He is the poster boy for Latin machismo, the smouldering Spaniard who, the star of Assassins, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico and The Mask of Zorro who set pulses racing across the globe. Before that he was the muse of art-house director Pedro Almodovar, and he's been married to Hollywood royalty, in the form of Melanie Griffith. Antonio Banderas is secure in his status as an international film star and all-round object of envy and lust - so what on earth is he doing living in a prefabicated home in the staid British stockbroker belt south of London?

"I was married for 20 years, based in the US, and of course the country has given me a lot," says the Malaga-born Banderas, 55, from the sparsely furnished study of a five-bedroom Huf Haus near Cobham, Surrey. "But the kids are grown up now [his daughter with ex-wife Griffith, Stella, is 19; he also has two stepchildren, Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson, 26, and Alexander, 30] and I am just not attached there on a personal level.

"I have a home on Central Park, in New York, but homes in Spain, too, and it felt like the perfect time for me to get back to Europe. This return had to happen."

Such talk of destiny, in his knee-weakening, heavily accented English, is almost enough to make you forgive him for such a prosaic move. After all, shortly before his high-profile divorce from Griffith, 58, last year, they sold their sprawling, hacienda-style home in Los Angeles' upmarket Hancock Park for just under US$16 million. With seven bedrooms, a recording studio, elaborate security apparatus, a fitness centre and a courtyard pool, that seems a far more natural habitat for a movie star who has acted opposite Sylvester Stallone, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and, most recently, Juliette Binoche in The 33, about the 2010 rescue of Chilean miners.

"This house gives me the simplicity and freedom I need in my life at the moment," Banderas says. "I find Surrey magical. I am not a party person any more, so I have the space and peace to write and really get inside my own head - I am working on several scripts. I go cycling in the woods, and everyone in Cobham, Weybridge and Esher is incredibly friendly. Above all, I am surrounded by nature. I love watching the deer and foxes that come to my garden."

Yet there is a more compelling reason than the local wildlife for this new, unstarry life - his new girlfriend, Nicole Kimpel, with whom he is now cosily ensconced. Though she tries to dissolve into the background as Banderas is interviewed and photographed (she is pleased to be dispatched at one point to fetch his American Spirit cigarettes), her model frame - as precision-assembled as the house - and lustrous hair make her hard to ignore. As do the doe-eyed glances and tender caresses they exchange whenever possible.

Banderas was spotted dancing with Kimpel, 36, a Dutch-German investment adviser, at a party in Cannes in 2014. She has insisted since that she is no homewrecker, and that she told Banderas he had to be a fully free man before he tried to woo her. One suspects they can live more privately in deepest Surrey than in London.

"My father had two Huf houses when I was growing up," says Kimpel, who speaks in soft pan-European tones, is fluent in at least six languages (she picked up Spanish just by hanging out with Banderas and his friends) and has a pleasingly firm handshake that reveals a certain steeliness.

"I have owned a lot of houses, with many types of architecture, but I think this is my favourite so far"

"In fact, he found this for us, as he thought we would love it. I have moved home about 26 times, and until recently was living in Switzerland, so I am used to setting up anywhere, especially as I work for myself."

With her identical twin, Barbara, Kimpel, who used to work for investment bank Merrill Lynch, advises private clients on everything from personal finance and diversifying portfolios to investing in art and property, as well as sourcing off-market homes for royalty and celebrities. "It is peaceful here, though, so it's easy to be lazy."

Banderas' enthusiasm for the house is compelling. He may be thrilled to be back in Britain, where he filmed parts of Interview with the Vampire alongside Tom Cruise - and he loves hanging out with his London-based Spanish crew, which includes English National Ballet's artistic director, Tamara Rojo - but he also seems to have caught the Huf bug as he expounds on the joys of his German-manufactured prefab home.

"All this wood and glass, it is a beautiful concept," says Banderas, who, with his warm, now slightly crinkled eyes and sculpted physique, is still firmly a sex symbol. "I have owned a lot of houses, with many types of architecture, but I think this is my favourite so far. It is incredible, so easy to live in. And when the afternoon sunshine comes in through the glass, it lights up like a diamond."

There are now about 200 Huf houses in Britain. Often found in beauty spots, they are known for their distinctive post-and-beam structures, eco-friendly credentials and generous glazing. They are made to the customer's specifications and, according to the manufacturer's website, "a HUF house offers you the realisation of an individually planned construction project that is dealt with by competent and dedicated professionals from beginning to end".

Casa Banderas and Kimpel is a classic "butterfly" split-roof three-storey model, surrounded by woodland, with about 6,000 square feet of living space, four large reception rooms and a half-hectare of gently sloping gardens, for which they paid about £2.4 million (HK$26.3 million) last year. Inside, the beams are a classic black, the floor coverings (stone and carpet) are neutral and the furnishings are surprisingly anodyne for someone who owns a collection of avant-garde art.

They bought it as a turnkey project, Banderas explains, so all the generically "modern" furniture was here when they arrived, and not all of it is to their taste.

"Some things I will be burning in the back garden," he says, singling out a bright blue abstract painting in his study. "This place is going to evolve slowly, as we choose furniture together. We have already bought a Banksy."

Still, with Kimpel in tow, Banderas provides an almost alarmingly passionate tour of his new home, grabbing pieces of fruit and juggling them, playing blues and flamenco at the grand piano in the sitting room and pointing out the well-organised kitchen, where he loves to cook his girlfriend risotto. Best of all is the lower-ground leisure suite, with a sauna, a gym and a cosy cinema room, where the two enjoy nights in. Although it's hard to believe that the actor, director and producer will be a regular at the local supermarket for too long, he insists Surrey will be his base for at least five years.

As well as working on plans to build a beachside Huf in Marbella, possibly in a unique circular design, he has joined Kimpel on the commuter trail, in his case to classes in fashion design at Central Saint Martins, in London.

The silver screen is still definitely on his agenda (he is in Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups, released this month, and is preparing to play Picasso opposite Gwyneth Paltrow), but he aims to build on his already successful line in perfume and glasses with a clothing range, AntonioBanderas Design.

He pulls one of his designs out of the cupboard, a dark brown, cowboy-inspired shirt that he sewed himself, with a built-in pocket for credit cards.

"Not bad, huh!" he exclaims. "If I can make a success of this, I don't need to be a slave to box-office sales."

Banderas hopes his new project will allow him to go back to his roots and help to fund a new theatre for young hopefuls in Spain.

"This way," he says, reliably dramatic, "I will truly get the freedom I crave."

News Syndication