For Natalia Willmott, home really is where the art is, and her beautiful house, surrounded by an acre of garden, is filled with pieces she has been finding since she was a teenager, a personal, curated collection of paintings, sculptures, textiles, artworks and intriguing objects.
This six-bedroom house is in Stillingfleet, six miles south of York, and Natalia has lived there for 14 years with her husband Greg, a financial services strategist, and daughters Caroline, 17, Chloe, 15, and Alexia, 11. Not forgetting Dexter, their Patterdale terrier. “He is master of the sofas,” Natalia says.
Before moving to Yorkshire, she and Greg lived in Islington, north London. “We always wanted to move when we had children,” she says. “We had gone on a romantic weekend to Middlethorpe Hall and also stayed at the Station Hotel. When he said, I’ve got a possible posting in York, I said, yes, let’s go for it. I had never lived in the countryside, but I spent a lot of my childhood in Brittany in a house opposite the sea with a huge garden, so I always wanted to have a bigger space.”
At first they lived in York centre while searching for their perfect home, which turned out to be a semi-detached house that was part of two cottages built in 1870. The sitting room was formerly the barn and the kitchen the old stables. “The previous owners had raised the ceilings and created these great rooms with lovely beams,” Natalia says. “As soon as I walked in, I thought, okay, I want this house now. And Stillingfleet is a village with a lovely green.”
Much has been done over the years. At the back, Natalia and Greg built a new extension, designed with Michael Beaufoy, giving them an extra bedroom and a garden room, all created to echo the curves and quirks of the original house.
“Because it is part cottage and part add-on, it’s got a lot of different corners. They are not square boxes,” says Natalia.
Downstairs there is also a hallway, TV room and another bedroom. The sitting room opens into the kitchen, revamped four years ago simply by changing doors and creating a bar area. A key feature in the sitting room is the bespoke shelving covering a whole wall with square and oblong alcoves to display books and art.
In one corner is a painting of a man leaning against a sideboard, bought by Natalia at auction. “It’s an artist called Gerald French and he went to Bradford College of Art and was in the same class as David Hockney,” she says.
Art has been part of Natalia’s life since childhood, which she spent most of as a city girl in Paris. She went to the Ecole du Louvre to study art history, and continued her education at Oxford, where she met Greg. After moving to London, she worked for seven years for a dealer in Islamic textiles and art and then for an art conservation company, until the move up north. When the children were small, she took an upholstery course in Kendal and then slowly began selling things after friends kept asking where she got her unusual pieces from. And so she developed her business combining her upholstery and cushion-making with selling unusual homewares, art and antiques, gifts and jewellery. Now called simply Natalia Willmott, she runs it from her home alongside her second business, My Billet Doux, selling handmade keepsake silk cushions with pockets to store the notebook or cards and pen that come with them. She uses her sitting room as an exhibition space and showroom, opening for a few days each year.
The garden room has bi-fold doors that open onto a terrace. “I wanted to bring the outdoors into the house,” she says. “I lived in a Parisian flat with a really high ceiling and beautiful light, and I try to bring that to some of the spaces that don’t have such high ceilings.”
The chaise was made for them while they were on honeymoon in Sri Lanka and then shipped over. Above on the brick wall are paintings of Persian figures on glass, given by Natalia’s mother, who was born in Iran.
The art continues into the master bedroom with a four-poster bed and a large textile artwork, a 1970s Indian painting on cloth. The green 19th century panel painting is from Istanbul and was originally a window shutter.
Natalia has created a window looking through into the bathroom. “I got the idea from a hotel on Bali we stayed in,” she says. “It had these shutters between the bedroom and the bathroom and you could watch TV from the bath. I didn’t want a TV in the bedroom, but I thought, why don’t I create this window that opens out onto the bedroom and have some artwork there?”
Natalia likes to cherish and keep her furniture and finds. She does not believe in redecorating all the time, preferring to reorganise rather than change. “Moving things around the house is a way to refresh your decor without having to spend too much,” she says.
Find out more about Natalia at NataliaWillmott.co.uk and MyBilletDoux.com
Flowers from Old Pasture Park Flowers in Stillingfleet, www.oldpasturepark.co.uk/flowers
Anna Straw Interiors shop, www.annas-attic.com
Messums Yorkshire art gallery in Harrogate, www.messumsharrogate.com
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