Heartfelt and homely

  • The home of felt artist Bridget Bernadette Karn has been a model of a flexible living space for several generations. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Steve Riding.
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Bridget Bernadette Karn’s home has seen many changes over the years but it feels relaxed, as though it is happy to offer flexibility.

“It has been knocked about quite a bit but it doesn’t seem to mind,” says Bridget.

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

The unusual layout is thanks to multi-generational living. The farmhouse originally belonged to two sisters who farmed the property. They were thrilled when a 22-year-old land girl called Elsie arrived in 1943 and never left. The sisters adored Elsie and were delighted when she stayed on after the war. She eventually inherited the 18th century house, which sits on the fringe of Acaster Malbis, and sold half of it to help her in retirement.

Bridget and her family arrived in 1996 from London at their Aunt Elsie’s behest and the house was split again. They turned the ground floor into a self-contained flat, while the first floor and attic were also reconfigured to create a separate home. A new kitchen was installed upstairs and the loft area used as bedrooms for the Karns’ two children, Erin,18, and Fingal, 16. Exterior steps were added to create a separate access and to satisfy building regulation requirements for a fire escape. The Karns later added solar panels and insulation to make the house more energy efficient.

“We were living in London before but we were keen to move out as we didn’t want to bring children up there. Richard’s aunt Elsie suggested that we come up here and we have never regretted it,” says Bridget. The Waltons-style dynamic worked wonderfully well and Elsie enjoyed being part of the family’s creative endeavours.

“She was interested in arts and crafts, and used to do china painting. She was very encouraging and loved seeing what I was making. That’s one of the reasons that I have always felt very at home here,” says Bridget.

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

Bridget studied craft design specialising in ceramics and was a member of the Northern Potters Association. While there was no space in the house for a studio, the old orchard attached to it offered an abundance of space and possibilities. An old brick summer house was turned into a pottery for a time, although it is redundant now as Bridget is now an established felt artist. Her talent for combining felt-making and fine art was sparked by a member of the craft club she set up in 2006.

“Doing crafts can be quite lonely, so it was lovely to meet up with other like-minded people and share skills. It was at my craft club in 2010 that one of my members taught me to felt and when I started I couldn’t stop. It started my obsession with the diversity of felting,” she says.

Her original felt paintings and prints, which are inspired by nature, are in exhibitions and galleries all over the country, including St Ives and London.

The main base for her felt-making is a log cabin in the garden, once used as holiday let. It is a tranquil space away from the house and it’s where she keeps a vast collection of merino and other wool in a rainbow of colours. Using a barbed needle, she carefully works the fibres into the canvas.

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

“One of the big issues is that people have the wrong impression of what feltists work with. They think it’s like Fuzzy Felt or acrylic felt swatches that children use for crafting. That is why I describe what I do as painting with wool.

“It’s an ancient technique. A burial chamber in Siberia showed that it was used as an artistic medium in 500BC and they used it for embalming bodies in China.”

The cabin is also used for her regular workshops, which teach everything from making felt flowers and hats to purses and pictures. It is an escape from the hubbub of family life and yet another reconfiguring of the house.

Since aunt Elsie passed away, the Karns have been slowly bringing the two living spaces back together, renovating and decorating as they go.

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

“It’s been very emotional and we didn’t do anything for a while after we lost her but we are slowly getting there. We are going to make a library out of the dining room downstairs and what was aunt Elsie’s bedroom will be an office,” says Bridget.

Richard is an architectural designer and is keen to restore the building’s character. So casement windows, installed in the 1920s, have been replaced with Yorkshire Lights. Cement pointing has been replaced with traditional lime mortar.

The couple also prefer traditional furniture and furnishings and much of it has sentimental value. The sideboard was Richard’s grandparents as was the elephant table. The hand-drawn prints of flowers are by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Richard is a fan of the Scottish architect who was also a talented artist.

“A lot of the furniture was here when we came, including the dining table, which has always been called “Miss Tegan’s” table because it came from a Miss Tegan’s house,” says Bridget.

It is, like the house, multi-functional. It is used for dining, homework and, of course, drawing and felting.

• To find out more visit www.bridgetbernadettekarn.com

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

Mount Pleasant House, Acaster Malbis, owned by Bridget Karn

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