Real Home: This Victorian townhouse in Harrogate was transformed with dramatic colour and quirky statement pieces
From the moment Helen Somers first stepped into her beautiful Harrogate townhouse, part of a crescent of terraces just outside the town centre, she knew exactly what it needed - colour, colour, colour.
Three years later, the home she shares with her partner, Jamie, and their four children aged 10 to 17 - not forgetting sausage dogs Monty and Arnold - is now a bold but harmonious palace of colour, an impressive example of a considered and modern take on heritage moods, every room featuring striking tones that work brilliantly both with period features and the contemporary, often quirky, artworks, furniture and lighting choices.
Originally from Manchester, Helen is finance director of a chain of children’s day nurseries, Daisy Chain Childcare, which she set up with a friend 20 years ago. She had spotted the houses on the crescent many times while driving her daughters to ballet class in Harrogate.
“I said to Jamie, I’d love to live there,” she says. “One came up for sale, but we hadn’t sold and it came and went, so then we sold and were in rented accommodation, and this one came up, and I just knew I had to have it.”
The move marked a huge change of life for the family. “Previously, we lived out by Menwith Hill, in a converted barn in the middle of nowhere. But it just became so difficult, when you have got children - I would have to drive to school, pick them up, take to hobbies - and I was spending all day driving on the A59,” she says.
“It’s just so much better for the children now they are within walking distance of school, and of their friends’ houses, and we are on a bus route, so it was a lifestyle change and it has been great for us.”
The house, a late Victorian, three-storey, five-bedroom house, needed some updating to meet the family’s tastes and needs. Helen says: “The bones of the house, I always loved, but inside it was very beige, and I remember, when we got the keys, walking round and thinking, I can make you better, old girl. She needed colour.”
Fortunately, there were still many period features to work with. Helen and Jamie set about putting in new bathrooms and ensuites, a new plumbing system and then decorating throughout, in those colours she so loves.
The living room is painted in Farrow and Ball Hague Blue, a deep, strong blue that takes its name from dark and richly coloured woodwork used by the Dutch.
“The artwork is from here, there and everywhere,” says Helen. “Jamie is a fine art graduate and we both have this passion for unusual art. Some are junk shop finds.”
They enjoy going to antique shops and have also picked pieces up on their travels in the US. Helen says: “I would describe our style as eclectic, certainly on the maximalist side, but I do have a thing where everything has to be in its place. I am a great believer that things need to be a feast for the eyes. If I see something I like, I get it, and I will find a place for it somewhere.”
The family room is off the kitchen and has two different zones, the dining side and a cosy lounge area. “It’s where everything happens - I sit and work here during the day, we eat here, watch TV - it’s a family room in the true sense,” Helen says.
The walls and all the woodwork and fireplace are painted in the same matte grey, which acts as an effective backdrop for the splashes of colour from all the artworks, furniture, furnishings and foliage in the room. “I wanted continuity and a blank canvas,” Helen says.
The gold picture frame hanging on the door is just like the one in Friends. “That’s what it’s all about, little playful touches, things we enjoy,” she says.
The hall is Helen’s favourite area, and, unusually for a Victorian terrace, it runs up the centre of the house, rather than from directly facing the front door. The matte black painted woodwork adds definition and drama, using paint from Swedish company Tikkurila. “You wouldn’t believe how many shades of black there are,” Helen says.
The stair carpet is from KD Carpets on Skipton Road in Harrogate. She specifically asked for the blue edging, echoing the blue in the tiles (from Topps Tiles). On the end wall is a neon-style “welcome to the madhouse” sign. “That kind of sums us up,” she says, “and it’s quite dark in the hallway, but I reinstated the leaded glass in the door.”
This was done by Leaded Glass Studios in Bradford. “He designs it with you and he has got bits of original Victorian glass that he builds into it - absolutely stunning craftsmanship,” Helen says.
The cinema chairs were an eBay buy as she wanted seating in the hallway, but not encroaching too much into the space. Her friend Aggie Humble upholstered them in a blue luxurious velvet.
The downstairs bathroom is a project Jamie must take credit for, says Helen. “He wanted a Thomas Crapper toilet. “Whenever we do posts on Instagram, we get a lot of feedback about the bathrooms,” she says.
They are lucky enough to have a little garden and a garage, unusual for town. But there is still work to be done, says Helen, and they plan to rebuild their kitchen at the back of the house.
“At the moment, it works about 70 per cent, just because we need that kitchen area and an outside area to make it more user-friendly. In terms of bedroom space, it is absolutely great.
“Once the kitchen is done, there will be no reason to go anywhere else. It ticks all the boxes.”
Helen’s Instagram: @ourhouseonthecrescent
• For sofas, Helen likes Sofa.com; for bathrooms, House of Harrogate; for carpets, KD Carpets and for tiles, Topps Tiles
• For restoring leaded glass, Leaded Glass Studios in Bradford, leadedglassstudios.co.uk
• For bespoke upholstery and soft furnishings projects, Aggie Humble in Harrogate, Facebook: @AggiesCraftHarrogate