Love and hard work

WITH a matching pair of glossy black Labradors cuddled up to the cosy Aga, a scrubbed pine table and a Georgian window overlooking a glorious garden, Lucy Vaux has the perfect country kitchen. Even better, it is completely uncontrived, for Lucy is a woman who doesn't enjoy shopping and would rather be working in the garden than leafing through a glossy magazine looking for interiors ideas.

Most of what she has is re-used and has been put together organically rather than strategically. "I'm afraid I loathe shopping," she says.

"I did go to Ikea once and got lost in there. I'm a great re-user. So curtains from our old house were cut to fit the windows here and we used all the furniture from our old house and bought a bit more at auction. The rooms can take big furniture, which is often quite cheap because it doesn't fit in many houses."

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Lucy is also hands-on. She made the dining room table herself from an old base and a circular piece of MDF, which she nailed on top.

Re-use is a theme evident everywhere here and no more so than in four-year-old Freddie's room, full of fantastic hand-me down toys and books that have passed through at least a couple of generations.

"The pictures on the wall were in his father's nursery," says Lucy. "And Freddie lives in hand-me downs, which he doesn't seem to mind."

It's a look that suits the five-bedroom farmhouse, near York. Lucy and husband Hugo, who works for IBM, bought it ten years ago. "We needed more space and after half a day looking at houses in the Dales we came home and saw this in the Yorkshire Post. We came round to view and that was it," she says. "I'm a bit like that with houses. I take longer buying a pair of shoes."

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The couple have also turned the property into a "working" farm once more. Hugo has an office at the top of the house and Lucy has made the converted stable into The Pyjama House. She specialises in old-fashioned, brushed cotton pyjamas and nighties for children and there's a trendy range for teenagers, inspired by her elder son, Fergus, aged 14.

She also sells nightshirts for men and women. Like all great ideas, it was born from a big gap in the market, but the real motivation came from her daughter Ellie, who died from meningitis in 2004 when she was six.

"Friends and family were so very kind to us. At first they brought lasagnes and cakes to the door. I've never had so many beautifully-cooked lasagnes. Then they wanted to raise money for the Meningitis Trust in her memory," says Lucy. "We ended up raising 250,000. Some of that came from a charity fair at Camp Hill, Kirklington, that was held in Ellie's memory. I realised how fantastic these events are."

Lucy, a former accountant who didn't want to return to her job as a business studies teacher after the tragedy, decided that charity fairs, that operate mainly around Christmas time, would be a perfect alternative.

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"When you lose someone like that you reassess your life and I knew I needed to change the way I worked. I just needed an idea and I came up with Pyjama House because I couldn't find any good, old-fashioned pyjamas that were really soft, good quality brushed cotton and that could be passed on, rather than thrown away. It's the re-using thing again."

She created some designs and managed to find a manufacturer, who also makes shirts for Jermyn Street and Saville Row. "It was just after Lehman Brothers collapsed and business was slow in the City. I don't think he'd have taken me on otherwise, but I'm glad so he did."

The Pyjama House has been a sell-out success at the fairs and now trades online too. The demand is enormous and at 20 each, the prices are very keen thanks to Lucy's incredible one-woman, multi-tasking approach.

She designs and co-ordinates everything and even built her own website. She does her own accounts, staffs the stall at the charity fairs and at Hovingham Market once a month. She also wraps web orders and sends everything out via the village post office. "I enjoy it and I've obviously tapped into a need," she says. "There's huge capacity for growth but I'm taking it slowly. I want to be here for the boys and I want to carry on working from home. We have a Hornby train set in the Pyjama House, where Freddie can play while I work."

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With another long, cold winter on the cards, Lucy looks set to be busier than usual."It's usually seasonal, September to December, but last winter I was selling through to March. I try to take the whole summer off to be with the boys."

She admits she's lucky to operate from such a beautiful setting. Though she is keen to point out that living in the country isn't all roses round the door. It's muddy, draughty and there are pests.

"It is very idyllic and we're very lucky," says Lucy. "But it's cold and there's a lot of maintenance on an old house like this.

"We've had a few incidents with unwanted guests. I couldn't work out why my dishwasher wasn't working and it turned out a mouse had chewed through a water pipe. Another time it stopped working because a slug had got burned on to the element."

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But there are many compensations. The enormous garden is one. It's got a vegetable patch, beautiful borders, box hedging, an apple tree, hens and a pony in the paddock. There's even a zip wire for the children and a tree house made by Fergus, a talented young designer-maker, together with Lucy and Hugo.

It's another idyllic country scene created with love and a lot of hard work.

"We come from families who practically live in the garden at weekend. We spend more time out here than we do indoors," says Lucy.

The Pyjama House, tel: 01347 878673.

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