Inside story on artist’s converted hay barn

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Ailsa Read is clearly a “woman who can”. Her tool box is stuffed with everything from hammers and sanders to jig saws and drills, plus her most recent purchase, a laser cutter. She is a DIY doyenne and examples of her handiwork are all over her home and include the contemporary frame she made for an enormous picture in the sitting room. She made an MDF board and spray- mounted the painting before topping it with a Perspex cover attached with bolts from B&Q.

Ailsa Read is clearly a “woman who can”. Her tool box is stuffed with everything from hammers and sanders to jig saws and drills, plus her most recent purchase, a laser cutter. She is a DIY doyenne and examples of her handiwork are all over her home and include the contemporary frame she made for an enormous picture in the sitting room. She made an MDF board and spray- mounted the painting before topping it with a Perspex cover attached with bolts from B&Q.

The open plan living space with double height section

The open plan living space with double height section

Her skills and ingenuity have proved useful for her latest endeavour, a PhD in art focusing on the religious persecution of women in the 17th century.

She is laser cutting and scorching some of her hand-painted images to illustrate the torture inflicted on women by a superstitious society that branded them witches.

The PhD is the culmination of years of study after Ailsa embarked on a BA honours degree in fine art at Leeds College of Art at the age of 59, followed by a Masters degree in creative practice.

Now an established artist best known for her seascapes in oil and mixed media, she loves the intellectual challenge of academic pursuit.

The sitting area with painting framed by Ailsa using MDF, perspex and bolts

The sitting area with painting framed by Ailsa using MDF, perspex and bolts

“I really enjoy the research side, looking things up in the library and finding things out then translating that information into my own work,” says Ailsa, who spent much of the summer preparing for the Great North Art Show at Ripon Cathedral, which runs until September 25.

She first worked as a physiotherapist before falling into a second career as a location finder and stylist with a prop hire business.

“That came about when I was out riding. A fashion photographer stopped and asked if he could use my horse in a shoot. I became his location finder and it went from there. I started collecting and renting out props and turned my barn into a photographic studio. If anyone needed a backdrop I’d paint one for them, so it worked really well. I have always painted. It’s been my hobby for as long as I can remember,” she says.

Ailsa retired from the business to concentrate on her paintings and to convert the hay barn/studio next to her farmhouse into a new home.

Horses are a passion and Ailsa and Gareth once owned a famous race horse - Young Kenny

Horses are a passion and Ailsa and Gareth once owned a famous race horse - Young Kenny

She and her husband Gareth were keen to downsize after their children left home and the farm buildings offered the opportunity to stay in an area.

“It was great. We lived in the house while the work was going in so we could project manage it. We had a brilliant builder so everything went very smoothly,” says Ailsa, who played a big part in the design.

The conversion took just nine months to complete. The 17th century barn now has first-floor bedrooms either side of a sensational double-height living space. The barn doors have made way for glazing and concealed electric blinds, while the lighting is pegged to the old beams.

The ground floor also includes a steel and glass staircase and a contemporary kitchen. A study leads off the sitting room and is decorated with trophies, photographs and a painting by Jo Taylor of Young Kenny, a much-loved racehorse that the Reads once owned. He won the Scottish National and the Midland National and the Becher Chase.

The view over the low maintenance garden

The view over the low maintenance garden

All the walls in the property are white to allow Ailsa’s collection of original artwork to shine. It’s a mix of well-known artists, such as Charles Harrison, along with pieces by those just starting out.

“I like the Leeds College of Art graduation day in June when the art students have a final show and sell their work,” she says.

Ailsa’s own paintings, which she describes as being “somewhere between traditional and contemporary”, are mostly confined to her two studios – one inside the house and the other in an old stable.

“I’m always drawn back to the sea as a subject and I love the Yorkshire coast, Northumberland and St Ives. I think it’s because the light and the moods are always changing and I like rough, expressive seas,” adds Ailsa, a member of the Artists around Wetherby group, which has an open studios event each May.

She also likes antique and vintage furniture and didn’t have to relinquish her favourite finds when she moved. The furniture from the farmhouse fits perfectly in the barn and is teamed with some modern pieces.

Not keen on conservatories, the couple opted for an outdoor room made from timber and attached to the house. There’s a dining area with table and chairs from Tennants sale rooms in Leyburn, a clock that Ailsa made herself and shepherds’ lanterns and old pots that she bought from antiques fairs in Newark.

The old barn opening has been glazed to bring light and views into the property

The old barn opening has been glazed to bring light and views into the property

It’s a favourite place and she and Gareth eat out there whenever they can and in all seasons.

It overlooks what used to be a riding arena, now a garden with seating areas and a water feature. It’s a beautiful and tranquil space thanks to Ailsa’s love of horticulture.

“I think if you like making things, you generally like gardening,” she says. “It is very creative and very satisfying.”

To see more of Ailsa’s work visit ailsaread.com. Her paintings are available at Just Makers gallery in Ripley and she is exhibiting at the Great North Art Show at Ripon Cathedral. Entry is free and the show runs until September 25, 10am to 4.30m. greatnorthartshow.co.uk

Ailsa in her studio. Her work is heavily influenced by the sea

Ailsa in her studio. Her work is heavily influenced by the sea

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