Artist at home: Charmaine Ottaway

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Jewellery designer Charmian Ottaway has an enviable live-work home in York after a renovation. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Tony Johnson.

It’s the best place to live in Britain, according to the Sunday Times, but finding a home with everything in central York is difficult. Even some of the £1m-plus properties come without a garden or parking.

The open plan living kitchen with extension and bifold doors leading to the garden. The kitchen units are from Wren and the isalnd is granite with Habitat lights above

The open plan living kitchen with extension and bifold doors leading to the garden. The kitchen units are from Wren and the isalnd is granite with Habitat lights above

So when jeweller and designer Charmian Ottaway and her husband Mike Beaufoy spotted a dilapidated house with potential to have it all, they were determined to buy it. In walking distance of the city centre, it came with a large rear garden, parking, an outbuilding and an attached workshop for Charmian.

She and Mike faced stiff competition for the period property, which was built in 1843, but many would-be buyers were terrified at the amount of work that was needed.

“It was a complete wreck but the space and location were amazing. In the end it went to best and final offers and we were successful,” says Charmian.

The couple bought the house four years ago and they were well qualified to take it on as Mike is a renowned builder. The 18-month project began by stripping the building, though they didn’t have far to go with the wallpaper. There were only two layers.

Jeweller Charmian Ottaway in her workshop. Picture Tony Johnson.

Jeweller Charmian Ottaway in her workshop. Picture Tony Johnson.

“One was Victorian and the other from the 1960s,” says Charmian.

A patch of the 1800s paper featuring kittens has been preserved in one of the bedrooms. What was a sitting room has been extended to create a vast open-plan living kitchen running from the front to the back of the house. It’s designed to cater for all the family’s activities, from watching TV to cooking, dining and doing homework.

It is also filled with natural light thanks to the window at the front and the bi-fold doors at the rear.

A new parquet floor with underfloor heating ties the various zones together with a granite kitchen island and Habitat lights above it acting as a central focal point.

The dining table is a Victorian Shove H'penny table

The dining table is a Victorian Shove H'penny table

The kitchen units are from Wren and contrast beautifully with the room’s period features, which include original cornicing and panelled doors, the latter once hidden under hardboard cladding.

“Neglect is a great preserver,” observes Mike. His 19th century Shove Ha’penny table, once common in pubs, is now a dining table. It’s narrow, so it’s a space-saver and seats ten.

The old kitchen has been converted into a boot room. There’s also a separate sitting room, which is TV free and designed for relaxing and reading. It has an open fire and plenty of books to choose from on the bespoke shelves. It’s painted in warm grey, which adds to the feeling cosiness.

The stairs were refurbished and panelled, and a light well and an extra arched window, designed by Charmian, lights the way to the new second floor. The bannister was also extended as a faithful reproduction of the original.

The sitting room is telly-free zone and is made for reading and relaxing. The family whippet is happy here

The sitting room is telly-free zone and is made for reading and relaxing. The family whippet is happy here

“That was a big expense as we had a craftsman make it,” says Charmian. “It cost £1,000 for three feet.”

On the first floor, what was four bedrooms, a bathroom and separate loo is now three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a linen store.

The high ceilings on this floor were dropped to make more room for a loft conversion. The extra height has made all the difference to the rooms in the roof and along with box dormers, skylight windows and hidden storage, it is a shining example of what can be achieved through clever design.

The loft bedrooms, which were built for Charmian’s sons, Ned, 12, and Bart, 10, come with fabulous views of the Minster. All the walls in the house are filled with art, including prints by Mark Hearld and by Charmian’s sister, York-based artist Sarah Hall Baqai. Her most striking piece is a life-size papier mache whippet, a treasured possession.

Outside, Mike has made a treehouse for the boys and mum Charmian can watch them play from her workshop, which was once a one-up, one-down staff cottage. She began her jewellery-making career 20 years ago after retraining. She worked for Cartier before setting up her own business.

She has her own range of designs but much of her work is bespoke and she has attracted a loyal clientele. She works mainly in gold and says: “I love precious and semi-precious stones and I love colour. I also enjoy remodelling old pieces of jewellery into something new. Quite often people will inherit items that they know they’ll never wear but rather than sticking them in the back of a drawer, they can be made into something else. I love giving jewellery new life.”

A patch of wallpaper dating to the 1800's 'is preserved in one of the bedrooms. Picture Tony Johnson.

A patch of wallpaper dating to the 1800's 'is preserved in one of the bedrooms. Picture Tony Johnson.

Charmian, who also makes replicas of historic treasures for museums and galleries, is opening her workshop to the public for York Open Studios, which runs this weekend. April 14 and 15 and next weekend, April 21 and 22.

She says: “People think making jewellery is a beautiful, delicate process but it’s actually quite industrial. It involves melting down and manipulating metal and drawing down wire. It’s hard work but I enjoy it.”

For more details on Charmian’s work visit www.charmianottaway.co.uk. Her jewellery can also be seen at Saltbox, Zillah Bell and Pyramid galleries in Yorkshire.

* Charmian Ottaway is one of more than 100 artists and makers opening their workspaces for the York Open Studios event. Charmian is at 4 Penley’s Grove Street, York.

The free event runs over two weekends, Saturday, April 14, Sunday, April 15, and Saturday, April 21, Sunday, April 22, between 10am-5pm.

Among those who will be opening up their studios to the public are furniture makers, painters, potters, sculptors and jewellers.

Visitors can see art in the place where it’s made and discover spaces rarely open to the public, from town houses and cottage workshops to rustic garden sheds.

For full details and maps of all the studios visit

www.yorkopenstudios.co.uk and for a free copy of the event programme, register online or email info@yorkopenstudios.co.uk

View of York Minster from  the attic bedrooms.

View of York Minster from the attic bedrooms.