A degree in the history of design and architecture combined with natural creative flair were an enormous help when Lesley Humphreys first viewed The Seagull House in Whitby.
The location on the West Cliff was exceptional and the period property came with sea views. The interiors, however, were from the decade that style forgot.
“It smacked of all the excesses of the worst 1980s modernisation schemes. It had Artex walls and ceilings, modern doors and skirting boards, night storage heaters, cushion flooring and stick-on vinyl tiles.
“All evidence of it being a 19th century Master Mariner's home had been either removed or was well hidden,” says Lesley.
The house had only been occupied sporadically as the owner lived abroad and so there was damp, along with dated electrics but it fulfilled some of the criteria on her wish-list. It had two real fires and the potential for three bedrooms, two bathrooms and outside space.
“I knew it needed a lot of work but one look out of the sash windows melted our hearts. The views of the sea, harbour, 199 steps, St Mary's Church and Abbey were exactly what we had yearned for,” says Lesley. She and her partner, Dave, bought the property after a long search.
They lived in nearby Runswick Bay for a couple of years but schools and work had taken them inland and back to Darlington.
“We really missed being by the sea, so we decided to buy a holiday home that we could let out but which would also be our future retirement home,” says Lesley.
“It took ten years of casting our net to reel in our prize. We viewed and rejected a lot of houses before we finally stumbled across The Seagull House.”
Securing it took a lot of patience and financial juggling as the price plus the renovation costs meant the dream home was more than they had budgeted for, but by summer 2015, it was theirs.
“This is when the real work began and we had some fantastic tradespeople to help us,” says Lesley.
Stripping the property back to its bones brought some sensational finds. Beneath the modern flooring were the original floorboards and when the Artex, plaster and hardboard were gone, handmade Georgian brickwork with lime mortar and beamed ceilings were revealed.
A sensitive modernisation included insulation and mod cons along with a new set of stairs to replace the old ship's ladder that had led to the second floor and the removal of a wall on the first floor to create a large dining kitchen.
The house, which dates back to at least 1820, now has one double bedroom and another double/twin room and a shower room on the ground floor, while the first floor has an open-plan kitchen and dining area and sitting room. On the second floor is a master bedroom and bathroom with sea and harbour views.
The inspiration for the décor was a fusion of “Shaker meets coastal”. “We not only wanted to create a holiday house but a place that would truly feel like a home from home. Over the years, having stayed in many perfectly pleasant but ‘bland' cottages, I wanted this to feel more welcoming and personal,” says Lesley.
Fired Earth's chalk paints were used on the walls and the beamed ceilings. The colour palette mirrors the local landscape, seascape and skies and is mix of soft greys, blues, sand and neutrals.
The couple were also keen to incorporate British design and so there is a selection from Ercol furniture to Shetland wool throws. The new kitchen features simple, Shaker-style cabinets in grey from B&Q and the sitting room was treated to an inset wood-burning fire.
The master bedroom is decorated in Laura Ashley bluebird design wallpaper and linen and its en-suite has a roll top bath. “It was very carefully positioned under the window to take advantage of the Abbey view,” says Lesley, who used Whitby wallpaper and cushions from Mini Moderns in another of the bedrooms.
Having invested heavily in buying the house and spending £50,000 on its renovation, there was a tight budget for furniture and furnishings.
After buying good quality sofas and beds, Lesley concentrated on finding bargains. So with quality, comfort and style in mind, she hunted for treasure on eBay, at auctions and in second hand and charity shops.
She found the dining table in a charity shop for £10 and the ship's porthole on the stairway wall was from eBay. She didn't skimp on the artwork. Much of it is by local artists and from local galleries and includes Ian Burke's lino prints sourced from Staithes gallery.
The Seagull House, which is now let for holidays through Yorkshire Coastal Cottages, has been awarded four-star gold status.
Lesley says: “I love the house and it took a lot of love, blood, sweat and tears to get it to this standard but it is an amazing place. I just wish I could be there more often but for now letting it to people for holidays is enjoyable. I love the idea that people are making happy memories there.”
For details on The Seagull House, Whitby, contact Yorkshire Coastal Cottages, www.yorkshirecoastalcottages.com