This 1970s self-build has had a fantastic makeover with a mid-century modern twist
Jim Leach and Lee Carney were despondent after spending months searching for a home that fulfilled everything on their wishlist. Keen to move out of a dark terrace house in Hebden Bridge to a lighter, brighter home with a garden and views, there was nothing for sale that matched their expectations and their budget.
It was only when they pushed the boundary of their search area to Sowerby Bridge that they spotted a house with a garden, and they found it just in time. The owners were about to take the property off the market due to the lack of interest when Jim and Lee turned up to view it.
“It was the garden that caught my eye online but we weren’t expecting much as the house wasn’t very attractive from the outside,” says Jim. “When we got inside, it was a revelation. It also had a really nice vibe and I think that stemmed from the owners, who really loved the house.”
At the front, the property looks like a bog-standard, detached bungalow but at the back, there is a lower storey built into the hillside. The kitchen, large sitting room and adjoining snug are on the top floor with large areas of glazing flooding it with natural light while delivering great views across the valley. The bedrooms and bathrooms are downstairs on the ground floor overlooking the rear garden.
“It had everything we thought we would never be able to afford,” says Jim. The detached house dates from 1973 when plots of land on what is now a small housing development were sold off individually to self-builders.
While Jim and Lee liked the unconventional, upside-down living arrangement, they were keen to make some changes to the space and the 1980s-style decor.
They also invested in a new plumbing system and underfloor heating.
“We lived in the house as it was for a few months before we did anything radical and that helped because we had originally thought of opening up the kitchen to be part of the living room, which we had done in our previous home. But we realised that we preferred to shut the kitchen off,” says Jim, a furniture and product designer.
Instead of pulling the kitchen walls down, he clad them in plywood topped with a walnut veneer and created a pocket sliding door. When the door is open, it overlooks the dining area, which creates a semi open-plan feel.
The kitchen design was a challenge but Jim managed to maximise storage in the small space while keeping the large window and the natural light it brings. The cabinets and drawers are made from ply with walnut and orange laminate veneers and there is a place for everything, including the coffee machine and toaster, which are accessible in a wall-hung, open-fronted cabinet, leaving the Corian worktop free from clutter.
The kitchen is one of the stand-out features of the home and showcases the work of Wood & Wire, which Jim co-founded with cabinetmaker Tim Shillitoe. The Hebden Bridge-based workshop and showroom specialises in contemporary kitchens made from birch ply with a choice of coloured veneers. Among their fans are architects who often recommend them to their clients.
“We both loved birch ply for the same reasons. It’s a very honest material, it’s beautiful and it’s sturdy,” says Jim. “What we make is about investing in quality. Our kitchens are designed to last a lifetime. That’s the sustainable aspect of what we do.”
Jim and Tim also make plywood furniture in their trademark mid-century style. The love of mid-century design is obvious throughout the house. Prized possessions include an original Robin Day sofa made by Hille, which has been reupholstered.
There’s also a 1960s sideboard plus an Ercol sofa, which has been sprayed black and reupholstered in Abraham Moon fabric. The extendable coffee table is the first piece of furniture that Jim designed and Wood & Wire made the extending dining table, which is complemented by Vitra chairs.
“The chairs were expensive but they will last,” says Jim. “We have invested in quite a few design classics over the years. The first one I bought was a Tom Dixon Jack light.”
While he and Lee “borrowed” space from the garage to make the snug a little bigger, most of the major changes to the layout were downstairs, where there are four bedrooms. One bedroom was converted into a bathroom and the old house bathroom is now a 1.8m-by-2.5m single bedroom for one of their four children.
While it lacks square footage, it has everything a boy needs thanks to Jim’s ingenious furniture design and Wood & Wire’s carpentry. The bespoke bed has storage space and a truckle bed for sleepovers underneath. At the side, there is a floating shelf and wall-mounted, bedside light. A bespoke plywood wardrobe with a drawer at the bottom has plenty of space for clothes and the wall-hung desk has a fold-down top.
“All the bedrooms are compact but installing underfloor heating really helped because it means there are no radiators taking up wall space,” says Jim, who also clad the external walls in insulated panels to minimise draughts and heat loss.
The long and narrow master bedroom now has an ensuite at one end. The salmon pink walls are painted to match the couple’s collection of Tom Pigeon prints and the lights over the bed are by Nordlux from Wood & Wire. What was a cupboard at the bottom of the stairs is now a tiny home office. “It’s amazing what you can do with a small space if you design bespoke furniture for it,” says Jim.
You can find Wood & Wire on Market Street in Hebden Bridge, www.woodandwire.co.uk
Pictures by James Hardisty and Sarah Mason