Alison and Wayne Jackson used to spend so much time running their own business and looking after their spacious Georgian farmhouse that they rarely had time together as a family.
“One day I woke up and thought ‘enough is enough’. We worked all week and spent our weekends maintaining the house and garden,” says Alison. “Our family life was suffering and we realised something had to give.”
In a life-changing decision they decided to close the business, sell the house they both loved and make a completely new start.
“We wanted to live somewhere rural but close to a city,” says Alison. “We came to look at a house in a village near York, took a wrong turning and saw this gorgeous cottage by the river for sale.”
The three-bedroom property was about half the size of the farmhouse, but they loved its location on the banks of the River Ouse. It had all the benefits of a country lifestyle but was just a five-minute drive into York city centre.
“It was perfect,” says Alison. “I knew even before we looked inside that this was the one. It offered a chance to get off the treadmill and create a better work-life balance. There was a lot of interest in the house but we wanted it so badly that we offered top price to secure it.”
Alison and Wayne had already sold the farmhouse and within six weeks they had moved into their new home, after selling most of their furniture and giving away what was left.
“It was hard to let go of things to begin with but once we started it was really refreshing,” says Alison. “It made me realise how much we accumulate over the years, and how much we hang on to unnecessarily. We only kept things that would work in the cottage or things of great sentimental value.”
And there were more unexpected challenges associated with down-sizing. “When space is limited you have to be creative with your storage,” says Alison. “The cottage has a few built-in cupboards under the eaves, but we have also used a wardrobe as a filing cabinet, a coffee table to store newspapers for the log burning fire, baskets for magazines and lots of hooks for all those bags, scarves and utensils which tend to get left lying around.
“We have also tried to make use of the height of the rooms and leave the floors relatively uncluttered. It makes cleaning a lot easier and exaggerates the sense of space.”
Although Alison has managed to get rid of a lot of their possessions, she still enjoys the thrill of finding a good bargain and will often buy something on impulse, even though she doesn’t necessarily need it at the time.
“I can always find a place for it eventually,” she says. “The sink in the bathroom was a case in point. I wasn’t sure about the colour but I loved it and it was a fraction of its original price in a sale, so I bought it and made it work. It’s one of my favourite finds. Wayne tends to leave the house decorating and furnishing to me because he trusts me to get it right, but we always discuss larger purchases and I would never buy anything he didn’t like.”
Alison doesn’t work to a ‘grand plan’ but allows each room to evolve at its own pace. She likes warm, bright colours to make a room feel homely, and natural woods that complement the cottage style of their home. Rather than make changes for the sake of it, they kept the original kitchen units but they completely redesigned the bathroom to include a large shower which, she said, was a ‘must’ with two teenagers still at home. They laid new floors, put in a damp proof course and underfloor heating, bought a bigger log burner with a back boiler in the lounge and built more cupboards in the bedrooms. All the internal doors were also replaced with wooden latch ones which were more in keeping with the 250-year-old cottage.
“It’s a very practical house,” says Alison. “With four adults and a dog it had to be easy to clean and maintain. We love going for long walks along the river bank but we all come home with muddy coats and boots so we couldn’t live in a house with lots of light neutral colours and carpets. It just wouldn’t work.”
Alison and her family have enjoyed a complete change of lifestyle since moving to their riverside cottage. Although Wayne still travels all over the country during the week, they are able to spend more time together as a family at weekends and they have more time to enjoy their home.
“Sometimes the riverbanks flood and the water comes up the garden so it looks like a huge lake,’”says Alison. “It’s magical. We get deer in the garden, swans coming through the gate and all kinds of geese on the water, yet in five minutes we can be in the city. Moving here was the best thing we could have done. It was lovely to live in a big house, but when we started to clear everything out and realised that we could manage with a lot less, we realised we didn’t need the space – just a better balance of life, which is exactly what we have in this cottage.”