Yearning for yesteryear

Kate Ellway's former railway worker's cottage near Selby
Kate Ellway's former railway worker's cottage near Selby
  • Kate Ellway’s former railway worker’s cottage near Selby reflects her lifelong passion for antiques. Heather Dixon reports. Pictures by Dave Burton.
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Kate Ellway’s early childhood memories are of wandering round antique fairs with her mother. Together they would walk up and down the aisles, searching for bargains, admiring furniture and trying on period clothes.

“Even as a little girl I learnt to appreciate antiques,” says Kate. “I grew up spending my pocket money on china cats. I used to save costume pieces from the 1920s but my favourite things were connected to nature and animals.”

Kate Ellway's former railway worker's cottage near Selby

Kate Ellway's former railway worker's cottage near Selby

So when she was given the chance to move from a rented flat into her sister’s house, Kate decided to draw on the past to create an interior for her future.

“My sister has a family and needed more space, so when she bought a bigger house she asked if I wanted to move into the cottage,” says Kate, an antiques dealer. “I wanted to put my own personality into it without spending a fortune.”

The end of terrace former railway worker’s cottage in a village near Selby had many attractions, including the long private garden. Kate loves gardening and spends as much time as possible outdoors. Although the style and decor indoors was not particularly to Kate’s tastes, the house had benefited from a refit in 2000 when the area was hit by severe flooding. The house had been badly water damaged and the previous owners had revamped the ground floor, including putting in new floors and kitchen units. They also added a Seventies-style pine staircase which had turned orange with age.

“My sister moved out and I moved in on Christmas Eve,” recalls Kate. “The last thing to go was a huge American fridge freezer and a fish tank, which she did her best to leave behind but I was adamant that it should go. My stuff was piled up everywhere and I wanted to decorate before I unpacked it all, so I didn’t really do Christmas that year.”

Kate Ellway's former railway worker's cottage near Selby

Kate Ellway's former railway worker's cottage near Selby

Kate decorated the three-storey house in self-mixed neutral shades from top to bottom, including the staircase. “I have a lot of stuff and thought a neutral background would prevent it looking cluttered,’ she says. “I also painted all the internal doors which were bright orange pine. I would have preferred to replace them all with the old plank doors but they are hard to find and would have been too expensive.”

Kate took an art foundation course followed by a degree in contemporary crafts, specialising in wood and metal, so she applied her artistic skills to the gradual furnishing of the house. The property has three bedrooms, although the attic room doubles as a dressing area and another bedroom is used as her home office.

“I don’t need three bedrooms so I keep the two spare rooms as flexible as possible,” she says. “If friends or family come to stay I clear some space and put them up on temporary beds. There doesn’t seem much point in having rooms you never use from one month to the next,” she says.

Kate’s furniture is a combination of family treasures, car boot bargains, auction house finds and quirky must-haves, which she has been collecting since her university days. “I started buying and selling household things to raise money as a student,” she says. “Over the years it evolved into a full-time business.

Kate Ellway's former railway worker's cottage near Selby

Kate Ellway's former railway worker's cottage near Selby

“The house is constantly changing because I buy and sell furniture on a weekly basis, some of which inevitably finds its way into my own home.

“But these days I have a rule that if I bring something new into the house, something else has to go. It’s made me lot more selective.”

Although furniture, like clothing, follows clear trends, Kate refuses to conform to fashion. “I buy what I like and keep things really varied,” she says. ‘If I am drawn to any period in particular it would be Art Nouveau or early/mid Victorian, before things became too fussy. I prefer the simpler lines of the 1850s before the detailed Victorian style really took off.”

She also prefers furniture in its original condition – even if it’s a bit battered and worn. “You can’t replicate the patina of age,” she says. “I still get a huge buzz when I find something I really like, which is totally me, or when I find a bargain. I once bought a pair of 18th century shoes for £10 and I had a Georgian gent’s jacket which ended up in an American museum.”

Kate says that not everyone understands her style, but she is happy to mix and match different eras. Within a single room it’s possible to come across treasures spanning at least three centuries, standing side by side or grouped together on a surface, to create a look which is as quirky as it is stylish. And when Kate finds a bargain she simply can’t resist for her home, she will move things from room to room until she creates enough space for her new purchase.

“I love the house because it’s quite plain and therefore a blank canvas for all my bits and pieces,” she says.

“I think I am addicted to antique fairs and car boot sales. You never know what you are going to find, or what will find its way back into my home.

“There is nothing more exciting than buying a box of textiles, or household items, and discovering something really special among all the day-to-day stuff. It’s like finding treasure every time.”


• Create an interesting style by putting something quite understated and simply designed beside something very ornate.

• Use the height of a room to balance it. Paintings, tall vases, lovely decorative things hung from the ceiling and arranged on the tops of cupboards all help to add interest vertically.

• Visit your local car boot sale, antique fairs and shops regularly and get to know the people selling the kind of things you like. If you are lucky they will hang on to things they know you will like.

Useful contacts:

Kate Ellway Antiques and Decorative 0776 5051204

Newark Antique Fair 01636 702326

Arthur Swallow Fairs 01298 27493