Fairest exchange

Louise and Richard Craig waited seven years for their kitchen extension which, says Heather Dixon, transformed their 17th-century cottage

When their sons left home to follow a successful music career, Louise and Richard Craig knew the house would seem empty without them. So they put their energies into a project they had always dreamed of doing but never had time for: a living-kitchen extension.

“It might seem a bit strange to make the house bigger at the point where George and James were leaving home, but the old kitchen was really small and we wanted to create a proper living kitchen,” says Louise. “We love it when people drop in for coffee. The house seemed a bit quiet once the boys had left and we like the house to be full of life.”

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The cottage’s welcoming atmosphere was one of the reasons Louise and Richard fell in love with it eight years ago.

“Its history was fascinating and we felt so instantly at home that we couldn’t resist it,” says Louise. Everything seemed to be on different levels and no two walls were straight, but that was exactly what we wanted.

The house was full of surprises. Once part of the Duncombe Park estate, it still retains its title deeds and down the centuries various occupiers have uncovered the layers of its rich history including the previous owners who discovered a musket ball buried in its walls.

It had been built on the site of a Norman church and still has a church rafter holding up the stairs, along with original wattle and daub in its walls. There is even a Victorian railway carriage in the garden which previous owners had used for storage. But they had very different taste to Louise and Richard inside the house.

“Everything was painted white and a lot of the rooms downstairs were used for storage or as offices, while the owners had lived upstairs. It also had a very small kitchen, which must have been added on when the original kitchen was turned into a shop. It was very difficult to see beyond all that and visualise the way it could look,” says Louise.

The couple decided not to do anything until they had moved in with the exception of the dark blue dining room which they decorated the night before they were due to move in. The rest of the house they decorated piecemeal and furnished it with what they had. As time went by, they began to build up the eclectic look which, they felt, was most in keeping with the age and style of the house.

“I don’t like modern and I don’t like anything matching,” says Louise. “I like to mix different types and tones of wood and to keep old cupboards, flooring and tiles where possible.”

When they came to extend the kitchen last year she wanted to continue the eclectic country theme, but first they had to cope with the structural challenges. When they started to dig out the old kitchen floor and foundations for the extension, to get it level with the rest of the house, they discovered that the original walls needed underpinning. It set the project back six weeks, but once the building had been stabilised they created a floating foundation then built the new walls using reclaimed sandstone and coping stones from a local quarry.

New materials, including the glass roof sections and the kitchen units, had to be delivered to the back of the house and carried down the steep, narrow garden. Richard designed the lantern to bring more light into the kitchen, which is surrounded by neighbouring properties and only has one window, overlooking the courtyard garden.

“It works really well,” he said. “If we had just relied on the window the room would have been quite dark and closed in, but this gives us a feeling of height and space.”

The sandstone floor was laid to link the kitchen and sitting areas. This meant taking up the old dining room tiles, believed to have been made by the monks at nearby Rievaulx Abbey and later raided by thieves who sold them on to local people, and putting them aside for re-use elsewhere.

The painted kitchen units, made by Hovingham Interiors, were chosen to work with the country style of the house and fitted round the Aga, which is housed in a specially created chimney breast with patina mirrored splash-back.

“I have always wanted an Aga ever since I worked as a housekeeper years ago for a family who used their Aga all the time,” says Louise.

“ It makes the kitchen really homely.

“We use the house very differently now we have the extension, because we tend to live in here all the time. It’s a very sociable room.”

The sitting area, like all the rooms in the house is now layered with furniture, fabrics, textiles and historic artefacts which Louise buys simply because they are unique and steeped in mystery.

“I will spend money on something very beautiful or very unusual,” she says. “Equally I will buy something for just a few pounds if I like it. Sometimes I swap things I once exchanged some amethyst glass for a fireplace. I think I get this love of history and unusual pieces from my great grandmother, whose home was filled with extraordinary things.”

And the collection keeps growing. Louise and Richard rarely part with things, but they are always adding new details to their ever-evolving home. “The kitchen is now our favourite part of the house,” says Louise. “Although it’s twice as big as it used to be, it still has that period cottage style which fits perfectly with the rest of the house.”

Useful contacts

Beams and rough hewn sandstone fireplace from W Machell & Sons, Leeds, tel: 0113 250 043, www.machells.co.uk

The bespoke white pattern Knole sofa is covered in fabric from Peter Silk of Helmsley, tel: 01439 770051.

Lapicida in Knaresborough, tel: 01423 400 100, www.lapicida.com supplied the Montpelier sandstone floor

Aga from Country Warmth, Malton, tel: 01653 694 699, www.countrywarmth.co.uk.

Kitchen units are from Hovingham Interiors, www.hovinghaminteriors.com,

Table from White House Antiques, Easingwold, tel: 01347 821479 www.grahamhood.co.uk

Antique French bed from The French House in York, tel: 01904 624465, www.thefrenchhouse.co.uk.