Blowing away the cobwebs

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Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Gary Longbottom.

Uninhabited for 40 years, nature had laid claim to the Edwardian house that Susan Bradley wanted to call “home”. Ivy had grown in through the windows, while trees and uncut hedges wrapped themselves round the property, masking it from view.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

“The owner lived in a bungalow next door and had inherited the house from his mother. He kept it empty and used it for storage and for his cats,” says Susan.

The ivy infestation, the jungle and the smell failed to deter her and her partner Simon. The potential and the fabulous period features, layered with years of dirt and cobwebs, fired them up for a bidding frenzy when the house and bungalow came up for auction.

“It had everything we were looking for and while it was awful, it was incredible at the same time. It had all its original features, including amazing, ornate tin ceilings from Germany that were installed in 1910. It was a new fashion but, of course, it was short-lived because war broke out and imports stopped,” says Susan, a well-known designer.

The auctioneer’s hammer came down in their favour and marked the start of a mammoth project. It began with the renovation of the bungalow, which gave them a place to live while they tackled the house and the garden.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

The couple moved back to Susan’s native Yorkshire after years based in London and Oxford, where she grew her business, Susan Bradley Design. She specialises in furniture and accessories made from laser- cut metal, so one of the most important tasks was to create a separate studio in the garden, where she could work. It was built from breeze bock clad with timber, 
though the first job was to get rid of the self-seeded trees and undergrowth, which were hiding a variety of junk, including an old caravan.

Once fully revealed, it was clear the house, which is in a village close to York, needed everything from a re-plumbing and wiring to its first ever heating system.

“It was overwhelming but the work went pretty smoothly,” says Susan. “One of the biggest costs was the windows, which all needed replacing and were all handmade in wood.”

More expense came from insulating the floors, walls and roof, and from changing the layout of the property to suit modern family life. The couple now have 18-month-old twin daughters, Polly and Betty.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

On the ground floor, the kitchen and pantry were knocked into one and this area now leads into a new extension that houses a large family room with views onto the garden. What was a downstairs bathroom is now a utility room. Upstairs, a room created especially for storing sporting equipment is now a study and a room that held a water tank is now a bathroom. The master suite is in the new extension.

The decor reflects the couple’s love of mid-century and modern design with a nod to the property’s Edwardian roots.

The kitchen units were made bespoke by Scawton Kitchens in Thirsk and painted in Farrow & Ball’s Downpipe.

The stainless steel island is from Ikea. Two ends of an old crate found in the shed were waxed and varnished and hung on the wall as a decoration.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

Keen to have a small pantry, the couple made one using partitions that are a few inches short of the ceilings. This gap gives a feeling of space, while protecting the decorative tin cladding.

Furniture throughout the house is mid-century and modern and includes Eames chairs and a collection of 1960s Ercol sourced from eBay and charity shops. “We love that mid-century period and, fortunately, it looks OK in an Edwardian house. I’ve been collecting furniture for years and I’d much rather save up and buy an investment piece than cheaper, throwaway stuff that doesn’t last,” says Susan, whose own furniture and accessories feature all over the house.

Her design career took off soon after leaving university when her talent was spotted at the New Designers show. She pioneered a fashion for laser-cut, outdoor wallpaper and followed that up with her Puddle and Creep tables, which have been best-sellers ever since. Her collection also includes shelves, bookends and even a log store, which retail everywhere from the V&A shop and Snow Home in York to her own online shop.

Susan also made the quirky chandelier in the hallway from plywood, test tubes and fake flowers.

The rest of the lighting is a mix of original, like the milk glass shades in the kitchen, and contemporary additions, like the Artichoke light in the front sitting room. Susan and Simon also have an impressive collection of vintage finds that they have put to good use. The book binder’s cabinet adds character to the kitchen; a collection of old tape measures are now hung from a picture tail using fishing line; and a silk scarf has been stretched over canvas to create a colourful picture in the bedroom.

The old and the new combined with artistic flair all add up to the perfect family home.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

Designer Susan Bradley used her creative skills to bring an abandoned house back to life.

“We love it here,” says Susan. “It is everything we thought it could be.”