Type “house with a garden, York” into a property search engine and you will get hundreds of results.
Vesna Milinkovic and her husband, Mark, did just that and fixed glazed stares soon took hold, only to be broken by an attention-grabbing home.
“It looked Swedish and quirky,” says Vesna. “It was nothing like a typical British house so we felt we had to go and see it.”
The house was only three years old when they bought it in 2010 and was designed by an architect who used large amounts of glazing to create views and an abundance of natural light.
Vesna and Mark have since transformed the interior and the garden to create the perfect live-work space.
The couple are both creative and had strong ideas on what they wanted. Vesna is an artist and designer and Mark, a keen photographer, runs a menswear business in Leeds.
One of the first jobs was to change the hole-in-the-wall gas fire for a real one. They came up with a design for a double-sided stove to serve the open-plan kitchen and living space at the back of the house and the front-facing sitting room.
“I’d seen exactly what I wanted in an old copy of Elle Decoration magazine, so we gave the picture to the builders and they worked from that,” says Vesna.
It turned out to be a major job as the chimney breast was a structural wall made from reinforced concrete. It took the builders three days to chip out a hole so they could install the stove.
While it was a big investment, they managed to source an inexpensive hearth by shunning granite in favour of large slabs of black limestone, which came in at £100. It is kept black and shiny with regular coatings of olive oil.
One of the biggest changes came in the kitchen, which felt dark and crowded. To create more light, the couple installed double doors on to the garden. They also ripped out all the old glossy cabinets and sold them on eBay, which helped fund new units.
They chose the new kitchen to match a dresser bought from The French House in York, which specialises in vintage and antique furniture and artefacts.
The classic, country-style cupboards from Instyle Kitchens in Haxby are painted in a soft blue. The matching island unit, designed by Mark, creates more storage, along with a circular dining area. The sink is from Ikea and shelves filled with charity shop finds create interest and an alternative to wall cupboards.
The dining area features bespoke bookshelves, an Ercol for John Lewis dining suite and a clever laptop desk, which is handmade in ash.
“The new kitchen has made a big difference. It has made this room the heart of the home and we spend most of our time in here,” says Vesna.
The front room is full of vintage finds, including seventies teak furniture from Winters Moon and mementoes of their travels. “We aren’t great shoppers,” says Vesna. “Nothing is thought through, it just arrives when we happen upon it. I love buying ceramics from charity shops. I call it ‘grannying’.”
The property has also been completely redecorated in white apart from a series of deep crimson feature walls in the sitting room and cloakroom. They are filled with Vesna’s own paintings, which are characterised by mark making. The powerful, contemporary abstracts have attracted attention from the curators of the Saatchi online gallery and were chosen for a Royal Academy exhibition.
A selection of them are now on display at Ripon Cathedral, which is hosting the Great North Art Show until September 20. Vesna had a successful London-based career in print design before she decided to move north to be with Mark and to devote most of her time to painting.
“I still do some design work but I have been painting since 1999 and it had got to a stage where I was happy with what I was producing and I wanted to take it further. The only way to do that was to do it full-time,” she says.
Her studio is upstairs and features a bespoke workbench made from reclaimed oak from an American barn. The leftover planks were used to make a bookshelf and Vesna bought apple crates for storage.
To give Mark scope to work from home, the garage was converted into what is known as the “man cave” with a reclaimed brick wall and a desk from Loaf.com. In their spare time, the couple love to garden, so much so that Mark bought the house next door so he could extend on to its land.
“We landscaped and planted a new garden,” says Vesna.
“The house is also full of plants too because Mark is always rescuing them and bringing them home. The plumbago in the hall is from his mum’s house and the big cheese plant is one he brought from work because they were going to throw it out.
“They are always artfully arranged. I swear he should have been an interior designer.”
The Great North Art show is at Ripon Cathedral until September 20, from 10am-4.30pm. The prestigious selling exhibition features more than 300 works of art by some of the UK’s finest contemporary artists. www.greatnorthartshow.co.uk.