Dedicated Francophiles Sue Duck and her partner, Richard, missed French food when they returned back home to Yorkshire's east coast, so rather than wait for their next trip across the Channel, they took a radical approach.
The couple, who had no previous experience in the restaurant trade, decided to open their own French bistro/cafe in Whitby.
Mademoiselles on Skinner Street (which earned a glowing Yorkshire Post review a couple of weeks ago) is now regularly rated the number one Whitby eatery on TripAdvisor – and not just for the food.
The fabulous decor is all part of the experience and the emphasis on interior design extends to the holiday let above.
The couple bought the property in May last year. “We really wanted to open a bistro making the kind of French food we loved,” says Sue.
It had belonged to vintage doyenne Numi Solomons and her musician husband, Charles. Trading as The Stonehouse Emporium, it was a shop that came with a flat above and there had also been a creperie in the basement.
The change of use and style involved a huge amount of work in a very short space of time, which proved a challenge even for experienced renovators.
“We have done quite a few property renovations, including two in France but this was incredibly hard work because of the timescale and the fact that it needed a lot more work than we had planned for,” says Sue. Determined to honour bookings already in place for the one-bedroom holiday let on the upper floor, the first task was to redecorate and restyle the apartment to give it a modern French style.
They had just four days to complete the makeover with the help of local builder Nigel Parks.
New flooring was laid, new lighting installed and the whole place was redecorated.
The carpets from Drapers in Whitby are in silver grey and the walls are painted in Farrow and Ball whites, except those on the stairs and landing, which are in Farrow and Ball's deep dark Downpipe.
“I wanted to create some drama by using a dark colour and three big chandeliers I bought from Bay Tree Interiors in Whitby,” says Sue.
Finding French furniture and accessories wasn't a problem as she and Richard had brought a van-load over from France in preparation for fitting out the bistro.
The bedroom was treated to a French armoire which Sue painted, the new bed was from local firm, Beevers, and the curtains are from Laura Ashley.
Vintage cocktail chairs were sourced from Cleggs of York and the striking pendant lights are from the dear departed BHS.
The mirrors over the fireplace and the bed are also French and a collection of them also feature on the landing.
“I love mirrors and I use them a lot,” says Sue. “They reflect light and make a room look more luxurious.”
The shower room was replastered and retiled, new flooring laid and shelves installed. In the kitchen, the units were retained and practical laminate flooring laid. A new glass table givesthe illusion of “more space and fluidity”.
Wallpaper from Next that imitates the decorative tin tiles found in New York brownstone houses covers one wall and adds interest and texture.
“That was my first attempt at wallpapering and it went well because the pattern was easy to match,” says Sue.
Ornaments and accessories are a mix of French finds from brocantes and new buys from local shops.
Sue, who tackled everything from sourcing products to painting and papering, says: “It was pretty scary working against the clock. I was there most of the night to make sure we finished it on time for guests who had booked the apartment with the previous owner but we just about managed to get it finished it and the people who stayed loved it.”
Renamed the Boutique Apartment, the property has been a big success and, thanks to the quality of the decor, Yorkshire Coastal Cottages, which specialises in beautiful homes to let on or close to the east coast, agreed to market it.
“It's been fantastic and of course people who stay there can pop downstairs for food and drink,” says Sue.
The bistro/cafe, Mademoiselles, was the second part of the project and took four-and-a-half months to complete. It includes an eating area, gin room and a bar.
The walls are in Farrow and Ball's Railings and the look is dark, dramatic and opulent decorated with vintage finds from France. “It's very relaxed and cosy. We have a roaring fire in winter and the music is French and includes my favourite singers, Carla Bruni and Madeleine Peyroux.
“It's so French in design that you could be in Montmartre. We are also very lucky because we managed to find an amazing chef, Wayne Gildroy, who is French classically trained, and a great team of staff,” says Sue. “Our best-selling dishes include French onion soup, moules, Toulouse sausage on a bed of puy lentils and the classic boeuf bourguignon. It's a little bit of France in Whitby.”
The Boutique Apartment, Whitby, is for let for £455-£595 per week with Yorkshire Coastal Cottages, 01947 820949, www.yorkshirecoastalcottages.com
Mademoiselles Skinner Street, Whitby, www.mademoiselles.co.uk.