American Michele Hardman has shipped over some Ohio style to her fabulous Art Deco cliff top home in Whitby. Sharon Dale reports.
The story of how a girl from Cleveland, Ohio, ended up making a home in Whitby is sprinkled with romance and strange coincidences and it’s a tale that is recounted often.
Michele Hardman’s accent is a surprise even in this increasingly cosmopolitan seaside town and so everyone asks how she came to be there. It began in 1997 when she moved to the Home Counties with her then husband and their daughter.
“Friends and family would always visit us in England because I enjoy having people to stay. Some of them loved James Herriot and so we booked on a tour that took us round Thirsk, York and Whitby.”
Captivated by the characterful streets, the sandy beaches and the wild beauty of the coastline, she extended the holiday and stayed on in Whitby.
“We adored it and we came back every year for a holiday for the next 12 years,” says Michele.
“I’ve always loved water and I’ve always wanted to live by the sea. I like that everywhere here is so walkable and the people are so friendly and hospitable. I think it’s absolutely true that the further north you go in England, the friendlier people are.”
While visiting last year she spotted a detached, Art Deco house for sale on the West Cliff and experienced a coup de foudre.
“I feel it was meant to be, that something had brought me to it. It reminded me of one of my favourite homes in the US, which was another 1920s property. The house had been sold but I asked the agent to call me if it fell through and he did.”
Another sign it should be hers was the local pub, The White House, a happy reminder of her native America and of her time spent on the Obama election campaign in Ohio. When the original sale fell through, Michele stepped in, buying the property in February 2012.
It had been a much-loved second home, owned by the same family for 27 years, and is one of Whitby’s famous turreted houses with a prime spot overlooking the sea with panoramic views to the harbour, Abbey and nearby Sandsend. It also has the advantage of private parking in a town where most drivers have to fight it out for a space on the street.
Inside, the aptly named Poet’s View was dated but spacious with a sun room, drawing room with turret window, a formal dining room with vaulted ceiling and a large kitchen.
“It had a lovely feel but it needed a lot of work and it needed bringing into the 21st-century,” says Michele, who came up with a clever plan to find the best local contractors. “I didn’t know any builders but I know how resourceful women are, so my first stop was Kristy’s beauty salon on Flowergate, which is one of my favourite shops. I asked her if she knew anyone and she asked her sister, who is a hairdresser. Between them and their clients they came up with a fantastic bunch of tradespeople.”
Under Michele’s supervision, the team tackled everything from roofing and plumbing to re-wiring and decorating. Meanwhile, after long, hard days working on the house and project managing, she “camped out” on a blow-up mattress in one of the bedrooms.
“I was six weeks without any heat or electricity so that was quite tough. It was freezing so I used to go to Kristy’s salon and soak in the hot tub in her spa to warm up,” she says.
The property now has all mod cons including new heating, a large, flat screen TV and a sound system. Much of the furniture was shipped over from America, where she had stored her favourite pieces. Although some of it is supersize, it all fits.
“It worked out cheaper to ship it over rather than buy again and it means I have things that remind me of past times in my life,” says Michele.
The rug in the sun room is from the US, as is the sofa, which hails from Hickory in North Carolina. The striped armchairs are from an Art Deco fair and the dining table and chairs are antiques. The soft furnishings were made by local company Simply Interiors, using fabric that Michele had collected over the years.
“I have a car bumper sticker that reads: ‘she who dies with the most fabric wins’,” she says.
“I’m addicted to beautiful fabric and I can’t resist buying it even if I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.”
Michele also shopped around for bargain lighting and accessories from TK Maxx and Homebase and found some fantastic one-offs. The sheets of marbled paper on the dining room ceiling are by an Welsh artist she spotted at an art fair. The display cabinet with rowing memorabilia was found in an antique shop in Henley, her mirrors are from vintage specialist The Stonehouse Emporium in Whitby, and an Art Deco screen she bought on eBay is now a sensational headboard.
The pictures on the walls reflect her love of travel but her favourite is a mural in the hallway entitled The Whitby Wave.
It was painted by her friend, the painter Indigo Coates-Perez, in the style of Japanese artist Hokusai.
“She painted it when she came to stay here,” says Michele, who also lets the house to holidaymakers and weekenders. “I love being able to share the house and although it’s not the traditional holiday let because it’s decorated in such a personal way, visitors have really appreciated that and respected it.
“It’s a little bit of America in Yorkshire.”
Poet’s View is available to let through Yorkshire Coastal Cottages, tel: 0845 068 2020, www.yorkshirecoastalcottages.com
Simply Interiors, soft furnishings, Flowergate, Whitby, www.simplyinteriorswhitby.co.uk
Paint from AGI DIY store, Cholmley Way, Whitby, tel: 01947 604477
The Stonehouse Emporium, Skinner Street, Whitby, for vintage mirrors, www.thestonehouse.co.uk
Word stickers on the sun room walls from www.fab.com
Andrew Kitney, Ark design consultancy for architectural guidance, tel: 07908 760186
Kristy’s, beauty therapy, Flowergate, Whitby, www.kristys.co.uk