Character forming

Louise Hilton transformed a bland new-build into a glamorous home with a touch of colonial splendour. Sharon Dale reports.

Newly-built homes offer a blank canvas but few of us are capable of making a masterpiece out of them.

It can be difficult to create character and a cohesive interior, though Louise Hilton has managed both with ease. Her artistic flair is evident as soon as you step over the threshold of her Harrogate house. It takes someone brave and creative to choose a trompe l’oeil stone effect paper for the walls of a narrow hallway. Yet the oversized “marble” blocks work beautifully alongside the antique mirror and console table from Harrogate Interiors and the elaborate sconces from South Africa.

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The entrance sets the tone for the rest of the property, which is cosy and glamorous with a touch of colonial splendour.

“The house was brand new and had been empty for a year when I bought it. The developer had to build it from old stone to match the old house next door and that cost a fortune, so inside was where he cut the budget. It was pretty basic,” says Louise. “I didn’t have much money to spend on it but I knew I didn’t want cheap prints on the wall so I painted my own picture and I also changed all the curtains , which made a big difference.”

She arrived in 1983 with two young sons and since then the interior and the garden have had many incarnations. Tastes change, she says, and she should know. Her business dictates that she keep an eye on trends. Louise, a former croupier at the Playboy club in London, has one of Yorkshire’s best-known dress agencies. Her shop, Ripon Revivals, is an Aladdin’s cave and features everything from top end high street to designer clothes and accessories.

“I worked as fashion consultant at Hoopers before starting the shop 15 years ago. I really enjoy it, though I don’t necessarily think you should slavishly follow fashion in your home. You should buy what you like,” says Louise, whose favourite homeware outlets include Oka, and James Brindley.

She also adores antique shops and her house is full of finds like the giant mirror in the sitting room, which adds light and wow factor. Another passion is fabric.

Many of her drapes and blinds are from Harrogate-based Fabric and Co, including the new Cabbages and Roses curtains in her bedroom. She also has an eye for the quirky and unusual, hence the large, fake topiary tree dressed with fairy lights in the dining room. It was previously part of a shop display.

The dining room features one of her favourite pieces, a stunning table that was revamped by painted furniture specialists Mister Toad, in Killinghall. It started life as a polished mahogany antique that was much admired but didn’t fit with Louise’s scheme.

“It was the perfect size so I wanted to keep it but everyone was horrified when I said I was going to have it painted, but I’m so pleased I did. I love it.”

Mister Toad used a variety of paint techniques and colours to create a rich, layered effect. They specialise in Annie Sloan chalk paints, which they also sell. The table perfectly matches the chairs from Oka, which have been recovered in a grape-coloured fabric, and it complements the bright, contemporary pictures from Brindley’s, which launched the new look.

“I wanted some colour and that’s where the pictures came in. They are contemporary and I like to mix old and new,” says Louise, who used Farrow and Ball’s Elephant’s Breath on the walls. The room looks out on to what was once a standard garden flanked by two garages. She painted the garage walls and paved the whole area. It’s now an elegant oasis, decorated with statues and bay trees that wouldn’t be out of place in an Italian villa.

The kitchen has also been treated to a makeover recently. The units were still good and there was no reason to reconfigure them so Louise bought new cabinet doors and painted them in Farrow and Ball .

“It was cheaper than new units too, though if money were no object I’d have an old house with large living kitchen,” she says.

For sentimental reasons, she has incorporated furniture that belonged to her parents into her own home. There is a plate rack and butler’s table from their Cheshire cottage and a beautiful bed that was re-painted by Mister Toad. It is the focal point of a French-style boudoir, which is lit by a chandelier. Chandeliers hang from almost all the ceilings and add a touch of opulence alongside a collection of table lamps.

“Lighting is really important to me. I think mood lighting is crucial in creating atmosphere and it makes everything look better. Most sensible women like good lighting,” she says.

A pretty chandelier is almost certain to feature in her next project, the guest bedroom. Although it looks the picture of perfection with pretty Laura Ashley dressing table and a shabby chic style, she insists it needs “doing”.

“I’m always doing rooms up. For me, this house will never be finished.”

Ripon Revivals is at 6 Kirkgate, Ripon.

Louise’s useful contacts

Mister Toad, Levens Hall Park, Killinghall, Harrogate, tel: 01423 563901,

Harrogate Interiors,

James Brindley, Harrogate and Wetherby,www.

Fabric and Co, Cold Bath 
Place, Harrogate, www.fabricandco.

Oka, West Park, Harrogate,

The Doormaker, replacement kitchen cupboard doors, Bradford,