Real Home: Casting their Spella

This former farmstead is now a beautiful live-work home thanks to two property experts. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Gary Longbottom

After a lifetime working in property with some of the most exquisite houses in Yorkshire, Tim and Claire Blenkin had an advantage when it came to finding a forever home.

The couple, who now run Spella, a service that helps guide clients through the process of buying and selling, are discerning and adept at spotting potential.

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They also knew that it would take patience to get what they wanted.

“We wanted to be on the edge of a village near York and close to friends so when we sold our previous house, we rented.

“It's a bore and it can be expensive but renting is the only way of getting certainty and putting you in a very good position to buy,” says Tim.

He and Claire had to wait 18 months before they found the right property. The semi-derelict Grade II listed former farmstead was owned by the church and had been tenanted.

It sits down a private lane surrounded by its own land and has long-range rural views but is just a short drive from Stillington, a village Tim describes as “perfect”.

“We knew the location was just right and we knew we could do a lot with the farm if we demolished the modern buildings and kept the traditional house and barns,” he says.

The Blenkins are chartered surveyors and like a project. Thanks to an enviable little black book of the best contractors and Claire's interior design skills, they added value to their two previous homes, which sold right away.

They are also used to dealing with issues and compromises and the farmstead had one big one that had deterred other would-be buyers. The property had a chancel repair liability attached to it, which meant the owner was liable to pay for repairs to the local church.

“The church commissioners said they would indemnify the buyer against the chancel repair, which was still a risk but we did our homework and were certain we could get the liability removed so we went ahead,” says Tim.

The first person they called after sealing the deal was architect Mark Bramhall, from Bramhall Blenkharn, who helped design a scheme that added a heavily glazed extension to the farmhouse. This provided a dining kitchen on the ground floor and a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor.

A glazed link allowed them to convert a former farm building into a utility room, larder and cloakroom. The internal layout of the original four-bedroom farmhouse was also reconfigured to give the Blenkins a home to suit their lifestyle. A separate barn was converted into a one-bedroom cottage, where they stayed for the 15-month project.

Trusted builder Graham Hawkridge was the main contractor and had to break the news that the ceilings in the house would have to come down. It was a shock but it turned out to be a blessing because it meant that all the new wires and pipes could be concealed. It also made the decorator's job much easier, which cut costs.

The handmade kitchen is by Jeremy Wood with a marble worktop from F. Jones. The herringbone floor is by Norfolk-based Reeve Wood and the Aga from Malton-based Country Warmth.

“The dining kitchen is almost a replica of what we had in our previous house,” says Claire, who has used paint colour to great effect with help from Farrow and Ball specialist Victoria Rose and “perfectionist” decorator Kevin Whelby.

The new snug is in F&B's Studio Green and now has panelling, a window seat and shutters. “The house was listed but devoid of charm so we had to create features,” says Claire, who also had the hall panelled and commissioned by artist blacksmith Tom Heys, of Flaxton Forge, to create a beautiful balustrade for a balcony overlooking the hall.

The lighting was designed by Benedict Cadbury and many of the lights are from Vaughan and Astro Lighting with the trio of lights in the kitchen by Original BTC.

“Having a professional lighting designer was one of the best things we did. It cost £1,200 and was well worth it because it has made such a difference to the look and feel of the house,” says Claire, who pays close attention to detail. All the light switches by Forbes and Lomax are clear perspex.

Furniture is a mix of treasured items like the antique bureau that belonged to Tim's father and much-loved paintings by Frederick Elwell, Richard Snowden and Clare Granger to new-buys like the stool by the Galvin brothers of Beverley.

Outside, Andrew Williamson of York-based Vertigrow worked wonders. There was no garden but he created one in three days as he specialises in established trees and plants. More work saw another old farm building turned into a laundry, office and boiler room.

The office is HQ for Spella. Tim and Claire, who ran their own business in York for 25 years, spotted a gap for someone offering a helping hand to buyers, sellers and executors.

“The idea came after my older brother had to downsize from a farmhouse to something smaller and more modern. It was a classic case of not remembering how to navigate the sales process because he had lived in the same house for 30 years.

“Spella is about steering people through, whether they are older, too busy to deal with the details or they are buying from overseas.

“We recently helped a client in America buy here and organised everything from an offer to a survey,” says Tim, who is still pondering whether to exploit the potential of another barn on his farmstead. “We thought it would be fun to turn it into a place where we can have parties for family and friends,” he says.

Spella, buying and selling services,

AJ Hawkridge, builder, tel: 01423 322506

Kevin Welby, decorator, email [email protected]

Jeremy Wood kitchens, Wetherby,

Victoria Rose Interior designer and Farrow and Ball consultant,

Flaxton Forge,

Vertigrow, York,

Galvin Brothers furniture,

Country Warmth Agas, malton,

Reeve Wood floors,

Benedict Cadbury lighting design

F Jones, marble and granite,