Before Covid struck, Melissa Abbott had been steeling herself for the gradual quietening of her beautiful family home near Ripon. “One of my daughters was going off to university and I was thinking, ‘oh no, the empty house’, and being very upset that they were all growing up and leaving, but obviously that hasn’t happened, and it’s now six of us living here, all the time at the moment,” she says.
Melissa works part-time in a primary school (and is a noted Instagrammer, but more of that later), while her husband, Richard, is an NHS administrator. They moved into their mid-terrace Victorian house 16 years ago with their four daughters, India, now 23, Poppy, 20, Romily, 17, and Lottie, 16. Built in the 1890s, it has five bedrooms, three storeys and a cellar, plus versatile gardens, so plenty of space for all the family.
The house has grown and developed just as the family has. “It was a bit of an empty shell,” Melissa says. “The first ten years, virtually all my time was involved with bringing up the family. When we first moved in, we did a few things, what we could afford, really. The house was very cold. Now, as the girls are getting older and are grown up, I am spending more time making the house look lovely, as opposed to a house full of toddlers running around.”
In a previous life, it was a hotel, joined to the house next door, and before the war, it was a girls’ school. “We used to walk past the house quite a lot because we lived down the road in a smaller terrace house, but it was empty and being renovated for a good few years,” Melissa says. “We came and had a look at it and thought, it’s a beautiful home but it needs a family, because it’s a big house –and it needs some TLC.”
Unfortunately, period details such as fireplaces had been stolen, although some were replaced by the developer. Melissa says: “We wanted it to be very bright, airy and with pale colours. We wanted to make the most of the big windows and the natural light that the house has.
“When we first moved in, we had a small kitchen and a small lounge on one side and we opened that up because family dining and a big open-plan kitchen is how we all live now.”
Melissa and Richard also converted the cold conservatory into a garden room. The garden itself was mainly mud, so they have transformed the entire space over the years, planting trees and making a patio.
“We have spent far more time in the garden than we have ever done before,” says Melissa. “It was my husband’s 50th four years ago and we had a big party, and that was the year we made the patio a lot bigger.”
Last summer, they created an outside cinema, buying a Coleman event shelter frame and a projector. “We even watched Glastonbury re-runs and pretended we were at a festival,” she says.
The new garden makeover also features bamboo lanterns from Matalan and a new circular garden table. The wicker baskets are recycled old log baskets, and the plants, including the olive trees, are from Tates Garden Centre, just outside Ripon.
Inside, the hallway floor was given a makeover using slate blue and white tiles with a lattice design (from Topps Tiles), to create a cool and calming Mediterranean feel. “We had it done the week before Christmas and it was very last-minute but it all worked out well,” Melissa says.
She is not afraid to use dark tones strategically to counterpoint the pale and serene airiness, and so picked out a deep and rich grey from the floor tiles to paint both the hallway table and the kitchen table, with the tops limed, to create a sense of cohesion and fluidity with the adjacent kitchen diner. The lamp on the hallway table is from the Castle in Ripon, as is the kitchen farmhouse table. “We upcycle a lot of furniture so you don’t feel so precious when it gets bashed,” says Melissa.
As well as working in a school, Melissa has a great interest in fashion and lifestyle, and the master bedroom is where, each day, she takes a picture of herself reflected in her white-framed floor mirror to show her 35,000 Instagram followers what she is wearing. Over the last year, she has also been using the bedroom for yoga. “With lockdown, people have been using spaces differently, so I have set up a little area that is a bit more peaceful to do that,” she says.
When not working, studying or chilling together, the family has been out walking with Maisie and Tilly, their Border Terrier crosses. “We are extremely lucky to live in Yorkshire,” says Melissa.
“We are a close family. We do spend a lot of time together and obviously even more so now, so to have areas where we can all be together, around the kitchen table, outside, watching a film or something, is important. And it has been lovely to have the girls at home, because they are getting older and that won’t be for much longer.
“I do feel I am very blessed, to have them and to have us all. We have had a year of ups and downs, and things like this make you realise what is important. For us, it definitely is the family and our home.”
FIND OUT MORE
Follow Melissa’s style and home tips on Instagram @backofthewardrobe70.
The Castle Furniture Store, North Street, Ripon – 01765 690307.
Coleman event shelter available at gooutdoors.co.uk.
F Tate & Sons, Larkhill Nurseries, Ripon Garden Centre – 01765 602822.
Topps Tiles is at Toppstiles.co.uk.