Dark, damp and furnished with an abandoned bath and buckets to catch rain from the leaking roof, the attic in Claire Rodgers' home was particularly unappealing. “I think it had been servants' quarters many years ago but it was very hard to imagine anyone living up there,” she says.
While she struggles to visualise, her husband, Ian, excels at it and convinced her that they could and should convert the attic, even though they clearly didn't need the extra square footage.
Their large Georgian home in Wharfedale was more than big enough for their needs. “I did question the need for more space but I think Ian just wanted the challenge,” says Claire, who admits that the conversion turned out to be a great idea.
It is now a sensational loft apartment and provides a luxurious escape from the building work going on below them.
“We are modernising the house but having the apartment means that we can now live on site. It has been really helpful,” says Claire.
There was no need for planning permission as the attic conversion came under permitted development but an architect was employed to draw plans and advise on the project.
One of the main aims was to get more natural light into the space and this was achieved by sensitive use of conservation roof lights. The couple's builder, Karol, a gifted joiner, was diverted from work on the rooms below to the attic.
He made one large semi open-plan living space with a separate shower room and on the other side of the stairs, he created a bedroom and storage/dressing room.
“He is incredibly talented and creative. We are very lucky to have him,” says Claire.
Fitting out the shell was a major challenge owing to the original, load-bearing trusses and beams that criss-cross the space, so the couple decided to call in design expert Bess Sturman of Sturman and Co to help.
Bess specialises in bespoke design and project management services for both residential and commercial clients. She has also worked as an interior designer on BBC One but is best known for her award-winning transformation of the sensational Art Deco-inspired Ilkley Cinema.
Claire says: “I didn't have a clue what to put where because it is such a tricky space and I wasn't sure on the style as I lean towards modern but this is an old house.
“I am really pleased Bess agreed to help us. She has done an amazing job.”
Bess managed to zone the open-plan living area and skilfully plotted a route through the restrictive criss-cross of beams and trusses. Her scheme is based around a calm palette of Farrow & Ball whites – Strong White, Skylight and Cornforth – along with, soft greys and soft pink.
The colours were inspired by the clouds that are visible through the Velux windows. The style is contemporary as a contrast to the 250-year-old structure and allowed her to incorporate some of Claire and Ian's favourite furniture from their previous home, including a contemporary collection in dark wenge wood from Poliform. “They didn't feel that it would work in the rest of the house, so a big part of the brief was to use it in the loft,” says Bess, who managed to repurpose some of the pieces, including a dressing table, which is now a desk in the living area, and a bookcase, which has come in useful for storing crockery.
Poliform chairs have been joined by a new pink sofa from Swoon with cushions from Nora's in Ilkley and glass side tables from Made.com.
The budget for the fit-out wasn't big, so the kitchen units were from Magnet and Bess customised them with copper handles.
She splashed out on Fired Earth tiles laid in a herringbone style with a brushed pewter trim and added industrial-style lights from Industville.
Bess also designed a breakfast bar from upcycled beams and a dining table from reclaimed wood, which were made by Karol.
The shower room is tiny but incredibly stylish thanks to a wall-hung Villeroy & Boch basin and a slim cabinet from Made.com.
Across the landing, the bedroom is a calming space with a bath tucked under the eaves.
The storage/dressing room features melamine-faced ply cabinets designed by Bess. One of Claire and Ian's favourite features is the lighting scheme, which Bess planned. It includes pendants and wall lights plus directional spotlights to accentuate the architectural features and create ambience at night.
“I am very glad we brought a professional in. It makes all the difference,” says Claire.
Bess adds: “I love a challenge and the attic space was an interesting job. I enjoyed working on something so old. It felt like I'd contributed to the history of the building.”
For details on Bess Sturman and her work visit www.sturmanandco.com