Downsizing isn’t always the final destination on the property ladder, as Deborah Dufton and David Cole discovered when they converted a historic schoolhouse into a bijou home in the country.
The property, in a pretty village near Malton, was certainly smaller than their previous house but it still wasn’t quite right for their lifestyle. They love travelling and when they aren’t enjoying city breaks in London and other voyages of discovery they visit their children, who live in the south of England.
“We adored the house and the village but we go away a lot and the garden became an issue because we inevitably came home to lots of weeding and other work. We also realised we would benefit hugely from being close to a railway station,” says Deborah.
With ease of maintenance, a good cultural offering and a main-line station top of the wish list, the couple were pointed towards The Residence in York. The conversion of the former Terry’s chocolate factory is by the Knavesmire in the sought-after Bishopthorpe Road area.
The luxury flats were selling fast and choice was limited but the couple managed to buy a two-bedroom property.
“We had to take what they had but it turned out really well as we have a lovely balcony with views of the Peace Garden. Another benefit is there is plenty of storage here, which most apartments don’t have,” says Deborah, who is a serial mover and improver.
She has a passion for design and has restored, renovated and extended more than 30 properties in the UK and in America where she worked as a real estate agent selling and dressing upmarket homes.
The interiors in her converted schoolhouse were so well-planned and impressive that the property was snapped up by the first people who came to view. They also bought most of the furniture and furnishings.
“I often sell my houses fully furnished. It makes sense as the items were bought specifically to suit. It also means I can have a fresh start in my next home,” says Deborah, who was delighted to have a new project to focus on when she and David got the keys to the new apartment.
While many fellow residents were happy with the developer’s inoffensive all-white decor, Deborah had other ideas. Her mission was to inject colour, warmth and character into the property, which includes a hall, open-plan living space, ground-floor bedroom and en-suite and a cloakroom with a master bedroom and house bathroom on the mezzanine level above.
“The plan was to create an elegant feel to fit with the period building,” says Deborah, who is a big fan of interior designer Kit Kemp.
She began by painting the rear wall of the open-plan space in Farrow & Ball’s Drawing Room Blue, which is complemented by yellow accessories, including cushions from John Lewis. A huge circular mirror on the opposite wall enhances the feeling of space.
The flooring is wood-effect vinyl as The Residence rules don’t allow wood floors, which transfer noise to neighbouring properties. It looks very convincing.
The bulk of the furniture is new and bought to suit the space. The sofa and chairs, rug and the extendable dining table and chairs are all from BoConcept at Redbrick Mill in Batley. It is one of Deborah’s favourite interiors stores thanks to its contemporary, well-made designs and its customer service.
After hunting for a discreet glass coffee table, she found one at Oka and added some antique and vintage pieces. The carver chair by the kitchen is from online store Vinteriors and originally belonged to a Canadian senator.
Above it is a painting by Patrick Morgan, which is part of Deborah’s collection of art. Her tastes are wide ranging and the walls of the apartment feature everything from Russian and Spanish paintings to period portraits and contemporary abstracts. Deborah also collects ceramics, including work by one of her favourite potters, David Roberts, an internationally renowned raku specialist based in Holmfirth. “The art brings the apartment to life. It’s a very diverse mix but I buy what I like and somehow it all goes together,” she says.
Keeping the interior filled with natural light and views was important so curtains were shunned in favour of fabric panels, which sit either side of the double-height windows. They are hung in the mezzanine area and run down to the open-plan living space and were made by Sally Robinson, of Bespoke Soft Furnishings in Buttercrambe. Weighted poles are sewn into the bottom to keep them perfectly straight and still.
It also means that when night falls, the sensational Villeroy and Boch chandeliers reflect and twinkle in the glass. They add extra glamour to the apartment, which is now complete after some finishing touches to the balcony area.
A plaster frieze adds a classical touch to the outside wall and there’s a comfortable seating area, which is screened with clever planting by York-based Vertigrow.
“We love sitting out here. It’s sheltered and not too windy,” says Deborah, who says she can’t rule out another move.
“I’d love to do another property but I’m not sure David would be too happy about moving again.”