Yorkshire Interiors - Christmas in a converted 18th century corn mill
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 December 2013
Christmas in a converted 18th century corn mill converted to a comfortable family home has all the traditional trimmings as Heather Dixon reports
In the weeks before Christmas, Karen and Chris Tinkler’s dining room is piled high with wheel-barrow loads of greenery tipped straight onto the flagstone floor. Karen spends hours sifting through mountains of fir, holly and ivy which will end up in every room of their converted corn mill in North Yorkshire.
‘I love filling the house with natural, locally sourced decorations at Christmas time,’ says Karen. ‘I like lots of foliage and we always buy four or five trees from the nearby Duncombe Park estate so we have one in each of the main rooms.’ She buys candles which have been handmade by the monks at Ampleforth Abbey, gathers pine cones from the surrounding woods and makes her own wreaths using home dried chillies, oranges and cloves.
In the run-up to Christmas the kitchen is steaming with huge cooked hams and water-crust pies, mince pies filled with homemade mince, a large Christmas cake and her own recipe Christmas pudding, ready for the guests, friends and family who inevitably descend on the corn mill at this time of the year. ‘My childhood Christmas was very different, with a fake tree and lots of glittery baubles and tinsel,’ said Karen. ‘Living in the country we have so many wonderful things on our doorstep – we don’t need to fill the house with glitz and glitter to make it look festive.’
The 19th century former mill near Kirkbymoorside certainly lends itself to a warm Christmas atmosphere. Many of its original features - including the mill wheel and workings, and a stream gushing beneath a glass panel in the dining room floor – were incorporated into its conversion. Exposed stone walls, heavy flagged floors and original beams are at the heart of its character, and Karen has worked with these features to create a home which is warm, welcoming and full of rich, winter colours.
‘I have a passion for saving and recycling things,’ says Karen. ‘I would rather reupholster a chair than send it to the skip. I love buying cuts of material and then making things from them later. I’m also a great fan of tassels. I’m known by local shop owners as the ‘Tassel Lady’ because I’m always looking for different colours and sizes, not just for curtains but for decorating vases or hanging on door handles.’
Both Karen and Chris are self-confessed hoarders – books are Chris’ weakness while Karen tries not to throw anything away that is useful or beautiful, especially antiques. ‘Chris will often buy relatives a small antique for Christmas rather than something new because he believes it’s special and individual,’ said Karen. ‘We love visiting antique shops and auctions because you never know what you’re going to find. There have been many times when we’ve bought something and it’s only just fitted into our car. We can be a bit impulsive!’
Karen and Chris might never have bought the mill if the ‘dream house’ they had planned to buy hadn’t been taken off the market the day before they were due to sign the contract. ‘We were devastated,’ said Karen. ‘We were right back to square one.’ But fate lent a hand when they spotted the three-storey mill for sale, offering everything they were looking for - plenty of room, a beautiful riverside location and a disused farmhouse with converted stables in the courtyard which would make ideal bed and breakfast accommodation. ‘I love entertaining and had always wanted to run a guest house,’ said Karen. ‘This offered the perfect opportunity. One minute we were rock bottom and the next we were on cloud nine.’
Within a few weeks they were moving into the corn mill, transporting all their possessions in three van loads which they finished unpacking the day before their first guests were due to arrive. ‘We hit the ground at break-neck speed,’ said Karen, who spent the first night trying to get the dining room into some kind of order so she could serve a full English breakfast the following day. ‘We haven’t stopped since.’
Karen and Chris had previously lived in a Victorian house packed full of large furniture and items bought on Karen’s shopping trips. ‘Being a bit of a magpie, I realised the house had become too small for everything that was in it,’ she said. ‘The corn mill has allowed us to spread out. As soon as I saw it I loved the fact that the rooms were so spacious, although I thought the exposed stone seemed very rough and ready. Until then I had always preferred the formal structure of a Georgian or Victorian property, but I’ve grown to love the mill’s rustic character. The house hadn’t been touched for a long time and was looking very tired. It needed an injection of colour and life.’
Now they’ve developed the house as they want it, Karen and Chris love the rural lifestyle and often reflect on their ‘near miss’ with relief. There was only one low point which threatened to ruin their rural idyll when the River Dove broke its banks and flooded the garden. ‘The water was so high that it rose to the level of the glass floor panel in the dining room,’ recalled Karen. ‘We were lucky not to find the house under water too.’
Now they have developed the other buildings around the mill’s cobbled courtyard and their home is often shared with people to come to stay at the guest house and enjoy breakfast in the spacious dining room. But that’s as far as they are likely to wander. ‘By keeping the mill separate from the farmhouse and stables we enjoy our privacy, even though we love to have lots of people staying with us – especially at Christmas time. It’s a house which needs lots of people to make it come alive and Christmas is the perfect time for that.’ n
Duncombe Park duncombepark.com
Ampleforth Abbey ampleforth.org.uk
Simon Horn Furniture Ltd simonhorn.com
Oriental Rug Gallery orientalruggallery.co
Dove Antiques 01653 628515 dove-antiques.co.uk
Ryedale Antiques ryedaleauctioneers.com