique sense of style to Dorset

Parnham Park owners James and Sophie Perkins posing with their three children© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO
January 27, 2024
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There’s something timelessly magical about James and Sophie Perkins’s home, Parnham Park. Hidden away in a dreamy corner of Dorset, the elegant Elizabethan mansion lies in its own secluded valley, where a lake shimmers beneath ancient trees and white deer roam. It’s hard to believe that this idyllic scene was violently disturbed just seven years ago, when a suspected arson attack resulted in the house being engulfed in flames. 

Happily, Parnham is rising phoenix-like from the ashes. Although the roof and interior were destroyed, the honey-tinted local stone of the walls withstood the blaze – and that’s when James, 55, and Sophie, 37, stepped in to acquire the estate, determined to restore it to its former glory and ensure its future survival.

Parnham Park HELLO! shoot James and Sophie Perkins posing outdoors© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

Entrepreneur James has established quite a track record of restoring historic properties, his most ambitious project being the couple’s 17th-century former home, 40-bedroom Aynhoe Park in Northamptonshire.

Their other passions, for collecting and nature conservation, are very much complementary. Parnham is the perfect place to showcase their holdings of everything from ostrich-feather lamps to old masters, while its vast grounds are a haven for a host of animal and plant species.

Parnham Park stunning shot of house and grounds© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

And naturally, the couple’s three children – Beau, 16, Lyon, 11, and Luna, eight – couldn’t be happier. With something fascinating to discover at every turn, Parnham is a playground filled with adventure.

James, tell us about your background...

I grew up in Gloucestershire, in a family that takes a lot of inspiration from my mother Sally. She owned fashion boutiques and is a very talented flower arranger; I inherited my creative streak from her.

How long have you been a collector?

Since I was 14, when I attended my first auction with my mother. I was captivated by the possibility of buying lost treasures and reimagining them, giving them a new setting.

Parnham Park interiors with amazing artwork and fireplace© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

Which objects mean most to you?

Every item I acquire becomes my new favourite, from a giant piece of amethyst I brought back from Brazil to some paintings of exotic South American birds, which I bought recently from a local artist, Nigel Hughes.

Parnham Park beautiful shot of immaculate grounds © FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

There’s a model of a woolly mammoth from seven million years ago, and one of an explorers’ boat standing next to a Vexquisite 5ft reproduction of Big Ben. Then I have a huge cabinet of curiosities filled with 200-million-year-old ammonites. They’re all my favourites.

How old is Parnham, and how is the restoration progressing?

There has been a house on this site since the 1400s, so it’s one of the oldest and most important stately homes in Dorset. The house was remodelled in 1810 by John Nash, best known for his work on Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch and Regent Street.

Parnham Park interiors with black radiators and pastoral wallpaper© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

Parnham is steeped in history. Following the fire, our intention is to restore and reimagine this enchanting estate. We’re around halfway through now.

We hope to turn it into not only a home for ourselves, but also a hospitality venue for celebrating birthdays and weddings, as we did with Aynhoe Park, which became renowned worldwide.

What were your first impressions of Parnham?

Parnham Park interiors showing vintage bed wth unique insect wall decor © FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

I felt that it had a magical allure. The setting, near the beautiful town of Beaminster on the River Brit, includes formal gardens, historic walled gardens, ancient woodlands, orchards and a dramatic lake and waterfall.

What projects are you planning?

We intend to create an inclusive estate featuring luxury holiday residences, as well as our restaurant, The Parnham Garden Kitchen, in the heart of our walled garden, so that people can come and enjoy this very special, undiscovered pocket of Dorset.

Parnham Park exterior shot of James Perkins and son with dog and car© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

At the same time, this will enable us to save the historic house from certain ruin. I want to make sure that Parnham survives for several hundred more years, and to make it the focal point of the local area once again.

Which of your restoration projects are you most proud of?

I think it’s fair to say that Aynhoe Park was a fantastic transformation, from a tired old country house to a 40-bedroom operation that brought so much joy and won us the global Best Venue award [at the prestigious Bridelux Awards] in 2019. Of course, our plans for Parnham Park are even more exciting.

Parnham Park owner Sophie Perkins posing in grounds© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

Back in the 1990s, you were a trailblazer on the electronic music scene, creating the first big festivals with your company Fantazia...

Yes. When I was 20, I was inspired by the latest technology of the time, like lasers, and excited by the new electronic dance movement. I saw an opportunity to be at the forefront of it, producing safe yet spectacular shows for giant audiences, while enjoying the freedom of staying out all night listening to this groundbreaking sound that became a global phenomenon”

Sophie, how did you meet James?

We were introduced by a mutual friend in a Cotswolds pub.

Parnham Park light and airy dining room with round table© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

And you worked together on Aynhoe Park?

We started the events company together there, organising weddings, parties and photoshoots.x

Many famous names enjoyed its hospitality while you were there...

Many of our clients remain private, as we respect their wishes to stage private celebrations with us.

Parnham Park interiors collection of unique artwork© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

However, it’s fair to say those who have made it into the mainstream media include some of the world’s biggest film directors, brands such as LVMH, the entire Cabinet and global rock stars such as The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bono, Noel and Liam Gallagher, and Kate Moss, to name a few.

You’ve described Aynhoe and Parnham as "living museums of art and curiosities, filled with pieces both priceless and playful". Is their style much copied?

Aynhoe’s interiors are internationally famous, so, due to demand from our clients who wanted to buy similar pieces, we launched the website A Modern Grand Tour – a celebration of travelling, collecting and filling your home with interesting objects. That motivated James to design, and inspired by the style and history of Aynhoe and Parnham, he’s now created his own line of furniture.

Parnham Park interiors with unique collectables © FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

Parnham Park is a 'living museum of art and curiosities'

What’s it like to live here?

Like Aynhoe, Parnham is magical, but there’s a different kind of enchantment here. It feels very nostalgic, like all of the Enid Blyton books we read as children rolled into one. I love listening to our children and their friends as they play in the forest or paddle in the lake. Nature is everywhere, from dragonflies and otters to deer.

Which is your favourite room?

I’m happiest of all when I’m outside. We’ve spent a lot of time restoring the gardens and thinking about how they’ll be used in the future; how we can teach and stimulate conversation through what we plant. Growing our own food was very important to me – the potting shed and greenhouse are a sanctuary. There’s nothing better than talking to the gardeners and seeing the garden flourish.

Parnham Park view of house on immaculate lawn© FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

Do you enjoy hosting here?

I love to see the look on a guest’s face when they arrive and discover the magic we’re creating here. We want to create a community of like-minded people, creatives and families, who can use Parnham and enjoy it as we do. We all have busy lives and to reconnect, we need to disconnect.

Is travel important to you?

James would like to travel more, but someone has to keep us grounded and I love this place, so I never want to leave. But we love taking the kids on trips – it brings us new ideas, new memories and new objects for the house.

Parnham Park view of archway and plant life © FERNANDA & PALOMA AT COUCHE STUDIO

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