Yorkshire Interiors - 200-year-old former blacksmith's shop near Wetherby converted to family home
PUBLISHED: 13:23 28 June 2013
Salvaged treasures from woodlands and beaches help to create a unique family home in West Yorkshire as Heather Dixon discovers
Photographs by Colin Poole
Philippa Ferguson is a great believer in ‘foraging’ for treasures. Her family often comes home from a country walk with arms full of twigs, leaves, stones and bits of moss, which will be transformed into decorations for the home and they spend hours on the beaches of Yorkshire looking for shells, smooth glass and driftwood.
‘I love natural textures and materials and we never go anywhere without bringing something back,’ says Philippa. ‘Nothing goes to waste. With a bit of imagination you can give anything a new lease of life.’
Philippa’s foraging extends to car boot sales, antique shops and sale rooms, where she spends hours rummaging for bargains and dated furniture to re-invent.
As a result, Philippa and her husband Stuart have saved thousands of pounds by creating a delightful family home full of imaginative designs and cost-saving ideas.
‘I think many people derive great satisfaction from creating things for themselves and making the most of natural things, rather than shopping for the latest gadgets or fashion must-haves,’ says Philippa. ‘People throw away all kinds of things which could so easily be re-invented and re-used.’
In fact, nothing is quite what it seems in their four-bedroom, 200-year-old former blacksmith’s shop near Wetherby, where they have lived since 2001. Originally a single storey building, it has been extended over the years to twice the size, including a kitchen and upper floor. The alterations were carried out with the village in mind. Most of the neighbouring properties are built in red-brown brick with slate or pantile roofs, and the former blacksmith’s is no exception. Philippa and Stuart have also added a colourful shed and created a sheltered courtyard in their walled garden, but their most recent changes have been inside the house, where they have redesigned the room layout to make better use of the space.
‘It’s a very pretty house and we didn’t want to spoil it by doing lots of structural work, but the old sitting room was long and thin and not very cosy,’ says Philippa. ‘So we took out one wall and built another to make the sitting room smaller and the kitchen bigger. It works much better for us as a family. Now we love it in there, and the kitchen is a great family room.’ They found new tiles to match the old on the kitchen floor and painted the units rather than go to the unnecessary expense of having a complete re-fit.
Crates destined for the skip have been transformed into kitchen shelves, printer’s trays make unusual display cabinets, mis-matched china from car boot sales makes a pretty dinner service and cupboards bought for a few pounds from sale rooms have been regenerated with paint, fabric and new handles.
Even sticks and stones brought home by their children, Robert, Jack and Jenny, are displayed in pots, while flowers from the garden are dried and made into country style wall hangings. ‘We particularly like going on sea glass hunts,’ says Philippa.
‘There are thousands of tiny pieces of smooth coloured glass on the north-eastern beaches which come from the days when local glass makers used to tip their waste over the cliffs. Some of the rarer colours are from old ship’s lanterns or pirate boats. We collect them and use them for decorations. The way the light catches the glass is beautiful and when we find them, still shimmering wet on the beach, it’s like finding jewels.’
These salvaged treasures are brought home and stored in baskets in Philippa’s workshop, which used to be the dining room at the front of the house. Here she spends any spare time she has making and designing beautiful decorative hearts and hangings which she sells to order. She started the craft as a hobby, using her skills as a former florist to create gifts for the home, and now their house is full of her artistic designs.
‘We fell in love with this house and ploughed everything we had into buying it, which left us with very little for furnishings,’ says Philippa. ‘At the time we both set up small businesses from home so we could spend more time with the children and enjoy a better work-life balance,’ adds Philippa, who also works as a carer.
When they moved in, the house had dark laminate floors, strong wall colours and the windows were rotten, but Philippa and Stuart loved the property’s character, including its ‘wonky’ chimney breast, original beams, etched glass doors and irregular rooms.
‘We felt these natural features needed to be acknowledged and emphasised,’ says Philippa. Within the first few weeks they had redecorated in neutral colours which immediately reflected light around the house. They laid seagrass carpets and had the windows double glazed to keep out the draughts, then began the process of creating a comfortable and very personal home.
‘We were rattling around at first because we only had the kitchen table and chairs, one sofa, two armchairs, two beds and a sideboard,’ says Philippa. ‘We didn’t have much money to buy new things so we started to look for bargains and do swaps with friends to gradually create the look for the interior. I will often drive past a second hand furniture shop, spot something on the pavement and turn around to have a better look. The children are used to squashing together in the back of the car to make room for a cupboard, a basket or a chair, which I can’t resist. I don’t usually spend more than a few pounds on something, but it’s amazing what you can pick up if you look out for the bargains.’
Although Philippa has a talent for transforming things other people would throw away, she says she’s not a hoarder. ‘I will be ruthless and throw things away when I have to, but equally I won’t get rid of anything which has sentimental value. That can be anything from furniture our grandparents have given us to bits and pieces the children have brought home or particularly good bargains which I wouldn’t find again.’
The garden has also produced a few gems including roof tiles which have been used to finish off a wall section on the landing and plenty of leaves and flowers which find their way into Philippa’s workshop. She will often buy pieces of wood or discarded frames and turn them into works of art for the wall, or to create a corner of unusual accessories.
She also finds different uses for things – wooden planks become shelving, boxes are turned on their sides to form shelves and fabric remnants are turned into cushions. ‘It’s knowing where to look and seeing beyond the obvious,’ says Philippa. ‘Nothing in our house is fitted, everything has been done on a budget, but a lot of things cost next to nothing. We’ve created a home full of natural tones, colours and textures. Everything tells a story and a lot of things have sentimental value, which makes them very special.’