Continental treasure house

If you see it you can usually buy it
If you see it you can usually buy it
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This historic building in York has been transformed from an Indian restaurant into two chic apartments and a café. Sharon Dale reports.

Erasing the past doesn’t usually sit easily with Stephen Hazell, a property developer par excellence with a passion for history and French homeware. He loves old buildings and likes to preserve their features but his latest project has seen him banish all trace of 112 Micklegate’s previous incarnation.

The decorative accessories in the cafe are all for sale

The decorative accessories in the cafe are all for sale

“It was an Indian restaurant for years and every surface, both internal and external, was covered in plywood so you couldn’t tell that it was a historic building,” says Stephen. “I bought it not knowing what was underneath and I just prayed it was the building I hoped it would be.”

His punt paid off. The panelling inside was stripped away to reveal the original timber framing and braced posts, typical of early 1500s construction. The cladding outside was masking an exterior carefully remodelled by the Victorians. They used striking, blue glazed bricks to create an eye-catching and ale-proof facade when they turned the property into a pub.

“I started undressing the building and I could see it was beautiful, which was a relief,” says Stephen, who worked closely with York City Council conservation officers when carrying out the conversion.

His property development company, Trinity, won planning permission to turn the ground and lower-ground floors into a bistro with two apartments on the upper floors. Partisan, now a top-rated coffee shop/restaurant, is let to ethical foodie Florencia Clifford and the apartments are now holiday lets.

One of the apartment bedrooms with antique bed and chair from The French House. Stephen uncovered the timbers, which date from the early 1500s

One of the apartment bedrooms with antique bed and chair from The French House. Stephen uncovered the timbers, which date from the early 1500s

They all double as a showroom for Stephen’s interiors store, The French House, and almost everything you see in the cafe and in the flats is for sale. The antique and vintage chandeliers, the coat stands, beds, armoires, mirrors and artwork, even the tables and chairs are all imported from France and have discreet price tags attached.

The constant change of decor, as items are sold and replaced, also gives the rooms a freshness as they look slightly different every time you see them.

“It just seemed like an ideal opportunity and re-stocking is never a problem,” says Stephen, whose business was born on Micklegate before he moved to bigger premises in Huntington.

His son, Marcus, runs a branch of The French House in London, and there are regular treasure hunting trips across the Channel, where Stephen and his partner, Kathryn, have a second home.

Everything is for sale, even the cafe tables

Everything is for sale, even the cafe tables

He was one of the first to spot the potential for decorating British homes with antique and vintage items from France. He also helped pioneer the trend for using industrial and commercial salvage in domestic interiors.

The idea came 28 years ago after he bought a holiday home in the Pyrenees. “The house I bought had two prices, one to buy it empty and the other to buy it with the contents. It was full of antiques so I went for the second option. The French don’t value antiques like we do, so I brought some back to Yorkshire and kept some then sold the rest to family and friends. That’s when I realised there was a market,” he says. “It created one of those crossroads in life and I’m glad I went down that road. It’s been interesting.”

The business has grown every year since and is a favourite with top interior designers thanks to Stephen’s eye for the quirky and the covetable.

In the 1980s, armoires were all the rage, now mirrors are the best sellers, along with armchairs, farmhouse tables and beds.

The sitting room with dappled walls and vintage French furniture

The sitting room with dappled walls and vintage French furniture

The on-site restoration and upholstery workshop is also a big draw, as are the custom-made mattresses for fickle French beds, which refuse to conform to standard sizes.

“That’s a service we offer that others don’t. If a table is too long we can cut it down, we French polish, upholster and we deliver and install, which people appreciate, especially if it’s a huge mirror,” says Kathryn

The couple have a property in the Loire Valley, travel to France eight times a year. They like the relaxed pace of life and spend much of their time there sourcing stock.

“Finding the right pieces for the shops is no problem but we are having to travel further to get them. We go anywhere between Paris and Toulouse,” says Stephen, who runs the store alongside property developing. “It’s fun, The French House is about enjoyment, otherwise I wouldn’t do it because 
my property company makes more money.”

While many of his contemporaries have retired and spend their days playing golf or planning their next cruise, he is busier than ever.

He has just embarked on another property project on Castlegate in York, where he intends to restore three early Georgian buildings.

One of the holiday apartments with historic beams and cafe table with plush chairs.

One of the holiday apartments with historic beams and cafe table with plush chairs.

“They were converted into flats so we are getting rid of all the tat and turning them back into exquisite townhouses,” he says. “You only have one life so you may as well fill it with things that give you satisfaction.”

The apartments at 112 Micklegate are to let with wheelwrightsyorkholidayletting.com; thefrenchhouse.co.uk.

*For inspiration on how to give your home a touch of rustic French style, check out Ros Byam-Shaw’s latest book. Perfect French Country, published by Ryland Peters and Small, £30, is a celebration of rural French interiors. It is packed with photographs and descriptions of farmhouses, converted mills and chateaux plus lots of ideas to steal.

Stephen Hazell at the French House in York

Stephen Hazell at the French House in York