The fine art of home-making

Louise and Matthew Dwyer

Louise and Matthew Dwyer

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When Matthew and Louise Dwyer viewed their cottage they were blown away and not just by the magnificent rural views. “It’s a very windy spot here and there was a howling gale when we came to view but it couldn’t detract from the views and the feeling of light and airiness inside the house,” says Matthew.

The property, near Helmsley, had been empty for two years when they bought it and it was both tired and in need of attention. Shortly after moving in they arrived home to find that the sitting room ceiling had fallen down and they also had to replace the makeshift insulation comprising decades of old mattresses.

The couple, who have four daughters, Mary, Hannah, Eliza and Izzy, have transformed their home gradually with some intensive DIY, including plastering, plumbing, tiling and decorating followed by kitchen and loft extensions.

But what makes the house so special is the abundance of original, contemporary art from paintings and ceramics to furniture and metalwork.

Much of it is Matthew’s. He is an artist blacksmith and made everything from the companion set by the fire to the curtain poles and metal balustrade. He trained as a blacksmith at the age of 32 after a job in engineering and a spell as a groom at a Malton stable where his brother, the jockey Mark Dwyer, was based. Now a fellow of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, he worked with Chris Topp in Thirsk for many years before opening his own forge.

Louise, a former secretary, did a part-time degree in fine art and design and retrained as a jeweller apprenticed to Robert Feather. The Dwyer’s careers in metal work have flourished and led to yet another life change for them.

As well as making, they also run the Saltbox Gallery in Helmsley. They opened it six years ago to showcase their work and that of other artists and makers, both local and international, and they sell everything from paintings and textiles to ceramics and glass.

“We saw a gap in the market and a move away from mass produced items. I think people now prefer to spend more on less,” says Matthew. “They’ll save up and buy a decent piece that has some emotional value. The best thing is when someone who has never bought art in their lives comes in and says ‘I have to have that’. That kind of reaction is wonderful and it’s happening more often.”

Louise is based there making one-off designs as well as wedding and engagement rings. “The rings are really enjoyable though surprise engagements can be a challenge. I get the men to measure their partner’s finger while she is sleeping. I’ll sometimes get a bunch of flowers from someone whose girlfriend loves the ring, which is lovely.”

Louise is inspired by the designs of printmaker Angie Lewin, though the art work in her home is diverse. It includes a painting of Kilnsey Crag by Relton Marine that hangs over the sitting room stove bought from their favourite department store, Yates in Malton. There are also paintings by Piers Browne, Freya Horsley, Kane Cunningham and Rachel Antill plus mono prints by Sally Fitton and lino prints by Gerald Hobson.

Some of their favourite pots are by Peter and Jill Dick, of the nearby Coxwold Pottery, and they have a sculpture by Bernard McGuigan.

The varied colours and textures complement the decor and the furniture, which is a mix of old, new and handmade. The kitchen has new units from Easingwold Kitchens plus a dining table made by Matthew topped with oak from The Wood Lark. The kitchen is now the heart of the home and boasts a multi-purpose mezzanine that is used as an office, music room and guest room.

“The extension made a huge difference. The kitchen was very cramped before but it’s now big and filled with light and we were able to make the old kitchen into a laundry room,” says Louise.

Upstairs, the loft extension gave them much-needed extra space for their daughters’ bedrooms. While the space inside has been maximised, there is still some potential in the garden, which is home to an old stone washroom that was Matthew’s makeshift forge before he moved to a new one close by.

“We’ve been here for 16 years and we’ve spent a long time making improvements bit by bit,” says Louise.

“The most important have been the ones that have made the most of the light and the views because that’s what gives the house its energy. It’s still very windy, mind you but that’s something we can’t do anything about.”

Saltbox Gallery and Workshop, 2 Castlegate, Helmsley, www.saltboxgallery.co.uk

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