It took a famous actress to persuade Bear Grylls’ sister Lara to turn her former family home into an upmarket holiday let. Sharon Dale reports.
What to do with the former family home was a big decision for Lara Grylls and her husband, James, when they moved to a much bigger country house nearby. They didn’t want to sell it and letting it long term didn’t appeal.
“Getting a tenant was the original idea, but James grew up there and is very emotionally attached to the property, so he didn’t like the thought of another family living there,” says Lara, co-owner of London public relations firm PR First and sister of adventurer Bear Grylls.
Another major consideration was that the swimming pool and tennis court would have been out of bounds for them and their three children, Bevan, Mungo and Tallulah. The only possible solution was to launch the eight-bedroom home as a holiday let and events venue.
“We didn’t know if there was a market but we wondered whether it was worth trying as that way we could also use the house ourselves and retain an element of control,” says Lara, whose business sense rarely leads her in the wrong direction.
Cufforth House, which is hidden away in a pretty rural spot on the private Becca estate in Aberford, between Leeds and York, has proved to be a big hit with everyone from film crews and movie stars to corporate parties and weekenders.
The architecture has all the hallmarks of the Arts and Crafts period and the decadent Art Deco era, and the decor is tasteful and largely neutral, which was a challenge for Lara. Her style is the opposite of dull and she loves wearing bright colours with a sprinkling of bling to suit her fun and friendly personality.
When she moved to Cufforth House in 2005, she decorated the kitchen in a vivid blue, the sitting room was painted in sunny yellow and furnished with multi-coloured patchwork sofas and her favourite bathroom was lined with pink and silver flock wallpaper.
“James’s taste is quite traditional and he liked the house the way it was when his parents had it as it was part of his happy childhood memories. So some of the rooms stayed the same and we changed others. My taste can be a bit wacky so that element definitely had to be calmed down when it came to letting the house.”
Transforming the home into a holiday let and events venue turned into a last-minute rush in November last year when the actress Kristin Scott-Thomas called Lara to ask if she knew of a large house that could accommodate film director Joe Wright and his crew.
“At that point we were still considering whether to go ahead with our idea of a holiday let but that call seemed like a sign that we should definitely do it. They were filming Darkest Hour in Yorkshire, which is about Churchill, who is one of James’s heroes,” she says.
“The big issue was that we had two weeks to get the house ready and at that point it was completely empty as we had moved out.”
They hit the deadline with help from interior designer Emma Sims-Hilditch, whose husband John is co-founder of kitchen and homeware specialists Neptune.
“I just said to Emma: ‘It has to be ready to move into in two weeks and it can’t be my taste,’” says Lara.
It was. Emma spent two days at Cufforth, measuring the rooms and doing CAD drawings before ordering vanloads of furniture and accessories from Neptune. She thought of everything from the wardrobes, side tables and 600-thread count bed linen to candlesticks, lighting and cushions.
The makeover was relatively quick and easy compared with the mammoth task Lara had when renovating her new home just down the lane.
Becca Hall, a handsome country house, had been acquired by the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1958.
The board then attached an enormous Brutalist extension to the historic property. Four times bigger than the existing home, it included office buildings, control centres, bunkers and a tower, and controlled the electricity supply from the Borders to the Wash. Rumour has it that MI5 used it as a safe house but by 1997 it was redundant and had slipped into dereliction.
“It was my husband’s great- grandfather’s home for 30 years but he had to sell it. James grew up dreaming that one day he might be in a position to buy it back,” says Lara.
Becca Hall passed into the hands of the receivers and the price was suddenly in reach.
The first job was to get planning permission and then came the demolition of what Lara calls “the tumour” before the restoration of the hall.
The couple managed the whole project themselves, reinstating the chimneys and the Georgian-style windows and tackling the interior, which was still blessed with original features, including decorative plasterwork, panelling, fireplaces and stained glass windows.
After taking a short breath to recover, Lara has just completed her latest project – a revamp of the pool house at Cufforth.
She says: “Guests can use it but it doesn’t really count as the house so I’ve been able to use lots of colour.”
■ Cufforth House, Aberford, sleeps 13 and is for let for holidays, weekends and events, cufforthhouse.co.uk. Neptune kitchens and homeware has a showroom on Malton Road, York, neptune.com