Cladding a building in burnt wood seems perverse, as surely fire would leave the timber damaged and weakened.
“Not at all. It’s actually stronger,” says Greville Worthington, who has used a Japanese wood-burning technique to transform a dated 1960s house into a contemporary holiday home.
He discovered the craft while working in Japan, where the surface of wood is burnt to less than a millimetre deep to make it more robust and to protect it from termites.
“Making charcoal is one of my hobbies so burning the cedar cladding wasn’t a problem for me. You create a layer of pure carbon, which is impenetrable and very stable so water doesn’t affect it and insects hate it.
“I love the colour and the crackled effect, which is interesting and somehow right for the setting,” he says.
The property previously belonged to a Brigadier who was friendly with Greville’s grandfather. He wanted to settle in the area and was given a plot of land on the Worthington’s Brough Park estate, near Richmond, so he could build a retreat.
When he left, Greville, an art collector, curator and chairman of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, got the land back and was left wondering what to do with the house.
Demolishing it was an option, but instead he decided to remodel it and enhance the best aspects.
It was constructed in timber and render and was built to maximise access to the stunning rural views, so there were wide expanses of glazing and a balcony, where the Brigadier used to sit and survey the surrounding countryside.
“I thought the house was ugly but there were some good ideas like the balcony, which we extended and wrapped round the building,” says Greville.
The new-look building was slightly enlarged to give more ground-floor space fronted by floor-to-ceiling glazed doors. They lead out on to a deck that mimics the flooring inside.
Rather than conventional wood, there is a suspended, galvanised steel frame topped with a grey/green rubberised matting, which is usually used for soft play areas.
“I think wood decking is unsightly and I wanted that flow between inside and outside. The decking goes right round the building so you can walk all the way round. It’s a holiday home and when you’re on holiday, it’s nice to be outside,” says Greville, who also invested in a large, white wave sculpture by architect and designer Amanda Levete. It’s a striking addition to a garden that also boasts a fire pit, pizza oven, table tennis room and an eco-friendly hot tub. It is made from Siberian larch and is warmed by a wood-fired stove.
A family man, who clearly hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a child, he has also built a wooden tower. It is a wonderful, imaginative play space with a look-out and two seats that double as child-size beds. It’s the perfect den and was created so that children can “get away from their parents and have their own hang-out”.
The garden will soon sport bamboo, another of Greville’s interests sparked by his time in Japan.
He hosts the annual general meeting of the Bamboo Society at his nearby home, a converted church.
“I am an obsessive collector. I have more than 100 types,” he says. “You can grow more varieties of bamboo here in North Yorkshire than you can in Japan. The climate is perfect for high altitude and mountainous varieties and they create an amazing, evergreen backdrop.”
His other great love is contemporary art and some of his collection is in the holiday let, including some screen prints from Damien Hirst’s Last Supper series.
The ground floor is open plan and has new underfloor heating and lighting from Graham and Green. There’s also an alternative “chandelier” in the stairwell, made from a large branch suspended on cords around a naked bulb.
The furniture is contemporary with some bespoke joinery by Phil Leetham and a “bit of vintage”. Greville made the dining table in his workshop of cedar from Lebanon.
Upstairs, the walls are lined with birch ply and polished plaster and there is a large master suite, a double bedroom, house bathroom and a room with twin beds. They were the finishing touches to a project that took two years to complete thanks to Greville’s busy portfolio career.
The final flourish for the revamped retreat was the name, which reflects the owner’s natural inclination to think differently.
He christened the building The New York Public Library, because “I live close by in the Church Of Saint Paulinus. This building is a neo-Gothic copy of the library at York Minster. As my home is the York public library, the holiday let is, in effect, the New York Public Library. It seems a bit tenuous but the name gives the whole project a bit of trendy mystery, no?” But of course.
• The New York Public Library is available for let through Richmond-based Holiday at Home, www.holidayathome.co.uk