Thinking outside of the box

  • Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Gary Longbottom.
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The excitement, the joy and the pride generated by the Tour de France will always be a high point in Yorkshire’s history. The world’s greatest cycle race also proved life changing for some, including designer and illustrator Fiona Plews. It gave her the push she needed to commit full-time to Plewsy, her creative business.

A keen cyclist, she designed a print inspired by Le Tour and put it on sale in the run-up to the event. “It sold really well. That gave me a lot of confidence to give up my job and concentrate on my own business full time,” says Fiona. She has the Le Tour print framed above the fireplace in her house, which is now a live-work home. The 1970s property is in a pretty village near Northallerton and it wasn’t love at first sight when she and husband James viewed it six years ago.

Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home

Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home

“I grew up in an old house and I was looking for something similar but the cottages we saw were too expensive and too small. This house is in a fantastic position overlooking the village green and we got a lot of space for our money so we compromised knowing we could modernise it,” says Fiona.

The kitchen was accessed through a door at the end of the hallway so that was blocked up and the wall between the kitchen and the sitting room was opened up to create a semi open-plan living space. The new kitchen area has units from B&Q and a chalkboard wall for shopping lists and messages. The sitting room decor, which was pink and floral, is now contemporary.

The carpet was replaced by wood-effect Karndean flooring and the walls painted white. The wood-burning stove is the focal point with MDF shelves and cabinets on one side built by a local joiner. Colour comes from the books, knick-knacks and the door knobs from Anthropologie.

On the other side of the chimney breast is a 1960s sideboard with candles from Fiona’s friend and fellow maker Rebecca Pitcher. Above are picture ledges from Ikea, which she has painted.

Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home

Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home

“I’m always buying stuff and moving things around to change the look of the rooms. I like mixing old and new. For vintage pieces I’ll shop on eBay and at car boot sales but I also like Habitat and Ikea for new. I get a lot of interiors inspiration from Instagram. I found the Cloth House, which is based in London, on there. It has brilliant fabrics,” says Fiona.

The hall was also revamped and a utility area hidden under the stairs. The steps are painted and halfway up is one of her most unusual treasures. The gigantic fibreglass duck was a wedding present from James.

“I saw them in the Simply Dutch shop and mentioned how I much I liked them. He bought one as a surprise for me though he dropped it and smashed its head before the wedding day, which is why it wears a hat,” says Fiona.

Upstairs, there are three bedrooms and one has been turned into a studio and office for Plewsy complete with a bespoke desk. Fiona, who hand-paints her illustrations and words, has a degree in graphic design and worked for a branding agency before redundancies hit.

Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home

Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home

“That really shook me so I took a part-time job in the Toast shop in Harrogate. Their collections are inspiring and I helped with visual merchandising. On my days off I worked on my illustrations. There was a tipping point after the Tour de France print and that eventually enabled me to work on Plewsy full-time,” says Fiona, who is backed by the Prince’s Trust.

She sells from her own website and from Etsy and Folksy but there is an ever-growing number of stockists, including Fenwicks, Salts Mill bookshop, Urban Outfitters and Chirpy in Leeds.

Her designs are printed on greetings cards, notebooks, wrapping paper, prints and gift tags. She has also diversified into china mugs that declare “You’re just my cuppa Yorkshire tea.”

She employs a strict ethical policy, sourcing eco-friendly card and paper from a company in the Lake District.

Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home

Designer Fiona Plews has turned a dated 1970s house into a contemporary live-work home

Some of Fiona’s designs are inspired by Noddy, her cockapoo puppy. “Working at home can be quite lonely and you have make sure you get out. Going for a walk with Noddy really helps me get some headspace,” she says.

Fiona is already gearing up for the Christmas rush but is planning to expand her range next year to include more homeware. She and James also have more plans for the house including some new windows. The old-style triple glazing was installed by the Ministry of Defence to help cut down the noise from the aircraft that fly over the village. “There are things we want to do to the house,” says Fiona. “But we are taking our time, which is fine because we will probably stay here for a long time.”

Plewsy, cards, mugs, wrapping paper and notebooks, www.plewsy.com

Dove Cote Candles, Yorkshire, www.thedovecoteshop.com

Habitat, now in some Homebase stores and online, www.habitat.co.uk

Cloth House, London, www.theclothhouse.com

Simply Dutch furniture, Leeming Bar, www.simplydutch.co.uk

Anthropologie, London, www.anthropologie.com

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