The great escape pays off

Mat Brown and Craig Stimson’s lives have been transformed by their Victorian house by the sea. Heather Dixon reports. Photos by Colin Poole
Mat Brown and Craig StimsonMat Brown and Craig Stimson
Mat Brown and Craig Stimson

Mat Brown and Craig Stimson were ready for a complete change of lifestyle after years of living Leeds and commuting miles to their jobs in education.

“We were both teachers and then went down the management route, so we were working very long hours and, although 
we enjoyed it, it was quite stressful,” says Mat.

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“Our lives seemed to revolve around work and we were ready for a better work-life balance which would give us more time at home – even if that meant moving house to achieve it.”

So they sold their four-bedroom house in Leeds during the first week it went on the market, and headed for the coast with the aim of launching a small business from home.

Mat had particularly fond memories of family holidays by the sea at Whitby in North Yorkshire, and after several visits to the historic fishing port they started to look for a property which would help them create their longed-for lifestyle.

“We agreed that we would like to live close to water and we found ourselves increasingly drawn towards Whitby,” says Mat. “It has a lovely community atmosphere and a much slower pace of life than we had in the city.”

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The spacious three-storey Victorian semi – which is just a short walk through a leafy park from the town’s bustling harbour – was one of the first houses they looked at and they fell for it instantly.

“It seemed to wrap itself around us and draw us inside the minute we walked through the door,” says Mat. “It had been renovated by the previous owners so all we had to do was out our own stamp on it. That suited us both as we spent a year renovating our last house and didn’t really want to start all over again. We wanted to make life easier for ourselves, not harder!”

Craig, who is particularly outgoing and sociable, had always dreamed of running a small B&B from home while Mat is a keen cook and gardener and liked the fact that there was room to grow herbs and vegetables in the small terraced garden at the back of the house. They also liked the aspect of the sitting room, which has a door leading straight out onto the garden patio where they have barbecues in summer.

“The house had everything we were looking for – a lovely courtyard garden with that indoor-outdoor style of living, a great location and enough bedrooms for us to be able to share our home with guests,” says Craig.

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“When we were travelling in America we enjoyed staying in private houses where we were made to feel very welcome and got a taste of other people’s lives. We wanted to create a similar feeling here.”

Mat and Craig were particularly keen to keep all the original features of the house – including the stained glass front door and landing window – and to work with the proportions of the rooms, with their high ceilings and distinctive fireplaces.

“It’s very easy to move into a house and start stripping away the fabric of the building, but once those features are gone it’s very difficult to replace them,” says Mat.

“We believe it’s possible to create a modern lifestyle without taking away anything from the property. You can mix old and new to create an individual look.”

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Since moving to Whitby, Mat and Craig have started collecting paintings by local artists and are keen to buy more as part of their philosophy of ‘buying local’ where they can.

“Buying art has been a big learning curve because you have to find pieces you like, but which also work with the house,” says Mat. “If a painting is too big or too small it can look out of place.”

But that doesn’t stop them from introducing influences from further afield. Many of the rooms have been inspired by their travels around the world – including Australia, the Far East and America.

“We always bring something back with us for the house and then develop a room around the place we’ve visited,” says Craig. “It makes our home very personal and full of great memories.”

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But Mat and Craig choose mementos carefully. They would rather buy a few carefully selected pieces than clutter the house – a style they carry into their choice of paint colours, wallpapers and furniture.

“Less is more, so we choose natural tones for each room before building up the layers with textures and impact with blocks of strong, bold colours,” says Mat. “We like to bring an accent colour into each room and we tend to buy one or two more expensive pieces of furniture rather than lots of smaller, cheaper items. We have quite eclectic tastes so there is no one particular style to our home – it just continues to evolve.”

Craig adds: “We sold a lot of pieces from our old house in Leeds and gave away the rest to friends and family. Although we brought a few favourite pieces with us, we were keen to start afresh,” .

“We liked the fittings and fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen, so we didn’t have to start ripping out perfectly decent furniture. It was a case of making the house personal to us. The best thing about the house is the light and space, even though it’s still a very cosy, comfortable home.

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“Moving here has exceeded all our expectations and we love working from home because we have time to enjoy the house ourselves as well as share it with other people. We have a much better lifestyle here and we feel as though we’ve finally got the balance we were looking for.

“Moving here has taken away our stress and made us smile again.”

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