Real Homes: A timeless look at the inn

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Property stylist Marion Buchanan has used her passion for antiques to add character and charm to a former coaching inn. Sharon Dale reports.

When Ken and Deirdre Buchanan took over the White Swan in Pickering in the early 1980s, they brought with them a host of fresh ideas, from en-suites in avocado to the latest cuisine.

The White Swan at Pickering

The White Swan at Pickering

The couple, who trained at the Scottish Hotel School in the 1950s, transformed the traditional pub that was previously run by a larger than life character.

When he didn’t want to open and customers knocked at the door, he would push a note through the letter box saying: “Bugger off. We’re shut”.

Ken and Deirdre were professional hoteliers and turned the White Swan 
into a stylish inn with rooms and a renowned restaurant, but trends and 
tastes move on and by the time their 
son Victor and daughter-in-law Marion took over, it was need of another makeover.

Property stylist and antiques enthusiast Marion decided to steer away from 
the latest fashions to create a timeless look.

The White Swan at Pickering

The White Swan at Pickering

The plan made commercial sense, as it gave the decor longevity, and it provided Marion the perfect excuse to indulge her love of all things old.

“I’ve always loved antiques and vintage items and my mother-in-law had some nice pieces in already, which was a start. The idea was to create a homely and eclectic look and that’s evolved over time,” she says.

She and Victor, who moved up from London, began by ripping out fake ceilings and false beams to reveal the originals. They also uncovered old panelling.

Built in 1532 as a four-room cottage, the property was soon extended and pressed into service as an inn for the York to Whitby stagecoach.

The White Swan at Pickering

The White Swan at Pickering

It was also used by smugglers moving salt from Whitby to York. Still visible today are the joist stones that once supported an aerial walkway.

According to legend, when the Excise man came to search the cellars for salt, the smugglers used this route to transfer their hoard next door.

The White Swan has been open for business as an inn since the 16th century, with two brief breaks when it served as the town’s courthouse for a spell, and during the last war when it served as Pickering Garrison’s NCO mess.

It has lots of quirky nooks and crannies, including what could be the smallest bar in Yorkshire. It’s just about big enough for one slim bartender to squeeze behind.

The White Swan at Pickering

The White Swan at Pickering

“It’s part of the charm of the snug so we kept it but we rebuilt it as it was made from the same stuff as the fake beams,” says Marion, who got craftsman joiner Matthew Rowan to re-make the bar with the fronts of wooden Saint-Emilion wine cases. The boxes are part of the pub’s heritage. Deirdre was the first female ambassador, or Dame de La Jurade, for Saint-Emilion wines.

After refurbishing the main building, Marion project managed the conversion of the stables into more bedrooms and opened Feast, a deli/gift shop, next door.

Every room features some of Marion’s finds. She is a compulsive antiques hunter with a passion for fabulous French beds.

One of her favourite pieces is the 19th century French Caribbean four poster, so high that it comes with its own steps. She also sourced a Louis XV super king-size bed. Both came from The French House in York.

“The first antique bed I bought was too small and not what guests wanted, so I learned that lesson quickly and looked for bigger beds or beds that could be re-sized,” says Marion.

Other finds include a chair made for one of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee events in York, a 17th-century coffer that now acts as a TV stand, plus an old pub potty from the 1930s that is now purely decorative.

She has also commissioned local cabinet makers to make sofas and upcycled some of her mother-in-law’s furniture, including two wing chairs they bought when they were first married. They have been reupholstered and sit by the fire in the pub lounge.

“That’s how I approached the project. I looked at a room and thought about what I could do with the things that were already there,” says Marion.

New elements include the tartan carpet from Calverts, Avoca throws, Penguin books wallpaper from Osborne and Little, wine label paper from the Lancashire Wallpaper company that she used on a ceiling, fabrics from Osborne and Little and Ian Mankin and lighting from Vaughn. The walls are painted in Farrow and Ball and boast framed photographs by Andy Bulmer.

The country cosy décor with contemporary touches has undoubtedly boosted business and guests often ask where items have come, which has prompted Marion to create an antiques trail for them.

“A lot of guests like what we’ve done and share my fascination for antiques,” she says.

Her mother-in-law Deirdre also likes what she has done, which was a relief. “She and my late father-in-law were an amazing couple and very funky in their day,” says Marion. “They pioneered the idea of pubs that you could eat in and they were among the first to make rooms en-suite. Hopefully, we’re taking the baton and carrying on their work.”