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Light can a make a huge difference to a property say a couple who renovated a North Yorkshire cottage. Heather Dixon reports Photographs by Colin Poole
The sun is important to Christine Marriott-Smalley especially when it comes to deciding whether or not to buy a property.
We really liked this cottage but it didnt have much garden and even that was overshadowed by neighbouring trees. So I asked the estate agent if I could sit in the courtyard to see exactly how much sun it would get. I took a magazine, made myself comfortable and hoped for a break in the clouds, said Christine. When the sun eventually came out I realised it was a beautiful little sun trap. It convinced me to buy the house.
Christine also negotiated with a neighbour to have a particularly large beech tree, which was blocking the light, cut back. We had to get permission to do this because we live in a conservation area, she said. It was a big expense and a bit of a gamble, because at that point we hadnt even exchanged contracts, but it was definitely worth the risk. It made a huge difference.
Christine planned to bring even more light into the cottage, by painting the low dark beams to lift the ceilings and introducing lots of light-painted furniture - but there was a more pressing matter to address when they moved from temporary rented accommodation into the four-bedroom property in North Yorkshire.
Its not until you see a house without furniture that you begin to see its true colours, said Christine. The kitchen, particularly, wasnt at all how we had remembered it. It was very basic, with just a butlers sink and nothing either side. There was no work surface to speak of. It was totally impractical.
We had to decide whether to make do with what we had for a while or install a new kitchen straight away.
Although it was an unexpected expense, they agreed to get it done to avoid major upheaval later on. There was already a Rangemaster in the kitchen, fitted into a chimney breast, and they decided to keep some of the unfitted furniture such as a wall cupboard next to the cooker and paint it to match the new units.
We still wanted the kitchen to look quite unfitted, said Christine. Thats why we chose to have a table in the middle, rather than a central island. They also kept the flagstone floor, even though it has never been sealed and bears the scars of years of wear and tear. While the kitchen was being made, they started decorating, introducing light colours and painting the beams to reflect as much light as possible around the house.
Stephen and Christine teamed up with friend and neighbour Alan Robinson to decorate the cottage in two stages, starting with the main living rooms downstairs and then tackling the bedrooms, stairs and landing.
Most of the walls are painted with Dulux Antique Cream and the painted furniture is largely Farrow & Ball Off White, creating a neutral backdrop for Christine and Stephens collection of new and antique furniture bought over the years. We lived in a very similar house in Cornwall before moving to Yorkshire so a lot of the furniture suited this house, said Christine. It took a while to make it work. Some of the pieces are very big, like the dresser in the dining room.
Its is one of my favourites but, because of its size, it was touch and go as to whether or not it would fit under the low beams. Luckily it did. It also works well in the open plan dining-kitchen.
Over the years the cottage has been altered and extended to turn a series of small, dark rooms into light, open living spaces. At once stage walls were knocked down between the front and back rooms and the fireplace in the sitting room was moved to form a central focal point in the larger sitting room. A garden room was later added, with linking French doors replacing the original window.
Christine and Stephen have worked with these changes, shuffling furniture round to make their large sofas, tables and dressers fit the unusual spaces, before adding their own improvement by removing a wall on the landing to turn a second family bathroom into an en suite to the main bedroom. At the same time, they took out a built-in cupboard on the landing and created a run of built-in wardrobes in the bedroom.
Sometimes its these small changes which make a huge difference to the way you use a house, says Christine. We didnt want to make changes for changes sake. The cottage has lots of character and history and we wanted to preserve that, while bringing it up to date.
Rather than have curtains at the windows, Christine and Stephen had shutters made by the firm who built the kitchen. There are lovely window seats at the front of the house which we wanted to use, said Christine. Heavy curtains would have blocked out the light and hidden the window seats, whereas pretty shutters fit snugly into the window, allow light in and create privacy.
Christine has a good eye for a bargain and the house is filled with lamps, pictures, antique crockery and pretty fabrics which she groups together to great effect. She buys a lot of smaller furniture and accessories at auctions and often buys something on impulse because she knows it will look perfect somewhere in the cottage even if shes not sure exactly where at the time.
I buy things because I like them and find a place for them later, she added. So when a local restaurant was having a refurbishment she snapped up a pair of benches for 50 knowing that they would come in handy. One of them has been painted and filled with cushions to create a pretty dining chair, while the other is in the pretty courtyard garden.
Sometimes I sit outside and recall those hours spent waiting, in what was then a strangers garden, for the sun to come out, said Christine. I think it was the best few hours Ive ever spent.
Victoria Rose Interiors 01751 432134 victoria-roseinteriors.co.uk
Lavender and Moor 01751 417633 lavenderandmoor.com
Bloom 0844 482 2332 bloom.uk.com
Whistle Fish Gallery 01209 202 441
Valentine Kitchens 01759 306306 valentinefurniture.co.uk
Cotswold Company 0844 984 0003 cotswoldco.com
Home Sense 01923 473 000 tkmaxx.com
Pickering Antiques Centre 01751 477210 pickeringantiquecentre.co.uk
The print version of this article appeared in the August 2012 issue of Yorkshire Life
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