A converted pub set on a main road may not sound like a peaceful haven, but the thick stone walls of Susan Brown’s home defend against the traffic noise and the carefully edited décor and soft white walls make it easy on the eye.
There’s a sense of calm and a monastic quality, which is fitting as anyone interested in art and design would surely love to worship here. Every inch of space has been thought through and every single item has had to earn its place.
The originality and attention to detail are apparent in Susan’s paintings. Many show her love of architecture, travel, music and landscape, and of playing with time and space through perspective.
Her work has attracted many prizes, including the Hunting Observer Prize 1997, the Singer Friedlander Sunday Times 2001, the Penrose Purchase Prize Discerning Eye 2006 and the Lynn Painter Stainer Touring Exhibition Prize 2008. She has shown in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy and her work is held in various public and private collections including the Royal Bank of Canada, HBOS, the National Trust and Yorkshire Water.
She has a strong fan base around the world and in Yorkshire, where her work is on permanent display at Ann Petherick’s well-known Kentmere House gallery in York.
The paintings feature in her sitting room, where a grey stripe has been painted round the wall to “ground” the pictures and show them off to best effect.
Most of them start life upstairs in Susan’s studio on the top floor, where the light is excellent.
“It’s a fascinating building as it is at an angle and it plays with the light and just sort of follows it round, creating wonderful shadows and patterns,” she says.
The grade two listed property, high above Huddersfield, was built in 1800 with the front section added in 1837. It has served as everything from farm building to pub before being converted into a home. Boxer Bombardier Billy Wells, who also struck the gong in the Rank films, is said to have trained there.
Susan bought the house with her business partner Judith 12 years ago. She wanted somewhere she could live and work and loved the building’s simplicity. It has no architectural frills.
“It’s not elegant and it’s not pretty but it’s very solid and true, and the space is very flexible,” she says. “Work has been carried out by various occupants over the centuries. Some of it was done in the 1970s by designer Jack Hardy, for whom I had much respect. Much of his work had become quite dilapidated and in disrepair, so taking it and moving it forward into the 21st century has been challenging and fascinating.”
Susan and Judith were well qualified for the job. They have an interior architecture and design business, Double Dimension Design, and have worked on everything from embassies and top private houses to hotels and offices. Much of their work involves designing and commissioning everything bespoke, from carpets to furniture.
The ideas put into practice in their own home are well-informed and clever. The long corridor on the ground floor is light and doesn’t feel like wasted space. Running off it are various rooms and open spaces. The office is where Judith collates all Susan’s work and tackles the considerable amount of admin that artists are lumbered with, from cataloguing to packing and shipping paintings to galleries. Further along, there is a shower room and an entirely open dining area with one wall painted in blackboard paint. Friends and family write their own messages, which creates a loving, homely feel.
The dining table was designed by minimalist architect John Pawson and made by Design Workshop in the village of Shelley.
Next door to the dining area is a separate kitchen, with a serving hatch. All the rage in the 1950s, many have been bricked up and plastered over, which is a shame as they are practical and sociable. “It means that you can chat to guests while cooking,” says Susan.
At the end of the corridor is a double-height sitting room overlooked by a first floor gallery and warmed by a contemporary stove.
Upstairs, the bedrooms are decorated quite simply, with glass on the window ledges topped with Mollie Hillam ceramics.
The house is full of art and craft. There are paintings and prints by Malcolm Whittaker, Trevor Stubley, David Blackburn and Joseph O’Reilly, along with ceramics by David Roberts and sculpture by Mick Kirby-Geddes.
The furniture throughout is contemporary classic and includes a Magistretti Sinbad chair and an Eames chair. Much of the lighting is Artemide bought from David Village lighting in Sheffield.
“I’ve always loved contemporary pieces. I like purity of line, the simplicity but that was all quite alien to most clients when I started out in design, which was frustrating. It’s appreciated much more now,” says Susan.
Outside, there is another ingenious building. It was an outbuilding and is now a multi-purpose room with sliding doors and a resin floor.
It could be a garage for two cars or an annexe but at the moment it acts as studio for photographing Susan’s work, while the loft space is used as storage for her art materials.
She now works full-time on her painting, though her interior architecture and design career has proved invaluable.
“The principles of my work as a designer are form, balance and structure,” she says. “They have all fed into my paintings.”
Susan’s work is on permanent display at Kentmere House gallery, York, www.kentmerehouse.co.uk; www.susanbrownstudio.co.uk