Dilapidation and dry rot were no match for Lisa and Alex Homer, who have turned a restoration nightmare into a heavenly home and guesthouse. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Simon Hulme.
When Alex Homer woke his wife at 2am to show her a semi-derelict property he’d found on Rightmove it could’ve caused an almighty marital dispute.
Instead of uttering a few choice words, Lisa Homer was thrilled and the next morning they arranged to view Grassfield Hall in Pateley Bridge.
What they found was a sad-looking Georgian house that screamed “help”. The grand old house and former hotel had been empty for nine years and had been eaten away by dry and wet rot. An attempt to restore it by a York-based hotelier failed and the property was repossessed in 2008. The mortgage lender then hired builders to make it water tight and more presentable.
“The previous owner had done the roof and the lender had tried to get rid of the rot. They dry lined the walls to make it look better but it still needed a huge amount of work.
“When we first moved in two windows blew out. They were held in by a bit of dry lining and a couple of screws,” says Lisa. She and Alex owned a B&B in Harrogate and she also worked as a flight attendant while juggling childcare for their children, Harvey, 11, and Jasmine, six.
“We wanted a better lifestyle, working together and spending time with the children. I’d grown up in the hotel and restaurant industry and so that seemed the ideal choice,” says Lisa.
The couple joined forces with Lisa’s mum and bought the hall for £770,000 in 2010, with a plan to turn it into a live work property, running a boutique-style guest house with a long-term plan to host weddings and functions.
“No-one had been able to get a mortgage on it but we sold our house and got a bridging loan until we sold the B&B. It was a gamble but we just had to have it. When I was young I had a recurring dream about a place like this and when I walked in I had the feeling I had been here before,” says Alex .“There have been a lot of strange coincidences since. When we were deciding what to do with one of the main rooms I suggested dividing it with Corinthian columns. We later saw an old picture of the room and that’s exactly how it was in the early 1900s.”
The sepia photographs were taken by Amy Collins, an accomplished photographer, whose family lived at the property from the late 1800s until the 1930s. They have helped inform the restoration, as many original features had been lost. The first job on a long list was to renovate the detached cottage and convert it into a family home with an apartment for Lisa’s mother on the first floor. Lisa and Alex then turned their attention to the Grade II listed hall.
Working on site, managing contractors and sourcing building materials and products has been a seven day a week job and, although they are only halfway through the project, the couple have divided it into manageable phases.
They have just finished work on the hall’s Victorian extension, which now has three guest rooms. They will bring in income that will help pay for work on the rest of the house.
The newly-created rooms are a clever mix of traditional and contemporary features. Local craftsmen have replicated decorative plasterwork and cornicing, while the furniture includes family pieces along with new and antique bargain buys from auctions and eBay.
The old cast iron radiators were sourced from France and from a working men’s club in Bradford. The brand new Porcelanosa bath was a sensational buy on eBay. Lighting is a mix of TK Maxx, BHS and Dunelm.
The fabrics and wallpaper were sourced from Waltons Mill, near Boroughbridge, and personality injected with vintage finds, glass and ceramics and original art, including a painting of Grassfield Hall by Jane Hinchliffe. The couple also invested in a cosy Aga for the dining room.
“We thought it would be nice for guests to see their breakfast being cooked,” says Lisa.
Visitors can also enjoy the fabulous, long-range views over Nidderdale after the Homers tackled the overgrown grounds, hiding a 200-year-old well that is now a quirky water feature. With a lot of work still to be done, including creating another five guest rooms in the main house, a new conservatory and maybe an extension, Alex and Lisa have lost none of their initial fervour.
“This was always going to be an expensive long-term project and by the time we’ve finished we’ll probably have spent £1.5m,” says Alex. “It isn’t all about what we get at the end of it. It’s about enjoying the process. We’re just as excited about this place as we were when we first saw it.”