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GIRL power helped give this old school house near Bridlington a completely new look. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Mike Cowling.

Finding a good builder is a tricky business but the best decisions are often based on gut instinct.

For Mary Lacey it was a football shirt that helped seal the deal.

“When Jane turned up wearing an Arsenal shirt, I thought: ‘This is the builder for me.’ I’m a mad Arsenal fan,” she says.

Jane Smith is one of the few female builders in Britain and she and Mary have proved to be a winning team.

They have transformed a dark and dingy old school house into a contemporary home that reflects their bright ideas.

Mary, a training consultant, bought the house in 2007 after a year-long search that took her all over the country.

She viewed more than 200 properties before she settled on The Old School in the village of Burton Fleming, near Bridlington.

“I was living in Holmfirth and I had this idea of buying a weekend place somewhere flatter, near the sea down south,” says Mary.

“I went everywhere from Brighton to Southampton, then I widened the search to Lincolnshire and Wales. It became an obsession.

“I came to realise that I had let my heart rule my head and I needed to be within a two-hour drive of Holmfirth.”

When she viewed the Old School, she was captivated by the quaint Wolds village.

“You don’t drive through Burton Fleming. It’s not on the road to anywhere, which means it’s quiet but it’s got a pub, a shop and a strong farming community,” says Mary.

“The house was much bigger than I was looking for. It has five bedrooms, four bathrooms and lots of land, but logic went out of the window,” she adds

The property was also a project. The previous owners had done the initial conversion of the Victorian school but the interior was dark, dated and in need of a makeover.

Mary and Jane started by revamping the kitchen. Jane installed new cream units and solid wood worktops and she painted the walls in fresh, pale colours.

“That made a real difference,” says Mary. “Before, it was so dark with mahogany units and a ceiling fan. It felt like walking into a coffin.”

The dark wood and multitude of colours that dominated the house were toned down and some of the rooms reconfigured.

The huge sitting room was split into two and what had been a make-shift hairdressing salon at the front entrance was turned into a hallway and shower room. Upstairs, a double bedroom was made into two singles.

The emphasis was on having somewhere Mary could entertain friends and family, hence the air-hockey table that is the centrepiece of the spacious hall.

“It’s unusual but it was dead space and I knew my grandchildren would love it. They were a big influence,” she says.

Jane, too, had a lot of input into the design.

“She can turn her hand to anything and had some great ideas including creating space for a walk-in wardrobe and putting a storage cupboard for my shoes in the eaves. I don’t think a man would’ve though of that,” says Mary.

Jane, who is originally from Sheffield, learned her skills while renovating her own first home.

“My dad was an engineer and very good at DIY. He said: ‘I’m not going to do it for you but I’ll show you how.’ My mum was brilliant at decorating so I picked that up from her. I’ve always loved it.”

When she was made redundant from her sales job at a refrigeration company 12 years ago, she moved to the village with her partner and set up as an odd-job woman.

Jane, who trades as JJs, has done everything in the Old School, including building walls, plastering, joinery, decorating, fencing and gardening.

She also modified and made some of the furniture.

The leather sofas in the sitting room were doctored to make them lower. Jane chopped the legs off and sat them on a wooden base. She also designed some long benches that double as footstools and tables.

The old school yard covered in broken Tarmac was a big challenge and Mary’s remit was to have a multi-purpose outdoor room.

Jane created a low-maintenance, magical space with a mini Go Kart “track”, an aviary and an old playground rocking horse that Mary found in a hedgerow in Holmfirth

It also features a “tree” sprayed white and decorated with fairy lights, wind chimes and holiday mementoes plus a recycled indoor stove with a flue that Jane made from an old irrigation pipe.

“My son calls it my trippy garden, but I love it and it looks amazing all lit up at night,” says Mary, who has made the house her full-time home.

The front garden features a giant chess set, sunken trampoline and an above ground swimming pool.

“It’s a house of fun and I’ve loved living here but I moved in as a single person and I now have a partner in York and home is where the heart is,” says Mary, who is selling to move to the nearby city.

“This place has lots of happy memories and, of course, I have the friendship with Jane, which is great. I was very lucky to find her. She’s a kindred sprit.”

* Jane Smith, JJs, tel: 0798 4444 963; Dennis Woodmansey, plumber, tel: 01262 470356

* The Old School House, Burton Fleming is for sale through Carter Jonas for £575,000, tel: 01904 558200, www.carterjonas.co.uk