Clare Hantrais drew inspiration from nature when she renovated her family’s cottage by the sea. Heather Dixon reports. Pictures by Dave Burton.
Clare Hantrais has special childhood memories of her cottage in Runswick Bay.
“I grew up here and had the most wonderful childhood playing on the beach, fishing,
boating and rock pooling to my heart’s content” she says. “It’s a magical place. So when my parents bought the cottage to renovate in the early Seventies it was done with future generations of our family in mind.”
Fuchsia Cottage was one of the first fishermen’s homes to be re-built following a major disaster in 1682, when most of the cliff-side village fell into the sea. In recent years a seawall was built to prevent a similar disaster happening again, and the cottage is a landmark property among the maze of narrow alleyways and backstreets, which make Runswick Bay so attractive to tourists.
“You get used to people walking by or stopping to have a chat while you are sitting outside on the patio having breakfast,” says Clare.
“Although many of the properties are now run as holiday lets, there is still a great community atmosphere here. It’s a beautiful place. I wanted our children to have the same pleasures and opportunities that I did as a child growing up by the sea.”
Clare distinctly remembers her parents stripping out the cottage and renovating it, turning it from a cold, damp house without hot water or central heating, into a warm, cosy home with all mod-cons.
“They loved the place so much that even though it was cold, damp and dreary when they bought it, they were happy as kings to sit among the rubble, eating bowls of soup And admiring the view,” says Clare. “Access to some properties is really difficult in Runswick, but luckily the road leads to our front door and there is a turning point right outside the cottage which vehicles can’t get beyond, so it’s possible to get building materials in and out without too much fuss.”
The cottage was eventually decorated and furnished in what was then fashionable Seventies style and remained that way until Clare inherited the property five years ago.
“By this time it was looking quite dated and I wanted to put my own personality into it,” she says. “It needed a new kitchen and bathroom and redecorating. I also wanted to paint the beams, which were black and old fashioned. I was keen to make the place look light, spacious and airy using light, modern tones and natural textures.”
Clare and her family were living near London at the time so she enlisted the help of designer and property developer Karen Stephenson to oversee the work, which included installing the new bathroom fittings, taking out a wall between the kitchen and sitting room and adding a support beam, fitting new kitchen units and blocking off part of a corridor on the first floor to create an en suite to the main bedroom.
“I wanted it to be a practical, homely family house,” says Clare. “Fishermen’s cottages are traditionally small with low ceilings, so you spend half your life having to duck through doors, whereas this is quite high and spacious. I wanted to emphasise this with flexible living areas.
“The top floor has become the children’s area, the first floor has the main bedroom and family bathroom, and the ground floor is for the whole family, with doors out a small garden at the back and a sunny patio at the front. I did consider covering up the black ceiling beams downstairs but decided to keep the height in between them and paint them white instead.”
Clare wanted to avoid a predictable coastal décor of blue and white stripes and seaside ornaments, but she was keen to reflect the colours and character of its stunning location.
“I went for subtle natural colours and textures which echo the lovely coastal light, the earthy tones of the rocks, cliffs and moors, and the muted blues and greens of the sea,” says Clare. “I used the curtain fabric as the inspiration behind the colour scheme of each room.”
Once the basics were in place, Clare added a few carefully chosen accessories – including cushions, storm lamps and wooden bird carvings – and re-framed some of her mother’s favourite paintings of the village that used to hang on the walls when was Clare was little.
“I like these references to the past,” says Clare. “I was in two minds about taking out the stone Seventies fireplace, but decided it was a major feature of the property’s history and my childhood. The mantle is actually made by The Mouseman so that was always going to stay. In the end I decided to work with it.”
Now the revamped cottage is complete, Clare and her family spend most of their time there recreating the childhood memories which made the property so special to her all those years ago. “I love the fact that the children have this wonderful playground on their doorstep,”she says. “There is nothing we like more than spending the morning on the beach, then cooking fresh fish or a lobster lunch, and sitting on the patio to eat it overlooking the bay. Runswick Bay has its own micro-climate, complete with palm trees, so it feels as though we are abroad rather than on the North Yorkshire coast.”
A change in circumstances mean Clare and Julian are having to let Fuchsia cottage until they are in a position to move back to Yorkshire.
“It will always be our home,” says Clare. “All my best childhood memories are here in Runswick Bay and hopefully our children, who will inherit the cottage one day, will feel the same.”
The cottage is available to let from Runswick Bay Cottages and Romantic Cottage Holidays, tel: 07970 300068, romanticcottageholidays.co.uk
What’s the best thing about your house? The cottage faces the wide, sweeping bay so it has some of the best sea views in the whole of Yorkshire.
What was the biggest challenge? Reflecting the coastal location in the décor without making it too obvious
Which is your favourite room? I love cooking fresh, locally caught fish so it would have to be the kitchen. And I like the fact that I can look out over the bay while I’m cooking.
What are your tips for decorating a coastal property? Keep it light and subtle to reflect the natural tones of sky, sea and sand.
Can you share some of you best ideas? Black beams in the ceiling can make a room look small, even oppressive. Paint the beams a soft shade of white to ‘lift’ the ceiling. Search the beaches for interesting pebbles, bits of driftwood or coloured glass and group them together on a shelf or in a bowl to bring the outdoors in. The modern bathroom has been given a weathered edge with a sink stand made from polished, unlevelled wood.