Artist’s retreat

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Returning to Yorkshire was a creative spur for artist Laura Wallace who has found the perfect place to paint. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Sam Oakes and Suzy Mitchell.

Properties with a separate gym score highly with buyers thanks to the pressure to keep fit, and an outbuilding full of cross trainers and weights was certainly a selling point 
for Laura Wallace.

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“As soon as I saw it I knew it would be perfect,” says Laura, who couldn’t wait to replace the exercise equipment with an easel and paints.

The gym, housed in a pretty single-storey building, is now the sort of studio that artists dream of. It sits in woodland and is filled with natural light and beautiful views. It’s also a hop and a skip from the main house.

“It’s wonderful and I am very lucky. It’s important to have a separate space to paint in because it’s so easy to get distracted in the house,” says Laura.

Her originals and prints fill the walls of her home in Ilkley and include Yorkshire and Scottish land and seascapes and intimate studies of flowers.

“I love fresh flowers and I’m the sort of person who always has to have them in the house. When I get back from a holiday the first thing I do is go out and buy some,” she says. “When I decide to paint them, I can spend hours just looking at the tone, the colours and the light before I even start to put anything on the canvas. I study the Scottish colourists who make colours pop out.”

The fresh flowers and the stunning pictures combine to give life and soul to the rooms, which have become an informal gallery for family, friends and collectors. “It helps to see them in situ and I started doing the prints to make them more accessible. The quality is really good. I call the small ones Little Lauras.”

There are a few pictures she won’t part with including a seascape painted at Birsay in Orkney, where the family has a holiday home. It’s her husband’s favourite. She and Mark, a banker, love the countryside and the coast and the wilder the better. That’s one of the reasons they decided to move out of London after 18 years.

Laura grew up in Ilkley and was keen to come home and Mark, who is from Cumbria, wanted a more rural upbringing for their children. Finding the right house was difficult and they spent a year renting before the perfect place became available. They bought the property, built in the 1920s, two years ago.

Although the previous owners had done a lot of work, Laura was keen to put her own stamp on it, using her interior design skills. After studying at the Arts Educational School followed by a drama degree, she became an interior designer, working on projects for Harrods, the Crown Prince of Thailand and various sheikhs and bankers.

“The bit I most enjoyed was doing sketches and rendered perspective drawings of interiors for clients,” says Laura, who later studied at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art before becoming a full-time artist.

One of the first jobs on her new home was to knock down the dividing wall between the kitchen and family room to create a big living kitchen. The green and cream units were re-painted in Farrow and Ball’s lamp room gray and elephant’s breath. What was a sun room is now a family room, perfect for children Emily, 12, William, 10 and Anna, seven, to play in.

Laura also created a sensational master bedroom suite with its own wood burning stove and carved an office out of the enormous landing. Although she invested in some new soft furnishings, she managed to recycle curtains from her London house by having them re-made to fit.

Furniture is an eclectic mix, skilfully put together and includes inherited pieces, oriental cabinets from Bradford-based Shimu, new buys and some bargain pieces from antique shops and the Newark antique fairs.

“I like a bargain. The best buy was a side table for £10 from Newark,” says Laura, who has revamped cupboards and tables with a lick of paint and given new life to old chairs by having them re-upholstered.

Decoration comes from collections of vintage glassware and pottery and items from her favourite shops, which include Maison and Leaves and Linen in Ilkley and The Home store at Salts Mill, Saltaire. Walls are painted in Farrow and Ball’s soft neutrals like mizzle, skimming stone and archive plus touch of the purple-toned brassica.

“I’ve got the house how I want it and I can’t see us leaving it. It’s perfect for us,” says Laura.

“People thought we were mad to move from London. We had a dream house, great schools for the children and lots of friends but I’m so glad we came to Yorkshire. The quality of life here is fantastic, the scenery is beautiful, the Dales are on the doorstep and the people are lovely. I feel it’s where I belong.”

Laura’s paintings are online at www.laurawallace.co.uk, which features a print gallery with prices from £35. Originals can be seen in the Christmas show at the Chantry Gallery, Ripley.

For a slideshow of pictures featuring Laura’s house visit www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/property

Useful contacts

RM Wooler builders, Keighley, www.rmwooler.co.uk

Maison furniture store, Hawksworth Street, Ilkley

Leaves and Linen gift shop, Brook Street, Ilkley

Weaverbird framing, Ilkley, www.weaverbirdworkshop.co.uk

The Home store, Salts Mill, Saltaire, www.thehomeonline.co.uk

Shimu oriental furniture, Bradford, www.shimu.co.uk

Handpicked Collection, home accessories, www.handpickedcollection.co.uk

Chelsea Textiles, London, www.chelseatextiles.com

Woodcliffe Upholstery, Earby, www.woodcliffe.co.uk

Richard Grafton Interiors, soft furnishings, www.richardgraftoninteriors.com

Angel at my Table homeware, www.anangelatmytable.com

Elizabeth Chetwynd-Talbot, interior designer, Coxwold, tel: 01347 868265