William and Judith Tillyer’s home has certainly benefited from their non-acquisitive natures. The uncluttered space is restful and everything in it has earned its place.
“We like a minimal look and I hate shopping. I’m of the old school where you buy something that will last a lifetime.” says Judith, a former art teacher.
Fortunately, she hasn’t had to shop for the original art that brings interest and life to the open plan living areas in what was once an old tractor shed.
William is a renowned British artist and his paintings and sculptural work sit perfectly against the backdrop the couple have created.
He is inspired by local landscapes and skyscapes and those he has discovered on sojourns in Europe and Australia, though they vie with an equally strong influence that emanates from his childhood.
He grew up in Middlesbrough, where his family ran hardware shops, and hardware is a constant feature in his pieces.
On the mezzanine sitting area, there’s an early piece simply named Fifteen D handles, a wall-mounted set of what appear to be little drawers fitted with stainless steel handles.
His more conventional painting of a pear from 1957 sits above a new work that has a handle pressing down on green foam. “It’s a landscaping compression tool,” he explains.
A reminder of his hardware heritage hangs on the kitchen wall. The magnificent collage of screws, nails and brackets was a gift from a manufacturer and once had pride of place in his father’s shop.
“I was never into running the shops. That wasn’t for me but I use hardware in work quite a bit. I always seem to come back to it,” says William, who studied at the Slade in 1960.
He met Judith in London, but they decided to move back North in 1980.
“It was difficult finding and affording enough space in London and I also had a thing about building a new modern home,” he says.
They found a suitable plot to build their ideal home. But planners scuppered their dream so they began searching for a property with space for a studio.
They finally bought an old dairy farm in a hidden away spot near Great Ayton on the edge of the North York Moors and the Cleveland Hills.
“What attracted us to this is that it is like an island in the landscape with nothing to spoil the views,” he says.
After renovating the farmhouse for themselves and their two children, they turned the old tractor sheds into studios and a base for their printing press.
Later, when their children grew up and left home, they decided to convert the studios into a home.
“We lived in a caravan while the work was going on. The remit was to create as much natural light as possible and it was important not to change the look of the farm buildings from the outside,” says William, who now works from an industrial unit in Helmsley that can accommodate large works in progress.
They could have had a full first floor, but sacrificed half of it to increase the feeling of light and space. Instead, the mezzanine leads to a his and hers office in the roof space, which is cleverly kitted out with Ikea kitchen units.
“We wanted the spaces to be flexible so none of them have names as such, though we do refer to this one as the arched window room,” says Judith, of the ground floor sitting area.
Furniture has been carefully chosen with some design classics including a Rietveld chair. The new buys are complemented by antique pieces, bespoke designs and personal treasures.
The beautiful Edwardian cabinets in the kitchen and ground floor living space are from a draper’s shop in Whitby that was closing down.
The balustrade was designed by the Tillyers to look like a farm gate and the vase on the high window ledge is a replica of the Warwick Vase. It was rescued from the Chelsea College of Art in the 1960s.
“They were closing the college as they were building a new one and a lot of stuff was being thrown out. I couldn’t let it go,” says William, who is keen to support young artists.
He was a judge in this year’s New Lights Art prize, a biennial £10,000 prize for an emerging young artist from the North, which was won by Nat Quinn.
He and the other finalists have their work on display at the Mercer Art Gallery until January 8.
William’s own work is rarely on display in his native North. It is sold through the Bernard Jacobson gallery in London and in New York, though he is working on a large screen at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland and is planning an exhibition of his work at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art in 2013.
“When I was growing up here, there was nothing going on art-wise,” he says. “But that’s changed. Things happen in the North now.”
New Lights Prize exhibition is at the Mercer Art Gallery until January 8, www.newlights.org.uk
William Tillyer’s w ork can be seen on www.tillyer.com and at the Howard Jacobson gallery in London.