When Kay Dower's husband told her he had found the perfect home, she told him it was “awful” and enthusiastically added “let's buy it”.“It needed a lot of work and the decor was mainly peach but it had space, Victorian features and the location was fantastic,” says Kay.
The property, which they bought 11 years ago, is now unrecognisable from its previous incarnation. It has benefitted from a major renovation and has become a multi-functional live-work home. Kay recently moved her popular art gallery to the house after trading from premises on nearby Scarcroft Road in York. She says: “There was an opportunity to rent the premises and I have a lot of creative friends, so it was a chance to show their work. The three watchwords were ‘affordable, local, stylish,'” she says. “Moving the gallery to the house seemed the sensible thing to do. It's a very relaxed space and people can see how the art looks when it is in a real home.”
The Corner Gallery specialises in affordable, contemporary art, ranging from £15 to £800, and it is displayed in the ground floor rooms of the house. Every Friday, and on the first weekend of every month, visitors are welcomed into the hall, kitchen and sitting room to browse the pictures and ceramics. They range from photographic prints by Julie Whelan, paper-cut book art by Claire Morris and oil paintings by Kate Pettitt to ceramics by York-based maker Emily Stubbs and 3D plastics by Charlotte Harvey.
The walls are constantly changing as pictures are sold and replaced and Kay's husband, Simon, and their two sons, Zak, 11, and Miles, nine, don't always notice. “It's become normal but sometimes they'll suddenly comment on a new piece,” says Kay, whose own paintings feature in the mix.
She studied Business and French at university and worked in the marketing and innovation department at Nestle before setting up a creative agency with a colleague. Her art career began by boosting her A-level in art with night classes in printmaking and life drawing. She now has a dedicated studio on the top floor of the house, where she paints York landscapes that include York Minster, the racecourse and Bishopthorpe Road. She also specialises in still lifes and works to commission
The studio doubles as a guest room in a property whose square footage and flexibility has provided the perfect family home. A rear extension, which created a large kitchen/dining room helped bring extra space and light into the back of the house, though the work coincided with the birth of Kay's son, now 11.
“My dad project managed and it was supposed to be complete in time for the birth but Zak came early, so we ended up bathing him in the sink upstairs and doing all our washing at a neighbour's house. It was worth it because the extension has made a big difference,” she says.
The dining table is from Barker and Stonehouse and the upside down plant pots that hang from the ceiling were a present from Simon. The walls are painted in Farrow and Ball's Moles Breath and Ammonite, which provide a great backdrop for the art.
Kay and Simon, who is adept at DIY, also repurposed rooms, added bathrooms and completely redecorated the three-storey home. The original Victorian floor in the hall was restored and a fresco uncovered, while Kay made a stained glass panel for the hall door.
The rail system for hanging pictures has been invaluable as it saved knocking nails in the walls and allows Kay to change the art displays quickly and easily. The sitting room is home to vintage treasures including a mid-century chair that belonged to Simon's parents and a retro coffee table. Plants are an important part of the decor and a belly basket from the Bare shop on Bishopthorpe Road is the perfect home for a large palm. Candles are another must and they mostly come from another Bishopthorpe independent, Olive's Nest. Upstairs, there are now five bedrooms, which allow plenty of space for the family and guests.
Outside, the asbestos-topped shed that dominated the yard was demolished and revealed a large space that has been transformed into a seating area with a shade sail, a cooking area with pizza oven and space for plants. A mannequin Kay found in the basement of a property she once rented is a talking point as are the crates she upcycled into shelves.
Her latest project is changing what was a separate dining room into a games/music room. “The house seems to accommodate whatever we ask of it and that's one of the reasons why I love it. It's also close to Bishopthorpe Road, which is a brililant, vibrant area full of indpendent shops,” says Kay. “I can't ever see us moving. I intend to be here until I am at least 95.”