Di Burton’s house looks every inch the quintessential English country home, with wisteria and clematis climbing stone walls that have been mellowed by centuries of Yorkshire weather.
Inside, however, it is distinctly international. The collection of hats in the hall is a clue to how well-travelled she is. There’s a fedora, a fez, a Swazi hat, a Thai hat and even Colonial-style headgear, all bought to protect her fair skin from the sun.
“We call it the United Nations hat stand,” says Di, a public relations grande dame who owns Harrogate-based Cicada PR. “I have family all over the world and we like to see new places too. So we have wall hangings from Thailand, religious iconography from Mexico, all sorts of things from all over.”
Her home offers a cosy retreat from the rigours of her hectic career and busy social life. Di travels all over Britain training and lecturing and helped establish the country’s first PR degree. She is also a member of the Cabinet Office Communications Review Team. Her husband Andy is an investment director who works equally long hours.
They bought their historic Grade II listed property, near Ripley, after selling a larger family home in Birstwith. They wanted to downsize and brought a business-like approach to their search, writing a list of exactly what they wanted before setting out to source it.
“This house didn’t tick every box because it didn’t have a garage or a workshop, but it was beautiful and everything had been done so we could just move straight in,” says Di. “I especially loved the kitchen. It has an Aga and you can walk straight into the garden, which is what I had in South Africa.”
The property was owned by an architect who had sensitively restored it and added a seamless extension to create a kitchen, breakfast room and a third bedroom.
“It’s small upstairs with just three bedrooms but there are lots of small reception rooms downstairs. We call it the Hobbit house,” says Di.
The ground floor now has a new conservatory/office built by Andy, who also re-laid the patio and built a porch. He is a gifted DIYer, who can turn his hand to anything from brickwork to joinery.
The couple met in her native South Africa and moved to England 30 years ago to escape the fraught political climate created by apartheid. They arrived with no jobs, no contacts and very little money but they were determined to build a new life.
They bought a house and had their furniture and even their car shipped over from South Africa because it was cheaper than buying them here.
They still have many of the pieces they brought with them, including the beds, and evidence of Di’s roots is everywhere, and reflects an interesting life. Her English-born father was the managing director of one of South Africa’s biggest house builders so they always lived in new homes, usually on the edge of the city where it wasn’t unusual to see big animals roaming around.
“I was used to it so they hold no interest for me but if I see a hedgehog here I’m in raptures,” she says.
Her first job was as a TV continuity announcer and she also lived in the bush for three months working on the film The Gods Must Be Crazy.
That’s where she bought some of her native South African pieces like the Mielie stumper for grinding corn and a bow and arrows with poison tips. The riempie bench in the hall is from the Cape. Visits to Mexico to see her sister Margee, an artist, have yielded paintings and pottery.
She also collects engravings by her friend, Rosamund Jones, who lives nearby. A member of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, Rosamund specialises in capturing the natural world in her work. She spends days working on cold copper plates in the woods or doing watercolour notes of restless animals by rivers.
The art, which includes drawings and paintings by her son, Rupert, and daughter, Sarah, was a spur to change the lighting in the house. She was keen to highlight her pictures and use her collection of antique fittings.
Di and Andy share a passion for horticulture and their garden reflects that. It is a pretty cottage garden with beds, an orchard and a field, though it has recently been influenced by their daughter Sarah, who is an expert in permaculture. The ethos is to create sustainable, agriculturally productive, non-polluting environments.
“We believe in productive landscapes so we have apples, walnuts, mulberries and herbs but we are doing things differently on Sarah’s advice, like growing beans between the sweet peas. We are slowly developing more of the land for growing produce and we’d like to keep hens and bees,” says Di.
“When friends and family with children come and stay we let the kids camp out in the field. The house is too small to accommodate everyone but I love it. It’s my dream home.”