Beate Kubitz swapped city life for a barn conversion with land in Yorkshire and she’s never been happier. Sharon Dale reports.
Cashing in your London property chips and placing them on a bigger, better home in the regions is a life-changing gamble many undertake.
For Beate Kubitz it was a winning move that brought out her inner country girl and sparked a new career.
She gave up her job working for a mental health charity and swapped her terraced house in Hackney for a converted barn, near Todmorden, in 2002.
“The plan was to look for a job and do some freelancing, but I had no idea how it would work out. I just knew I loved the house,” says Bradford-born Beate.
The old laithe barn and attached cottages were under threat of demolition before being rescued and renovated in the 1970s. The grade two listed property was in need of some updating when Beate arrived and she began by knocking down a corridor wall on the ground floor to create a large kitchen/dining room.
She also boxed in the open tread staircase, installed a downstairs bathroom and had concrete and bitumen replaced with an insulated wooden floor.
She recently spent a small fortune on a new heating system, which is now an energy efficient combination of a back boiler fired by the wood burning stove, a coal-fired Aga and gas-fired heating that kicks in when the stove can’t produce enough heat. “Before that I had no proper heating for ages. I managed with the stove and the Aga. I could never understand what the fuss was about Agas until I moved here and now I wouldn’t be without one.
“They’re wonderful,” she says.
Outside, there were three acres that Beate thought were crying out for sheep and even though she had no knowledge of farming, she bought some.
“I took to it like a duck to water. It’s a great community here so I had a lot of advice and Stephensons animal feeds were very helpful,” says Beate, who now has a flock of 60 Shetlands on 17 acres at Hebden Bridge. The sheep sparked a new business as she looked for a use for the wool, which she had learned to hand spin.
“Wool prices were low then, which was tough for farmers. I thought if I could make it into something beautiful it would have a value,” she says.
Fate intervened and she met knitwear designer Nicola Sherlock. The pair launched Makepiece: from sheep to chic, to design and create sustainable, low-impact clothing. It now has shops in Hebden Bridge and Buxton, and a workshop in Todmorden. They design and make everything from jumpers, and dresses to ponchos and accessories. They also offer a bespoke service and machine knitting classes.
The label, which celebrates its tenth birthday this year, appeals to everyone from fashionistas to those who simply love the warmth and beauty of 100 per cent wool.
“The idea was to source and manufacture in England. We hoped it would work and it has. We have a great set of customers, who really appreciate what we do,” says Beate.
She carried the ethos to her own home and much of the furniture and furnishings are sourced locally or from makers.
Her kitchen units were made by Clough Mill Kitchens “I didn’t want mdf so they are wood and I had them topped with Welsh slate,” she says. The pink retro-style radio is from Doncaster-based Roberts and her favourite lamp is from Hannah Nunn at Radiance Lighting in Hebden Bridge. Other homeware shopping haunts include Snug and the Heart Gallery, also in Hebden.
Beate, whose own paintings brighten the walls, also loves vintage pieces.
The enormous dresser in the kitchen is from Cottage Antiques in Walsden and provides great storage, while the kitchen table is from Picture House, Antiques in Todmorden, and the decorative plates are from a car boot sale. Recycling and repurposing are in evidence. Her fridge is from Freecycle and she has converted a Belgian beer crate into shelving for the cloakroom and an old ammunition box is now a bathroom cupboard.
The British made principle is extended to her other passion, which is cycling.
Her partner, Chipps, is editor of Todmorden- based Inside Track magazine and he introduced Beate to mountain biking, while she paints illustrations for his publication.
Her favourite new bicycle is the beautiful Pashley, made in Stratford upon Avon, and she and Chipps source bike parts from Hope Technology in Barnoldswick. “I love cycling and being outside whatever the weather. I’ve cycled to the shop in Buxton.
“It’s 40 miles there cross country with 1,000 metres of climb. It’s a bit too tough to do it both ways so now I catch the train there and cycle back,” says Beate, who once put a poorly lamb in her back pack before biking it back to the warmth of her Aga.
The fashion business, sheep, painting and biking leave little time for DIY, though Beate and Chipps would like to do more work to the house or even move one day. “We have looked at moving,” says Beate. “But we never have because we can’t find anywhere that suits us as much as this.”
Makepiece is at 3 The Courtyard, Bridgegate, Hebden Bridge and 4a The Colonnade, Buxton, www.makepiece.com