Watermill reborn after the flood

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This converted watermill was badly flooded but the owners have restored it in 
style and harnessed the river to provide heat for their home, writes Sharon Dale.

When Graham and Jo Howat bought their converted watermill, one of the most delightful features was the beck at the bottom of the garden. It even came with its own bridge leading them from the road to what felt like an oasis.

The sitting room with leather butler's table and stool from Howat andHutchinson

The sitting room with leather butler's table and stool from Howat andHutchinson

The shallow water looked benign and after checking the flood risk, everyone agreed it wasn’t a problem. But ten years after the couple moved into the property, near Bedale, the beck turned into a raging torrent and burst its banks.

The bridge was washed away and the house was swamped with water and sludge, which wrecked the property’s fabric, utilities and many of the Howats’ belongings. The emotional impact on them and their two children, Archie, 11, and Clemmie, 14, was also severe.

“It was devastating. A neighbour rang at 4.30am to tell us that the water was rising and then it came up through the floor and in at the door. It was like being in a colander and we couldn’t go out or we’d have been swept away,” says Jo.

The couple’s cars survived thanks to a local farmer who rushed over to surround them with straw bales but their beautiful home was ruined by the freak weather event.

Jo in the sitting area in the extension built after the flood

Jo in the sitting area in the extension built after the flood

Now, four years on, the house is picture perfect. The beck is a trickle and Jo and Graham no longer bear a grudge. They have harnessed its power and made it pay by installing a water source heat pump, which uses heat generated from the flowing water and fuels the heating throughout the whole house.

“They cost half as much as a ground source system, about £25,000, but they are quite rare because not everyone has access to a beck,” says Graham, a chartered surveyor. “It works well and it feels like the river has given us something back.”

What was a disaster also turned out to be an opportunity to add an orangery-style extension to the mill and to carry out a major makeover.

“The flood was awful and we had to move out but that gave us a chance to do exactly what we wanted to the house,” says Jo, a former BBC journalist and now one half of Howat and Hutchinson, a Yorkshire company that designs and makes beautiful leather homeware.

The water mill restored after the flood

The water mill restored after the flood

Jo, who has a keen interest in interiors, masterminded the new look. It was her decision to have the extension raised and galleried, so there are steps leading from the kitchen to the new open-plan sitting and dining areas.

A glazed lantern in the roof brings in natural light, along with the glass doors that lead out onto the garden. Turning left leads you to the room that holds the original water wheel.

All the carpet on the ground floor was replaced with limestone and the kitchen cabinets, which survived the flood, were refurbished. The decor in the hall and living kitchen is bright and light with colour from accessories, soft furnishings and art. The enormous lobsters painting in the hall by Ian Burke is a favourite, though Jo says: “One if my main interiors inspirations is Ralph Lauren. When I was deciding how to decorate I thought ‘would Ralph do this?’”

In the separate family room, there is a darker look thanks to Farrow & Ball’s Dovetail and Downpipe. The snooker room is an equally cosy deep brown with Sanderson’s Malabar fabric curtains at the window.

Jo loves original art and this painting in the hall is a favourite. The leather trunk is from Howat and Hutchinson.

Jo loves original art and this painting in the hall is a favourite. The leather trunk is from Howat and Hutchinson.

Furniture is a mix of new and auction buys – Jo is a big fan of Tennants salerooms in Leyburn and she also uses eBay. That’s where she found a Victorian loo seat to complement the Burlington toilet in the downstairs cloakroom. “It was very grotty but I had it sanded and restored,” she says.

There are Howat and Hutchinson’s leather designs everywhere from the umbrella stand in the hallway to the contemporary leather baskets, leather trunks, photo frames and jewellery boxes.

Jo and her friend Sallyanne Hutchinson built the company from Sallyanne’s previous business, Leather and Lavender,

“We were friends when we were younger and hadn’t seen each other for years until Graham and I moved from London back to Yorkshire.

“I joined the business, we changed the name, created our website and started designing new products. They are all leather and cowhide items that look lovely but they can also be used. Leather is incredibly versatile and ours is also heatproof and water resistant,” says Jo.

She could add “multi-functional” to that list. The cues in the games room are stored in a Howat and Hutchinson umbrella stand. The stool doubles as a side table and the trunks are used for storage and bedside tables.

The master bedroom with one of the leather side table/trunks from Howat and Hutchinson

The master bedroom with one of the leather side table/trunks from Howat and Hutchinson

The functionality and quality are excellent but the secret of their success is that leather adds texture and goes with just about anything.

“We sell online and our products are in outlets in London and the Cotswolds and in Richard Grafton’s interiors store in Harrogate. We also have something in the pipeline with hotels,” says Jo, who works from home in a new office.

“The flood was terrible and it was over a year before we could move back in but something positive has come out of it. We extended, converted an old part of the building into an office, cloakroom and wine store and got the house how we wanted it. It’s also more energy efficient and cheaper to run, so it’s much warmer than it used be.”

Howat and Hutchinson, leather homeware, www.Howatandhutchinson.co.uk

The kitchen survived the flood

The kitchen survived the flood

The water wheel has been preserved

The water wheel has been preserved

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