Opposites attract and make a pact

Charlotte in Mark's sitting room
Charlotte in Mark's sitting room
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Charlotte Raffo’s home in Leeds is harmonious thanks to a happy marriage of two very different styles. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Scott Merrylees.

Most couples have had the odd spat about how to decorate and furnish their home and full-blown rows are not uncommon. The chances of a “decor domestic” in Charlotte Raffo’s house are slim thanks to a happy marriage of two very different styles.

An old dentist cabinet that Charlotte found at Swiss Cottage Antiques, Leeds

An old dentist cabinet that Charlotte found at Swiss Cottage Antiques, Leeds

“I’m quite messy and I love colour and my husband, Mark, is very tidy but we’ve made it work,” she says.

Harmony ensued thanks to a plan that gave Mark his own sitting room and study to furnish, while Charlotte stamped her creativity on the rest of the house.

The couple bought their house in Leeds 11 years ago when they each sold their own properties so they could invest in one large four-bedroom home.

It’s in a sought-after area and the only way they could afford to live there was to buy a renovation project.

The bedroom with vintage bedspread from Charlotte's Italian grandmother.

The bedroom with vintage bedspread from Charlotte's Italian grandmother.

The 1920s house was hidden under a 1970s makeover that saw many of the rooms covered in Artex topped with orange gloss and the original doors painted bright blue. Everything from the plumbing, wiring and heating to the decor needed updating.

“We got builders in for some of the structural work and they couldn’t believe we were living here. It wasn’t habitable. We used to sit on two unplumbed toilets in the sitting room to eat our dinner and I kept my clothes in the car to protect them from the dust. It was chaos,” says Charlotte, who is adept at DIY.

She tackled everything from scraping off the Artex to painting and wallpapering, plumbing and tiling and also helped her dad with the electrics. She made all the curtains as well.

“I get a lot of help from DIY videos on YouTube,” adds Charlotte.

Charlotte's fabrics with designs by artists,www.themonkeypuzzletree.com

Charlotte's fabrics with designs by artists,www.themonkeypuzzletree.com

One of the biggest jobs was reconfiguring a 1960s extension that housed the kitchen and a separate utility room. It’s now a smart kitchen diner.

Elsewhere, period features have been reinstated, including Art Deco fireplaces, coving and skirtings and pelmets.

The hall was treated to a Lincrusta dado panel. While the label suggested that an expert was required, Charlotte managed to apply it herself and is delighted with the results.

Launched in 1877, Lincrusta is made from a paste of linseed gel and wood flour with an embossed pattern. It gets tougher and more hard-wearing over time as the linseed gel continues to dry out over the decades.

The refreshed hall with Lincrusta dado

The refreshed hall with Lincrusta dado

It’s proved child-proof and looks pristine despite the best efforts of Mark and Charlotte’s children, eight-year-old Ziggy and Luna, who is six.

Decorating and furnishing the sitting rooms either side of the hall wasn’t arduous. The Raffos simply replicated those they had in their previous homes.

Charlotte’s is vivid, cosy and dominated by an expensive red Axminster carpet.

“I had the same carpet in my old house. I loved it so much that I bought it again for this place. I know I’ll never tire of it and it makes the room look like Christmas,” she says. “I see it as a good carpet but also one that will last for years, like the Welbeck tiles in the kitchen. I saved up for ages to buy them.”

Charlote’s scarlet carpet matches the Art Deco-style sofa and chairs she bought from Scandecor in Brighton and complements her collection of vintage furniture, art and accessories.

They include a grave decoration from France, which now hangs on the wall, and “donations” from friends and family, many of which she arranges into “scenes”.

The Art deco fireplace in Charlotte's sitting room is from Swiss Cottage Antiques, Leeds

The Art deco fireplace in Charlotte's sitting room is from Swiss Cottage Antiques, Leeds

“My mum is half Italian and my dad is Norwegian so I have an eclectic mix of stuff, including a lovely painting by a Norwegian auntie. It all means something to me,” says Charlotte.

Fabrics from her recently launched business are also evident. Charlotte has a degree in colour chemistry and was a textile buyer before setting up her online store the Monkey Puzzle Tree. It helps artists translate their work on to fabric and the resulting range has been a big hit with those who are looking for interesting alternatives to mass-produced material. She is about to include wallpaper in the collection.

Her friend, the artist Sarah Thornton, sparked the idea. “She said her dream was to turn her artwork into fabric but she didn’t know how to do it. I knew I could help,” says Charlotte.

“The idea is to ensure that artists keep their own identity and creative freedom, while I help them develop repeat designs that work on textiles and wallpapers. It is very important that we are not too restricted by commerciality so we can push the boundaries both in terms of the art and techniques we use.”

The Monkey Puzzle Tree now has fabric printed with designs by Sarah Thornton, Joel Weaver, Alexis Snell and Sarah Jane Palmer. It costs from £65 per metre and is all produced in England.

Charlotte’s work/life balance means tidying is often at the bottom of her agenda. “I’m good at DIY and cooking but I’m not good at tidying up,” she says.

Mark finds his own pristine sitting room more relaxing. He used the sofas and carpet from his old home. To make the carpet fit, he cut it into a large square and had the edges bound, leaving a rim of sanded and varnished floorboards.

Upstairs, one of Charlotte’s proudest achievements is a bathroom that began life as a tiny boxroom.

She and her sister and brother-in-law transformed it in a weekend for just £1,800, with £200 spent on the Aquarium paper by Osborne & Little.

Wallpaper features in most of the rooms and helped to upcycle some 1970s, built-in wardrobes in the main bedroom.

Charlotte used a soft blue Laura Ashley design to disguise the dated doors and added some 1950s mother of pearl handles.

“I spent quite a bit on wallpaper,” she says. “But we plan to keep this house forever so I see it as a good investment.”

Useful Contacts

The Monkey Puzzle Tree, fabrics and wallpaper printed with artists’ work, www.themonkeypuzzletree.com.

Art Deco style made to order from Scandecor, www.artdeco-sofas.com.

Tiles from Welbeck, www.welbeck.com.

Wallpaper, Osborne & Little, www.osborneandlittle.com.

Red carpet in sitting room, Seashells by Axminster; black carpet in hall and on stairs and landing, Flowers and Ribbons by Royal Dartmouth, www.axminster-carpets.co.uk.

Lincrusta dado, www.lincrusta.com

Upholstery by Eclectic Chair, www.eclectic-chair.com.

Picture framing by AS Frames 161, Chapeltown Road, Leeds.

Fireplaces and dentist’s cabinet from Swiss Cottage Antiques, 85A Westfield Crescent, Leeds.

Cushions in Rita does Jazz velvet from www.themonkeypuzzletree.com

Cushions in Rita does Jazz velvet from www.themonkeypuzzletree.com

A collection of art work sits above the Art Deco-style chair from Scandecor

A collection of art work sits above the Art Deco-style chair from Scandecor

Charlotte loves wallpaper and this is Grove Garden by Osborne and Little

Charlotte loves wallpaper and this is Grove Garden by Osborne and Little