Christina Brion’s attention to detail and eye for style helped her build the holiday let agency Gorgeous Cottages into the go-to place for those who want to stay somewhere special in Yorkshire She sold the business she had created from scratch to Travel Chapter in 2019 after seven years of relentless hard work.
Certain that the brand and its customers were in safe hands, she and her husband, Philip, then threw themselves into creating their very own gorgeous home. “When we sold the business, we were living in a three-bedroom, Edwardian terrace house in Nunthorpe with our two children, two dogs and two cats and, while we were happy there, we had started looking at other properties around Stokesley,” says Christina.
What started as browsing turned into a coup de foudre when they went to view a Georgian farmhouse in a pretty and well-served village. “As soon as I saw it from the outside, I knew it was the one and when the owners showed us round inside, I had that same feeling, even though the work needed to make it right for us was quite daunting,” says Christina.
The Brions’ modernisation of the Georgian red brick house with roses round the door has been super-sensitive. Arcadia Builders was chosen as the main contractor because it specialises in period property renovations and has a sterling reputation. The team, headed by Gary Hutchinson, took most of the rooms back to the bare brick and installed a damp-proof course, along with new electrics and plumbing, after which, they replastered.
“We kept some of the cupboards and the period features, including fireplaces, but almost everything else was renewed,” says Christina. “The project took about six months and it was pretty intense because you are continually having to make decisions.”
One of the best decisions was turning what was a one-bedroom annexe, adjoining the main house, into a fabulous living kitchen with bi-fold doors. The old galley kitchen is now a boot room.
The kitchen cabinets, shelves and island were crafted by the cabinetmakers at Northallerton-based Dixon & Cowton, who did all the bespoke joinery work in the house, and Christina and Philip say they can’t recommend them highly enough. The kitchen island is painted in Little Greene’s Livid, a green/grey, and the trio of brass lights hanging above are from Industville.
The vintage French dining table is from Simply Dutch in Northallerton and was covered in dark varnish, so Christina tasked painted furniture specialist “Skip Rat Susie” with transforming it by stripping it back to its natural state. The table has been joined by a set of vintage Ercol chairs.
All the paint in the house is either Little Greene, Farrow & Ball or Sanderson and was sourced from interiors store Niche Living in Barnard Castle. “Niche were brilliant and helped me with ideas for paints and wallpaper. They also helped me choose fabrics and made curtains and reupholstered headboards and furniture,” says Christina, who adds that she picked up lots of ideas from interior designer Rita Konig’s holiday let, North Farm on the Yorkshire/Durham Dales border.
“I started following her on Instagram and I love how she mixes old and new and isn’t afraid of colour,” says Christina, who followed Rita’s lead and hunted for vintage homeware and antiques on Etsy.com, Vinterior.co and www.sellingantiques.com.
Meanwhile, colour abounds in the small study which, together with a separate cloakroom, is just off the inner hall. Shelving was fitted around and above the door of the study, making use of the “dead space” to create a library area.
Through into the sitting room and the walls are in Farrow & Ball’s soft blue-black Railings, which Christina says “comes into its own at night because it makes the room feel so cosy”.
The built-in cupboards and shelving are by Dixon & Cowton and the glass pendant light is from Pooky, while an orange velvet chair from Sofas & Stuff adds a pop of colour and contrasts with the time-worn Georgian bureau. The much-admired trio of pictures above the sofa are canvas prints of work by Swedish painter Einar Jolin.
The light-filled family room has been decorated in Farrow & Ball’s Gable wallpaper and there is a cheery gallery wall of pictures. “I got lots of the artwork in the house from charity shops because, in the end, I needed to find ways of cutting back because we had spent so much on the building and joinery work,” adds Christina.
Upstairs, there are four bedrooms with the principal decorated in relaxing neutrals with colour from framed prints, including the two either side of the bed, which are Matisse lithographs in bobbin frames by Etalage UK,
Outside, Christina’s sister Jackie Cahoon, of Seed Once Sown garden design, came up with the plan for an iroko wood path from the bifold doors to a raised deck that catches the last of the sun.
Philip, meanwhile, fulfilled a long-held dream of having his own pub. He has turned what was the old garage with a 400-year-old cobbled floor into a “proper pub” named the “Lough Fea Bar”, after Christina’s father’s favourite watering hole in Northern Ireland. “I’ve always wanted a pub and this was my chance,” says Phil, who included a dartboard while Christina suggested the Mulberry Flying Ducks wallpaper.
With their own house now refurbished and most decidedly a long-term home, Christina and Philip have begun work on their latest project: buying and fitting out and styling their own holiday lets. “We are planning to buy three or four properties to create our own small exclusive portfolio of holiday lets that we will manage ourselves under a new brand, Yorkshire Velvet,” says Christina. “The idea is that they will be design-led, a bit different and definitely not bland. I think that’s what people want.”
Useful contacts: Find Christina Brion on Instagram @yorkshirevelvet; Arcadia Builders, www.arcadiabuilders.co.uk; Dixon & Cowton, Northallerton, www.dixonandcowton.co.uk; Niche Living store, Galgate, Barnard Castle; Skiprat Suzie, furniture painting and sales, www.skipratsuzie.co.uk; Seed Once Sown garden design, www.seedoncesown.com; Pooky lighting, www.pooky.com.
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