This amazing Arts and Crafts house has been carefully modernised but all its remarkable features remain intact. Sharon Dale reports.
It’s just over 100 years since Samuel Margerison created a house in homage to the Arts and Crafts movement and almost every splendid detail is intact. The reason that no-one has ripped out the panelling, painted the doors or plastered over the ornate ceilings is obvious to those who have visited Grey Gables.
No fashion trend could justify replacing such exquisite features. They display the care and craftsmanship at the heart of the design philosophy that began in the mid 19th-century and was championed by artist and writer William Morris and the architect Edwin Lutyens.
It emphasised the importance of craft, a rejection of mass production and the use of local and historic materials.
“My theory is that the house is such a strong statement that you wouldn’t buy it in the first place if you didn’t like it, and therefore you wouldn’t want to pull it to pieces,” says owner Kaye Fisher.
She and husband Jonathan Mackey bought the house, which is tucked away in Calverley, near Leeds, in 1988 and are now selling to move closer to their children down south.
They are parting with the architectural gem with much sadness. It’s been a happy family home and they have become immersed in its history.
“We fell in love with it, though we didn’t realise at first that it was Arts and Crafts, as that’s not something we knew anything about,” says Jonathan.
The property was not listed when they bought it, though it was given grade two status by English Heritage in 2009. They had free rein with their refurbishment but, like previous owners, they were keen to protect Margerison’s masterpiece.
Their research, sparked by a chat with a previous owner, revealed the history and the design inspiration.
Margerison was a wealthy timber merchant and a cultured, creative man with an interest in architecture, history and botany.
He spent six years designing the Ruskin-inspired house himself. It was built over two years by a single stonemason and his labourer and boasts all the distinctive Arts and Crafts hallmarks.
These include randomly scattered windows, the part-timbered exterior and decorative chimneys, along with an abundance of stained glass and fine stone detailing.
The17th century oak panelling reveals the reuse of historic building materials, which was a cornerstone of the Arts and Crafts movement. The Jacobean panels came from Calverley Old Hall.
The internal doors are a work of art with elaborate ironmongery. None were ever painted over and it’s easy to see why. They are so attractive that visitors are often compelled to stroke them.
The drawing room sends design enthusiasts into raptures. It features fine patterned oak flooring and an oak framed sgraffito frieze around the ceiling. There’s a “quiet corner” tucked to one side and a fabulous, semi inglenook fireplace, tiled in majolica and inset with two matching stained glass windows inscribed with “Dulce Domum”, which translates as “home sweet home”.
The movement’s emphasis on practicality and thoughtful design is evident throughout the property. Beautifully made built-in storage cabinets and dressers feature throughout as do fold-down tables bolted to the walls. They are multi-functional, used for displaying objets, as a desk or a telephone table.
Outside, the garden was overgrown but when Jonathan and Kaye stripped it back they found Margerison’s original, which reveals his love of plants and trees. His Alpine garden boasts a carefully constructed scale model of Thornton Force waterfall in North Yorkshire. The work led to a commission for him to design the Botanic Gardens in Lister Park, Bradford. .
“It is amazing that so much has survived. There were a few changes, including plastering over some of the glazed bricks but I think that was an improvement,” says Jonathan, whose sensitive modernisation has embraced the spirit of Arts and Crafts.
The new heating system feeds reclaimed cast-iron radiators, and the gloss brown kitchen was removed to make way for bespoke units made to match the existing built-in storage cupboards with painstaking attention to detail.
Stone flags found under the oilcloth were polished, oiled and sealed. Windows that needed replacing were treated to finely designed bronze frames often seen in churches.
More research showed how to clean the woodwork without destroying the patina of age.
“It’s an incredibly practical house,” says Kaye. “The parquet floors, the panelling and tiles are all easy to keep clean and they are low maintenance.”
The couple’s most impressive legacy is the lighting. Some of it is Tiffany, some discreet track lighting and other additions are Italian designer fittings from Leeds specialists DuLuce. They are simple and beautifully made.
“It was hard to know what to do with the house at first but we have acquired some highly-skilled tradesmen and a great gardener who love working here. They are as devoted to it as we are. The joiner recently presented me with 200 brass screws that he’d been collecting because that’s what was originally used here and you can’t buy them any more,” says Jonathan.
Kaye adds: “We have tried to reinterpret the original style in a modern fashion using simple but very well-made items. It’s difficult to get right but we’ve learned a lot and we’ve also got a lot of pleasure sourcing some old pieces from antique shops.”
They have gradually replaced the furniture they brought with them with simple, well-made items that complement the house. New carpets are from Roger Oates and the paintwork is Farrow and Ball.
Samuel Margerison, who lived at Grey Gables until his death, aged 60, in 1916, would certainly be impressed.
“He was passionate about Arts and Crafts style and about materials,” says Jonathan. “He only used the best of everything and that’s something that we’ve tried to emulate.”
Grey Gables, Calverley, near Leeds, is for sale with Fine and Country, Manning Stainton, for £1.25m. It has six bedrooms and there is an option to buy the matching three-bedroom former coach house, which has its own landscaped grounds and independent access. • • For more information telephone 0113 203 4939 or visit www.fineandcountry.com