A professional matchmaker couldn’t have done a better job in pairing James and Rebecca Allison.
He was an Oxford-educated engineer with an entrepreneurial streak and on a mission to make his much-loved childhood home viable. His parents had downsized to the Dales but he stayed on in an attempt to make the family’s country estate pay its way.
She was a London-based architect working on development projects and as creative as she was practical. Together, they have taken Middleton Lodge at Middleton Tyas, near Richmond, and created a thriving live-work home for themselves and their children, Daisy, three, and baby Poppy.
James has lived at the 16-bedroom Georgian house, designed by John Carr, since he was two. His parents, Jeffrey and Prue, planned to sell it but he couldn’t bear the thought of it being split up by developers so he took it on with a plan to make it earn its keep. It is now available to hire for weddings and private functions.
“I could’ve turned it into a hotel but I didn’t want that because I think the house would’ve lost its soul. This is a happy medium,” he says.
The money it makes is ploughed back into maintaining the property. “When our family first moved in there was a stream running down the stairs thanks to the leaking roof. We have slowly upgraded it but you can’t afford to run these places without making them pay,” he says. The decor is sensational thanks, in part, to Rebecca’s flair for interior design. She also designed the conversion of the old coach house into a restaurant with rooms and chose the decor, a mix of classic country and contemporary that she describes as “a modern take on a country estate”.
It has been a soaraway success attracting guests from all over Britain. There are various other ventures, including events and hiring the property out for photo-shoots and filming – Middleton Lodge was used in BBC drama The Syndicate – and this meant that their own accommodation took a back seat until recently. At first, they lived in the main part of the house. Now they have created a self-contained annexe after converting the original laundry and brewery, which had also been used as a coal store.
“We still use the main house, especially at Christmas when there are about 40 of us in there,” says Rebecca.
Unlike the grand reception and guest rooms in the main part of the property, which are decorated in country house style, their wing carries echoes of its utilitarian past.
The huge brewery hopper tank is still there as a feature in the kitchen and some of the handmade brick walls have been left exposed. The kitchen is a mix of conventional cabinets and freestanding furniture, including the large dresser that the couple brought in from another part of the house along with the enormous kitchen table that James’s parents bought from an old boys’ school.
Lighting the room was an issue as the ceiling is high, so they used filament bulbs strung on fabric cables.
The adjoining sitting room features the old range, drying rack and mangle from its laundry days. The sofa is from Made.com and the miners’ lamps are a reminder of James’s father’s mining and quarrying heritage.
The sideboard and dining table belonged to Rebecca’s remarkable great-aunt Noanie, who drove herself across India at a time when most of her contemporaries rarely ventured far from the drawing room.
“She was a hoarder and so am I. I keep anything that I think I might be able to do something creative with. I spent ages collecting bits of pottery we found in the grounds here and I made a collage from them. I’ve also got a thing for candles and books,” says Rebecca.
Among her favourite shops are the White Company for candles and crockery and Yorkshire-based Abraham Moon for fabrics. The furniture changes regularly as the couple enjoy buying from antiques fairs and eBay to stock their own home and the coach house and they often swap items around.
On the two upper floors of their wing there is a mezzanine library and bedrooms with bespoke beds made to Rebecca’s design by Ben, the estate’s joiner. The house bathroom was treated to a cast- iron bath from Jig, while the walls are all in Farrow & Ball whites with Woods wallpaper by Cole and Son in Daisy’s room.
“I’m always coming up with new ideas. I usually trial them in our home then use the in the coach house, so the interiors are constantly evolving,” adds Rebecca.
With their own home finished, the couple are working on new projects. They hope to build an orangery and kitchen garden and they would like to convert more of the redundant buildings on the estate into guest accommodation.
“My engineering background might sound far removed from what I do now but it has been very useful. Engineering is about problem solving,” says James, who is also pursuing a very personal project. His late father was an accomplished adventurer and the first British sailor to circumnavigate the Arctic Circle. James also loves to sail and has just brought his father’s boat back to Middleton Lodge so he can refurbish it.
“The plan is to paint the boat and make it look cool then we can sail it in the Mediterranean,” says James. “I think he would like that.”
** Middleton Lodge, Middleton Tyas, www.middletonlodge.co.uk
Abraham Moon fabrics, www.moons.co.uk
Made.com furniture at Redbrick Mill, Batley, www.redbrickmill.co.uk
The White Company, www.thewhitecompany.com
Jig Baths, cast iron and copper baths, www.jigcastironbaths.co.uk
Farrow & Ball paint, www.farrow-ball.com