Masterpiece in miniature

PIC: Bruce Rollinson
PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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Russell Lumb was an architect for 40 years before turning his attention fully to becoming an artist. Both talents are greatly in evidence in his home. Sheena Hastings reports.

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Six years ago Russell and Susan Lumb left their home near Huddersfield and made a clean break with the place that had been their nest for decades. They’d brought up their sons and enjoyed life while Russell ran his own architectural practice and Susan a stationery shop. When retirement beckoned, they decluttered, downsized and moved to a cottage in Snainton, five miles inland from Scarborough.

Alongside designing hotels, shops, schools and a host of other buildings, Russell had spent many years learning to draw at life drawing classes led by the celebrated Yorkshire artist Tom Wood at Red Brick Mill in Batley. A few years ago, he moved on to painting, and since then a world of colour has opened up as he continues to explore both abstract and figurative work. He takes part in North Yorkshire Open Studios and exhibits at shows across Yorkshire – including the month-long Great Northern Art Show, which opens at the end of this month.

The property the Lumbs found in Snainton was a three-bedroom cottage from around the late 19th century, which had originally been a storage barn for a cut flower smallholding. It had been converted previously, but was in need of radical change, in their view. It came with a near-derelict barn, destined eventually to become Russell’s studio, with a utility room and guest accommodation for four on a newly installed first floor.

The two buildings were connected by a curiously raised courtyard covered entirely by tarmac, from which you stepped down into the cottage. After excavating, red bricks from Heritage Stone and Oak at Guisborough were laid, and a compact but glorious cottage garden was created in raised beds.

The conservation regulations were tight, but Russell’s plan to extend the kitchen by a metre and bring in light via large panelled windows and louvres was approved.

It took nine months for the house to be gutted and converted into a flowing, modernised, energy-efficient and snug home which nods to tradition but is not overly deferential to it. Builder Derek Burton worked with Russell to realise his plans, which included reroofing using the old tiles and creating a glass half wall between hallway and living room.

Russell and Susan found their glossy white kitchen at Magnet, but upscaled the look with beautiful Westmoreland slate worktops from Kirkstone Quarries at Skelwith Bridge. A long storage bench and cupboard with simple notch openings were designed by Russell and built by joiners FA Stockhill from Snainton.

The couple have collected the work of many Yorkshire artists for decades, and the simple palette of Dulux Heritage shades Linnet White and Green Earth are used throughout to provide a perfect backdrop for stunning pieces by the likes of Tom Wood, Carole Tyler, Rob Moore and Bren Head.

An opaque black glass coffee table from Habitat, large brown leather chairs and determinedly modern modular sofa from Heals and Bo Concept at Red Brick Mill in Batley fit right in. Little Greene wallpaper adds subtle texture but doesn’t dominate the room. A tall window with deep cushioned seating replaces the original square window that restricted light.

Here the wood burning stove is rarely in operation, due to the high-spec insulation used throughout the house. “We’d be roasting if we used it,” says Russell.

Upstairs – climbing glowing timbers of recycled French oak and passing cleverly integrated bookshelves below a cluster of artwork – the smallest bedroom is now Russell’s office.

The master bedroom, guest room and bathroom are simple, calm, organised, almost monastic spaces brought to life by paintings, including Russell’s acrylic on card portrait of a raven.

Outside there’s a surprising amount of privacy from adjacent neighbours and The courtyard garden is a perfect oasis of calm.

Russell’s plan was to use the fresh start in a new environment to work hard at his art, improve, exhibit and perhaps sell. His dreams have been realised.

During Open Studio weekends in June both floors of the studio are used to hang his work. Currently on the easel is an “action” portrait of the late Labour Party leader John Smith – Russell was an admirer, calling Smith “the greatest prime minister we never had”, and the acrylic on panel piece is one of a group of political pieces to be exhibited in Batley next year.

“I needed to move away from my old working world,” says Russell. “It was a conscious decision to go forward and do it with purpose. I’m still learning every day, and will always do so, I hope.”

Susan is also pursuing artistic interests, having found her inner ceramicist through weekly pottery classes in Harrogate. The architect in Russell is pleased with the living and working environment he has created so that the artist in him can flourish.

He may have given up the daily grind of architectural practice, but there’s still some yearning. “I think we have a perfect space for two people, using a smallish space to the maximum. At some stage we’ll move on – and I look forward to doing it all again.”

The Great Northern Art Show is at Ripon Cathedral from August 29 to September 20. www.greatnorthartshow.co.u

Russell welcomes visitors to his studio at Joby Cottage, West Lane, Snainton, North Yorkshire, 
www.russelllumbartist.com Email: russell_lumb@yahoo.co.uk

All trades builder: Derek Burton, Snainton, 01287 201911

Roofing: Richard Milner, Ebberston, 01723 859979

Exterior joinery: Castles, Bradford, 01274 724271

Reclaimed brick pavers and flooring: Heritage Stone and Oak, Guisborough, 01287 635529

Ceramic tiles: Ceramique Internationale, Leeds, 01132 310218

Electrical: Marsay Electrical, Coxwold, 01347 868618

Oak flooring: Flooring Supplies, 0800 9998100

Interior joinery: FA Stockill & Son, Snainton, 01723 850612

Slate kitchen worktops: Kirkstone Quarries Ltd, Skelwith Bridge, 01539 433296

Wood stove: Artisan Fireplaces Ltd, Brighouse, 01484 723717

Ironmongery: Laidlaw, Sheffield, 0114 2438916

Decoration: Will Smith, Snainton, 01723 850389