A matchmaker couldn’t have found a better couple to take on the stressful task of hauling an 18th-century manor house into the 21st-century.
Ruth Ferguson and her sister in law Andrea Spinks have shared interests, complementary skills and, most important of all, they are blessed with a GSOH.
They like a laugh and a sense of humour was vital when renovating Hornington Manor, a grade two listed building that now has 16 en-suite bedrooms and five kitchens. “It was a bit daunting at first but we absolutely loved it and the more rooms we got through the more confident we became,” says Ruth.
The enormous house is part of a farm at Bolton Percy, near Tadcaster, belonging to the family bed business, Harrison Spinks.
MD Simon Spinks bought the property four years ago, primarily for its ring fenced 300 acres of land, which enables him to grow natural, eco-friendly fillings for his mattresses.
Wool, flax and hemp are all produced on the farm and feed the company’s brands, which include Harrison, Somnus and Spink and Edgar. The firm also supplies John Lewis, Barker & Stonehouse and Feather and Black.
With 500 Suffolk and Texel sheep grazing and crops planted, thanks to farm manager Gary McPartland, attention was turned to the house. The plan was to turn it into a venue for corporate events and staff training. With people travelling from stores all over the country to attend workshops and meetings, it also provides accommodation and a chance to test the beds out for a night. The manor doubles as a luxury holiday let too, thanks to its potential for accommodating up to 32 people.
Ruth, Simon’s sister, and his wife Andrea, a former teacher with an interest in interior design, agreed to manage the mammoth project.
“We were lucky to have fantastic builders, who were as keen as we were to have everything historically correct and to preserve the original features,” says Andrea. “They and the trades they brought in were very easy going.”
They split the project into four parts; the main Georgian house, the Victorian West Wing, the lodge house and the servants’ quarters. The layout means they can be let separately or opened up to accommodate 32 people.
Getting the building warm and watertight was the first job and a new roof, plumbing and wiring were installed, while the heating was linked to the farm’s biomass boiler and some of the walls were insulated with hempcrete blocks.
“Taking it back to basics was fascinating. Some of the original Georgian walls are four bricks thick because the wind up here can be very strong. That’s why insulation was crucial,” says Ruth.
While stripping back the stone flags to put underfloor heating in the servants’ quarters, they also revealed some old wells. These have been glassed over and lit to create interesting features.
The old kitchen range was reconditioned and the stone trough used for meat preparation now holds a new sink.
The interior design was a joint effort, though Andrea planned the colours and soft furnishings with help from Harrogate- based Fabric and Co.
Sourcing new furniture was straightforward. The beds, headboards and mattresses are all from the family firm and most of the bedroom furniture was from Feather and Black and John Lewis.
Simon designed and had many of the chairs and sofas made at his factory in Leeds. Keen to support fellow British manufacturers, they also bought from Lincolnshire-based Lloyd Loom, Farrow and Ball and kitchen specialists Howdens.
Period pieces were harder to find but a fireplace for the ballroom was bought from Abacus in York, and the formal dining table from an antiques shop. The snooker table in the games room also doubles up for dining, thanks to a removable wooden top.
Andrea used eBay to find paintings, chandeliers and some ingenious wall hung clothes rails, which are used instead of wardrobes in some of the rooms.
She also framed a selection of pictures drawn by her father, Mike Williams, who was Art Editor of Punch.
They were the final touches to the three-and-a-half year project that sparked just one slight disagreement. Ruth insisted on TVs in the bedrooms, while Andrea wasn’t keen. There were no arguments over the budget, which was well and truly busted for the sake of a stunningly beautiful house that has brought unexpected benefits.
“The holiday let side is doing really well because there are very few properties as big as this. It’s also been fantastic for the business. The sales people who come for training love it here and the farm is on site too, so it really links them with the story of the beds. They go away full of enthusiasm for the products and we have seen an upturn in sales,” says Ruth.
“The house has a lovely feel now,” adds Andrea. “It’s almost as if it is saying ‘thank you’.”
Hornington Manor has holiday lets for between six and 32 people, www.horningtonmanorholidaylets.co.uk
Builders: APB Contracts, Wistow, tel: 01757 268514
Fabric and Co., Harrogate, www.fabricandco.com
Castrads, cast iron radiators, www.castrads.com
Fireplaces: Abacus, York, www.abacusantiquefireplaces.co.uk
Solid wood flooring: John Boddy Timber, Boroughbridge, tel: 01423 322370
Kitchens from Howdens, www.howdens.com
Lloyd Loom furniture, www.lloyd-loom.co.uk
Clothes rails from www.theironmill.co.uk
Bedroom furniture, Feather & Black, www.featherandblack.com
Beds and headboards by Harrison Spinks Beds, www.harrisonspinks.co.uk
Wallpaper and paint, Farrow and Ball, www.farrow-ball.com