A mitre fine renovation job

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A former retirement home for bishops was a costly renovation project but its problems were blessings in disguise. Sharon Dale reports.

Although it has been a home for well over 100 years, Ruth and Rob Penty are thrilled to be the first owners to occupy their Victorian property.

It was built by the Church of England in 1894 to house retired bishops before being bought by Rob’s forebears in the early 1920s and then let.

“Rob inherited it from his father. It was part of the family farm and although it’s an old house it’s nice to think we’re the first owners to live here. That feels quite special,” says Ruth.

The couple, who have four children, were keen to move to the property, which has a prime position overlooking the pretty village of Bolton Percy, near Tadcaster.

It was bigger with more land and simply needed modernisation, or so they 

After taking up the floorboards, they realised that the water table was just an inch below. Digging down and filling in to create solid foundations cost them £35,000 and blew their budget. They were also faced with an unexpected £15,000 bill for new drainage and another £5,000 to repair the tall chimneys.

“It was a big shock though we were relieved that the house was still standing,” says Ruth. “It also meant that we were able to put in underfloor heating on the ground floor and that has been fantastic because it has made a very cold house much warmer and more economical to heat.

They also insulated the walls and their energy efficiency measures have paid off, reducing the £400 a month they were spending on oil. The underpinning also opened up the opportunity of creating an annexe using bricks from the old outbuildings.

“The idea was to use it as a holiday let to create an income to help us sustain what we really want, which is the ‘Good Life’,” says Ruth, who has made a start by buying six short horn cattle and rescuing some battery hens. Rob, an IT expert, also farms 200 acres of arable land.

Although newly-built, the holiday accommodation, which has two en-suite bedrooms and a large open plan living space, is full of reclaimed items, including old quarry tiles and a sign from the back of a 1920s Penty’s grain trailer. It is aimed at families with children and so all the surfaces are wipe clean.

“It means you can relax and not worry about them wrecking anything. Everything in here is cleanable or replaceable. It’s why I bought leather sofas and wipeable tablecloths and I painted the bottom of the bedroom walls magnolia so I can easily repaint them,” says Ruth.

Their own home is also family friendly with a large kitchen/dining room with separate pantry that Ruth and Rob fashioned from two reception rooms and a corridor.

The house was created with two halves, one for the high ranking clergy and the other for their servants and remnants from that time remain. The servants’ bell is in the hallway, the fireplace in the sitting room is the original, though the top of it was found in the loft, and there is lots of stained glass that the couple are hoping to re-use.

Upstairs the children, Connie, seven, Forby, five, Richie, four, and Roxy two, all have their own bedrooms and there is an enormous bathroom. It has storage cupboards and a carpeted area where the children can get dressed after their baths. The focal point, though, is the magnificent Thomas Crapper toilet, a pricey period reproduction.

“It was an extravagance but we love it and we saved on the bath as that is a seconds,” says Ruth, who also splashed out on top- quality mattresses from nearby Harrison Spinks, who make them from their own hemp and sheeps’ wool.

Furniture is a mix of inherited pieces like the display cabinet that now provides storage for shoes and accessories in the bedroom. There are finds from the shed, including a plate rack, and bargains from auction rooms. The table in the annexe was just £75 and Roxy’s Victorian bed £60. The collection of old crockery and glassware was bought for a song in salerooms and Ikea has provided some inexpensive wow factor with a striking light over the kitchen table.

“Light fittings were the hardest thing to find but we’ve discovered that old gas lamps work really well. We buy them online or at car boot sales and have them converted to electric,” says Ruth.

The décor is a mix of Farrow and Ball paint and wallpapers, including one in the kitchen featuring labels from a London wine club.

Penty family farming medals from the 1930s, which were packed away, are now on display and Ruth and Rob’s vast collection of pictures decorate the walls. They include old portraits of the Penty’s and paintings by her favourite artist Jim Park. “I’d love to find more of his paintings as I know he did a lot around Bolton Percy,” she says.

She and Rob love the village and have spent the last five years creating their ideal home there.

“It was a labour of love. At one point we were living in a bedroom and cooking on a Baby Belling in a corridor and we also struggled to find a builder and ended up having to employ individual tradespeople, which took longer and meant we had to kiss a lot of frogs before we found the gems,” says Ruth.

“There were a lot of expensive issues but it’s all turned out good in the end. We love it here.”

Ruth and Rob’s useful contacts

The holiday annexe at Oliver Farm, www.oliverfarm.co.uk

HeatTech York for plumbing, bathroom design and underfloor heating, www.heattechyork.com

Joe Barnes of Slingsby, electrician specialising in restoring and converting antique light, tel: 07540 941156.

Vanilla Interiors of Tadcaster for bespoke blinds and curtains, www.vanillainteriors.com

Dennis Rowling, joiner, Bolton Percy, specialising in repairs and renovations and sash windows, tel: 07928 676683.

On The Level Construction, York, craftsmen bricklayers, tel: 07919 075181.

Daniel Thompson, artist who paints to commission, Bolton Percy, tel: 01904 440024.

Harrison-Spinks Mattresses, specialist pocket sprung mattresses, www.harrisonspinks.co.uk.