Carole Anne Cockayne had the same dream but after buying into the property hotspot that has just been judged “the happiest place in Britain”, she soon felt the need to escape to the country.
“I love Harrogate but it was too busy and noisy for me, plus we travel a lot for work and getting to and from the motorways seemed to take forever,” she says.
She and partner Martin found the peace and accessibility they were looking for in a tucked away spot near Topcliffe. Their riverside property is close to a converted mill and surrounded by beautiful countryside but it’s just five minutes’ drive to the A1/A19 and there are trains from nearby Thirsk.
The transport links have brought the area to the attention of buyers looking for value for money as its prices are lower than those in the golden triangle, between Leeds, Wetherby and York.
“We were looking at the villages outside Harrogate at first but the prices were so high and they were going up so we widened our search to this area. We spotted an advert for a converted hayloft and, although the pictures were not attractive, we went to view. It was really the setting and the garden that sold it to us,” says Carole Anne.
The property was converted and extended 25 years ago but Carole Anne has upgraded every aspect of it. Almost all the walls have been re-plastered and there are new internal doors and oak skirting boards. The oil boiler was replaced and underfloor heating installed. The dark slate floors were banished in favour of pale limestone tiles from Terzetto.
The kitchen and dining area is the heart of the house and it’s where Carole Anne spent a large part of her budget.
She invested £55,000 in beautiful handmade units, a large central island and bespoke fitted larder cupboards from Thirsk-based Treske.
The oak cabinets have pewter handles and are topped with granite. A red Aga adds a splash of colour to the room and that is echoed in a structural metal column that had been boxed in by the original owners.
“The old kitchen was very square and angular, and I wanted to soften it so the island, cupboards and worktops have curves. Treske did that for me. They were excellent,” says Carole Anne.
She also commissioned an arched oak door with a Yorkshire rose carved into it to replace a bog standard door leading into the sitting room.
“The kitchen was a big expense but it was worth every penny. I love it,” says Carole Anne, a business manager who also has a degree in interior design.
The sitting room was treated to a Charnwood log-burning stove and hearth, and upstairs there are new bathrooms and a master bedroom with furniture from Neptune.
In the guest room, an awkward space under the eaves was put to work by creating a built-in wardrobe with sliding doors.
The decor is a mix of Farrow & Ball’s neutral shades enlivened by paintings, including pictures by Carole Anne’s favourite artist, Kate Wyatt, who specialises in wildlife. Furniture and accessories came from Multi York, Neptune, Barker and Stonehouse and online store Achica.com, while many of the soft furnishings are from Laura Ashley. Carole Anne made some of the blinds herself, while others were made by Tuiss.
“The house was quite austere before. It really needed some character and now it’s much brighter and cosier,” she says.
“A lot of the pieces I got are from Achica. It’s quite an addictive website and I love the style and ideas on there.”
Outside, all the external doors have been replaced and the windows are now cream instead of white, which looks less stark against the brick. The walls have been softened with planting.
The enormous garden, an old orchard, is an ongoing project that takes up much of the couple’s spare time. Both are keen gardeners and they have already thinned out the trees that blocked the beautiful rural views. They have reinstated the pond, installed water features, rebuilt the vegetable beds, put a summer house in and relaid paths and patios. As compensation for their hard work, they bought a hot tub and a large decorative parasol from the Indian Garden Company.
“It’s taken us four years to get this far because we’ve done a lot of the garden work ourselves but we love it. It’s a haven for wildlife and, because we are by the River Swale, we get everything from otters to kingfishers,” says Carole Anne.
“It was all a much bigger job than we thought. I am a perfectionist so everything had to be right but it’s been worth it. We love the house and it’s given us the peace and quiet we wanted, although we now fancy building our own eco home so we are on the lookout for a plot. We have moved five times in 15 years so it was probably inevitable we’d leave.”