Karen and Adam Griggs could have played it safe after paying off the mortgage on their perfectly pleasant modern house, which came with a small garden. Instead, they chose adventure and a property odyssey that has spanned six years.
“We really wanted to do a renovation and we wanted to live somewhere with lots of outside space, where we could enjoy being close to nature,” says Karen.
The couple and their two children began their new life in 2014 when they swapped their new-build for the Old Forge, a rambling rural home with two acres in the pretty rural village of Sand Hutton, near York. Since getting the keys, they have renovated the historic main house and created two holiday lets by converting outbuildings.
They have also made ample use of their land. It’s been a playground for their children, it is hired for small events and gatherings and it inspired Karen to make and sell her Forest School playpacks, which include materials to make everything from peg dolls with moss hair to tiny tipis, along with advice, including how to build a den.
The large plot is also home to their vegetable garden and their “badly behaved” chickens, known as the Barbaras. “There’s Bossy Barbara, Shy Barbara, Baby Barbara and other Barbaras,” laughs Karen, who gave up her job as a nurse to oversee the building work on the three projects and to run the holiday lets. “Turning the outbuildings into holiday cottages was Adam’s idea. I loved my job but I needed a change and he knew I would enjoy creating beautiful spaces and welcoming guests.”
Managing the renovation and the two conversions has been both exhilarating and stressful. Karen’s latest triumph is Next Door at the Old Forge, a tiny blacksmith’s cottage with stables at the rear, which she has turned into a sensational and super-stylish holiday home.
It was hard won as the first builders were let go after numerous issues were revealed and she was forced to start again from scratch. “We lost a lot of time and ended up redoing everything but the second builder and his team were excellent,” she says.
What was a tiny cottage is now one large, open-plan living space while adjoining stables were replaced with two bathrooms and two bedrooms with glazed doors that lead onto a private walled courtyard.
“The idea is that guests are able to escape the everyday, relax and connect with nature. It’s very private so if they want to sit in the courtyard in their PJs with a cup of tea they can because it’s completely private,” says Karen, who sought help from interior designers Beth Miller, of Fresh Start Living, and Karen Knox, of Making Spaces.
Beth helped her with project management while Karen was heavily involved with the layout and interiors of Next Door. “I wanted other creative people to work with and I wanted them to push me to be braver. I also knew they had access to lots of contacts and suppliers,” says Beth.
“Karen put together a moodboard for me for Next Door and that really helped the builders understand why I was asking them to do certain things. She also suggested painting the ceilings in the hall and kitchen in black to match the walls, which I wouldn’t have thought of but it really works and has a cocooning effect.”
When it came to decorating and furnishing, everything down to the smallest detail was discussed and analysed. “I wanted detail that would delight, from the bedroom door handles to the pretty glass cake dome,” says Karen, who is a big fan of Leeds-based Dowsing & Reynolds, which specialises in beautiful sockets, switches, handles and lights.
When guests enter via the hall they are greeted with a mural by signwriter Leah Pendleton inviting them to “Escape the Everyday”. Old bowling club lockers create division between the hall and the open-plan living space, which includes a wood-burning stove backed by a wall of rusted steel panels from Tom Heys, of Flaxton Forge.
“I wanted something that paid tribute to the property’s past use so Tom sandblasted steel panels and left them to rust and then fitted them on the wall,” says Karen, who chose sofas from DFS and bought prints and paintings from Oakwood Vintage in Leeds and Rockett St George online. The wall behind the dining table is chalkboard and magnetic and the table is from Storm Interiors via Etsy.
The kitchen is from Howarth Timber topped with a thick oak worktop with an inset copper sink. The main bedroom is a sophisticated space that gives a nod to Art Deco style and the second bedroom features Chimney Swallows wallpaper by Designers Guild. Along with a bed, there is a sofa and a sliding barn door that hides a library.
“We did that in case guests wanted a quiet place to read and relax,” says Karen, who adds: “We bought this property knowing it would probably be a 10-year journey to get it how we wanted it and that’s fine because we intend to stay here. It is idyllic and our guests love it too. They come armed with a packed itinerary and then end up doing very little because they feel so relaxed here. That’s exactly what I wanted.”
Useful Contacts: Next Door at the Old Forge and the Garden Shed holiday lets, Sand Hutton, www.oldforgeyork.com; Photography by Polly Baldwin, www.dynamicpictures.co.uk; Karen Knox, Making Spaces, www.making-spaces.net; Beth Miller, Fresh Start Living, www.freshstartliving.co.uk; Dowsing & Reynolds store, Victoria Quarter, Leeds, www.dowsingandreynolds.com; Flaxton Forge, www.flaxtonforge.co.uk
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