Val Blakey’s passion for fabric is clear as she caresses the crewel work on her curtains and rhymes off every last detail from stitching to trims.
Her encyclopaedic knowledge of textiles is one of the reasons clients value her so highly, though few of them know that the hands that stroke the soft furnishings are equally adept at wrestling sheep.
Val’s day job is interior designing for James Brindley at their main store in Harrogate. The rest of the time she’s down on the farm helping her husband John with everything from lambing to showering sheep. The couple both grew up in farming families and have been together for 46 years.
They lived in Ripon for many years, where they had a saw mill, but after John bought a large farm near Greenhow, above Pateley Bridge, they decided to move.
“We had a few bad winters and we decided we really needed to be up here to look after livestock, so we decided to apply for permission to build a farmhouse on the site of some derelict cottages,” says Val.
Planning permission was granted for them to replicate a traditional Dales longhouse
Having worked on the land in all weathers, they knew how the wind howled and how bitter the winter months were. So their priority was to make the property as warm as possible. “Insulation was our main priority so we have three walls,” says Val.
“There is stone on the outside and a cavity wall with insulation and then insulated block walls on top of that and it has worked really well.”
The Aga, oil central heating and underfloor heating in the conservatory all help to keep the house cosy. Character has been added with old beams and reclaimed materials, though the interior is more is more country house than working farm.
Not a speck of mud gets over the threshold thanks to Val’s clever layout and a “no muddy boots or clothes” rule that is strictly enforced.
She created a utility room and an office for John that are just inside the front door, so that she can keep muck at bay.
“John can also come in through the garage and leave his wellies there. Then he can get straight into the utility where I always keep fresh clothes for him to change into. Even if we get in at 3am from lambing we make sure we have a bath and the washer goes on.
“It works, which is good, because I am petrified of the house smelling of sheep and cows,” says Val.
The heart of the house is the dining kitchen. The units were designed by Val and made by local craftsman David Wilson. An Aga has pride of place.
“Someone once said an Aga is like part of the family and that’s true. If you have to turn it off for servicing you realise how much you miss it. Everyone gravitates to it,” she says.
The walls are painted in Farrow and Ball and the wallpaper is foxgloves by Osborne and Little.
They are a favourite manufacturer, though she also loves Colefax and Fowler and Nina Campbell for their fabrics and has recently fallen madly in love with a heavy, appliquéd linen by Mulberry that she used for her sitting room curtains.
“I’ve always loved fabric from being very young. I used to make all my clothes. I really enjoy mixing different textures in a room, so maybe wools with silk. It makes a scheme more interesting,” she says.
All her fabrics, wallpaper, lamps, mirrors and most of her furniture is from James Brindley, and spending her salary in the shop is an occupational hazard.
“Almost everything I have is from JB. There are some amazing things and I can’t resist. I have to stop myself spending. Basically, I work so I can have the house nice,” she laughs.
Outside, there’s a garden that she and John fashioned from rough ground and one of her favourite ways to relax is sitting in the conservatory which has magnificent views of the wild and treeless landscape. Not that there is a lot of time for sitting around.
She keeps farm hours, and gets up with John at 5am in the summer and 6am in the winter. She cleans the house and puts a casserole in the Aga ready for the evening meal, then sets off for work.
In the evenings and weekends she helps John with everything from worming sheep to wrapping up their wool after shearing.
She takes a fortnight off work in April for lambing and when their farm labourer is on holiday at Christmas she fills in.
“Last Christmas morning we had to go and feed the sheep, so I drove the tractor while John was on the back throwing hay off the trailer. It’s hard work but there are animals to feed and John loves his animals. They are his top priority,” she says.
Although she has now cut her hours, she can’t imagine retiring from interiors.
She has worked for Brindley’s for 20 years and has helped MD Richard Grafton build the interior design department. Together, they are a formidable team who have tackled everything from full renovations to basic room redecoration in some of Yorkshire’s most beautiful homes.
“I enjoy interior design, especially getting inside clients’ heads to find out what would really suit them. But I like the farming too,” says Val. “The two don’t really go together I know, but they do for me. It’s like having two separate lives and I love both of them.”