Hitting upon a glass ceiling

  • This barn conversion is as pretty as a picture thanks to a redesign by photographer Suzy Mitchell. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Simon Hulme.
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Juggling a job and a newborn baby left little time or energy for designing interiors, so when Suzy Mitchell bought her barn conversion, she left much of the detail to the developers. “We bought off-plan as the barn was being converted and, although we went up to the site to see it progress from a pile of rubble, we didn’t have a lot of time to consider the finishes and detail.

“The builders would call me at work about flooring and I’d have a barrister on the other line wanting to discuss a case,” says Suzy, who gave up her job as a lawyer to become a full-time photographer.

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

The result was that she and her husband, Andrew, were never 100 per cent happy with their property, near Ilkley. The chance to remodel it came as their daughters, Helena, 15, and 12-year-old Olivia grew up, and the transformation has evolved slowly, fuelled by ideas from Pinterest and magazines.

One of the first jobs was to convert the space above the garage into a studio for Suzy, who specialises in fine art photography for weddings, along with portraits. The original plan was to use it as a guest room but Suzy switched careers and made it her HQ.

The large, open-plan living kitchen was next on the list. The couple put an extra window in and bought new stone floor tiles from Lapicida and the well-worn purple units were replaced with new ones from Neptune, bought via the Maison store in Ilkley. The colour scheme was dictated by the Cole and Son wallpaper.

A much-coveted Smeg fridge complements the design along with a Lacanche range cooker, whose slogan is “serious cookers for serious cooks”. They start from around £4,000 but the investment has proved its worth as Andrew is a keen amateur chef. “We had one at a property we rented and he loved it so that was top of his wish-list when we did the kitchen. I didn’t mind as he is a brilliant cook so we all benefit,” says Suzy.

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

The dining table, which was made by Clarity Arts, was dressed in a fresh green oilcloth and treated to some new chairs from Redbrick Mill. Two “shabby chic” cabinets that had been in the girls’ bedrooms were recycled for the sitting area, which is home to one of the couple’s favourite pieces of furniture.

“It’s a Wesley Barrell sofa my parents-in-law bought us for our wedding. It’s 19 years old and is as comfortable now as it was then. It’s been a great investment. The 
next project is to get it recovered,” says Suzy.

The large, formal sitting room next door has benefited from an idea that the Mitchells borrowed from their neighbours. They took out part of the ceiling and replaced it with glass. This allows natural light from the Velux windows in the bedroom above to stream into the sitting room below.

“We used to have a balcony in the bedroom but we never used it so we had it enclosed and brought it into the room. That created space for the toughened glass floor. It’s the same glass that they use for the ‘walk of faith’ at the top of Blackpool Tower and it’s something that has worked really well for us. The sitting room was always quite dark before and so the extra light from above makes a real difference,” says Suzy.

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

She sought help from friend Jane Sanderson, an event planner, with the decor and agreed on a purple, grey and soft white colour scheme. One wall is painted in fig by Zoffany and the grey sofa was a sale bargain from James Brindley in Harrogate, while the Liberty print chair belonged to Suzy’s grandparents.

The glass console table and lamps are from Oka and a chest of drawers featuring inlaid bone looks striking against the purple-coloured backdrop.

Favourite homeware shops include Covet in Ilkley, although Suzy and Andrew have also commissioned furniture, including a beautiful cabinet for the entrance hall. It was designed and made by Isaac Hirst to fit the space.

The walls include a collection of Gillray lithographs that belonged to Suzy’s father. They complement the photographs, which are everywhere and all in Suzy’s award-winning, trademark style.

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

She has just won Documentary Wedding Image of the Year award from the Guild of Photographers thanks to her ability to capture her subjects looking natural, rather than posed.

“I have always loved taking pictures and went on a photography course after taking a career break when Helena was little. I set up my studio and have never looked back.”

Getting portrait shots to look natural is a challenge, which is why she rarely uses the studio. Instead she takes people out to beauty spots including Bolton Abbey and the beach at Lytham.

“What I’m really after is bringing out people’s personality and that involves quite a lot of psychology because you have to get them to relax. I also try to encourage people to have pictures of their teenagers because it’s a period that parents forget about capturing. They often have lots of pictures of their children when they are younger but very few of them in their teens.”

The only exception to her al fresco photo shoots are newborn babies. Suzy often takes them into her own cosy home instead. “I often put newborns on the floor under the glass ceiling,” she says. “The light there is fantastic for pictures.”

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

Suzy Mitchell's barn conversion project

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