Agony and the ecstasy

Helen Tomlinson in the studio with her grandchildrenHelen Tomlinson in the studio with her grandchildren
Helen Tomlinson in the studio with her grandchildren
After a nightmare build, artist Helen Tomlinson finally got her perfectly designed dream home. Sharon Dale reports

Helen Tomlinson’s warm, light-filled home looks and feels wonderful and it appears to be a stunning example of a successful self-build.

“The design of the house is amazing. It’s a joy to wake up in and that’s thanks to the architect,” says Helen, who is finally enjoying the property after a difficult 10 year journey beset by battles with both planners and builders.

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The project began in 2003 when she and husband Mervyn asked Scarborough Borough Council for permission to build two houses in the vast back garden of their house in Scalby.

“We’d lived in the house for 30 years and we had an enormous garden, where our children played and we grew the best fruit and vegetables. I used to joke with my husband and say ’you have the most expensive sprout patch in the world. I’m sure we could get a house down here’,” she says. It took time finally to get planning permission but they eventually got the go-ahead to build two bungalows and engaged well-known Scarborough architect Barry Denton to create something special.

Although the height was limited, Barry designed his way round the restrictions, adding four bedrooms in the roof along with a series of interesting spaces on the ground floor that appear open plan but can be cleverly closed off with sliding doors.

The wow factor comes from a galleried landing and fabulous double-height sitting room with floor-to-ceiling windows that make the most of the rural views.

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“When we approached Barry we said we wanted light and space but we also liked to be cosy and we like to entertain friends and family. He’s made sure the house caters for that. In fact, I recently has a big birthday and we had 80 guests dancing the night away on our slate floors, which are very practical,” says Carol, an artist. “I did lots of research and so we’ve incorporated some great features like the doors that slide back and disappear into the wall so I can shut off rooms if I want to and the cabrio balcony Velux windows that give us great views from the bedrooms.”

Before it all came to fruition, she had to endure a nightmare situation with builders. It became apparent that there were serious issues when the guttering fell down, windows began leaking and water from the shower in the wet room flowed out into the hall. They were rescued by son Robert, a property investor, who lives in the adjoining bungalow. He has worked hard to put everything right but the family is still locked in a wrangle for compensation after the building firm went into administration.

“I’ve learned a lot from the experience but it was horrendous. It was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. The house ended up taking two years to build and it cost us a lot of money to put things right. One of the main issues was that we ended up with no NHBC building guarantee certificate, so we couldn’t raise a mortgage on the house,” says Carol.

“We must have gone through a dozen mortgage applications and failed until we found an amazing mortgage advisor. He stuck with us and his motto was ‘never say never’. When we got everything sorted I sent him a pen with that inscribed on it. He was so important in the eventual success of the build as was Barry Denton.

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“I’ll never forget the stress but I love the house now. Barry’s design works brilliantly for us.”

One of her favourite features is the log burning stove in the double height sitting room. “It’s a bit like years ago when everything revolved around the fire in the grand hall. It’s fab and it saves us so much on fuel bills.”

The chimney breast is decorated in photographs of her and Mervyn at Goodwood. Both are motor racing and vintage car enthusiasts.

The furniture is an eclectic mix of contemporary and old, much-loved pieces, which were trundled down the garden on a wheelbarrow from their former home. Carol also loves reclaimed furniture, some of which she sources from Sofa – Shifting Old Furniture About – a charity run for people with learning disabilities that she volunteers for. Her dining chairs were from there and cost just £4 each.

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Her 1950s drawers were revamped by Sandie Shepherd, a furniture upcycler and Carol painted a picture above to match.

The walls of her house are full of her work, some painted to match the furniture and others inspired by her recent travels to India and Dubai. She now has a dedicated studio in the house, which also doubles as a “making things” space for her grandchildren, Matilda, nine, and Molly, six. “I love to paint to fit specific areas and I have done commissions to go with pieces of furniture,” says Carol, who loves to change the colour scheme in her home.

“I change my colours in winter and summer. That’s an American idea. You just have a basic scheme and you change the accessories to go with the season.”

Helen’s useful contacts

Architects: Denton and Denton, Scarborough, tel: 01723 361310,

Helen Tomlinson, artist,

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Furniture Upcycler, Sandie Shepherd, tel: 01723 367781,

SOFA (Shifting old Furniture Around) charity run second-hand furniture store, Seamer Road, Scarborough,

Mortgage adviser, Mortgage Force, 
tel: 0845 688 4248,

Turners Cleaning Services, tel: 01723 639612

Homebird House lifestyle store, Scarborough,