A builder and baker proved the perfect match when cooking up a plan to convert two barns into one live-work home.
The breakfast bar in Farrow and Ball’s Inchyra Blue with built-in bookshelves and space for two tall stools is one of the stand-out features in Sophie Smith’s kitchen.
Often topped with delicious cakes and pastries, it looks inviting but its true purpose is anything but. It is designed to keep guests out of the cooking area.
“I wanted the kitchen to be a sociable space but I don’t like anyone getting under my feet while I’m cooking, so the breakfast bar acts as barrier.
“People can sit on the other side and chat to me but they’re not in the way,” says Sophie, a renowned professional baker who runs her business, Bakehouse in the Barn, from her home in Hovingham.
The kitchen was a nettle-filled gap between two old barns before Sophie and her husband, Steve, undertook a clever conversion.
They bought the barns from the Hovingham estate and, while the buildings came with planning permission the couple completely redesigned the layout.
The decision added waiting time to their schedule but was well worthwhile.
“The original plans had the kitchen where the old barn opening is and the sitting room upstairs where it was quite dark, so we reconfigured the layout,” says Sophie.
The smallest barn has a large living/dining room with doors on to the garden. The kitchen adjoins it and links to the largest barn, which is now a guest bedroom and bathroom. The new upper floor is home to a large main bedroom and en-suite bathroom.
The couple rented while Steve, a builder, did most of the conversion work helped by trusted local tradespeople. He and Sophie generally agree on interior design though there was a difference of opinion when it came to the kitchen.
“I wanted to make the breakfast bar from breeze blocks and render but Steve was resistant. I got my way in the end because we were running out of money and needed an inexpensive solution,” she says.
Now all the units sit on rendered breezeblocks and the cupboards were made from reclaimed floorboards by talented local joiner Michael Pegley.
They are topped with extra deep white granite, which is cool to the touch and perfect for rolling out puff pastry on.
Local blacksmith Matthew Dwyer made the door handles and a huge Parmesan lightshade, adds quirkiness and reflects Sophie’s love of cheese, as does the cheese churn upcycled into a table that sits in the corner of the room.
There’s more repurposing featuring an empty bottle of Veuve Clicquot, which is used as a weighted door closer on a fire door that links the kitchen to the stairs.
“We got that idea from the Brody House hotel in Budapest,” says Sophie, who loves to travel, especially to Kas in Turkey, which has helped inspire some of her recipes.
In the sitting/dining room, the 12-seater table is from Barker and Stonehouse and is teamed with vintage chapel chairs. The two sofas are home to Sophie’s collection of throws and blankets, ranging from those she brought back from Turkey, one from Welsh weavers Melin Tregwynt and hand-crocheted ones from Naomi Blankets.
Upstairs, the new first floor is a spacious bedroom and the couple’s travels in Turkey are evident here. The light and rugs are souvenirs, as are the towels in the bathroom, where a cast iron bath takes centre stage.
Their most recent project is the oak framed outbuilding by Mick Young. It was supposed to be a “man cave” for Steve but Sophie has requisitioned half of it for use as a catering kitchen for Bakehouse in the Barn.
Previous jobs include working at The Star, Harome, where she ran the deli, an experience she describes as “brilliant”. It helped give her the confidence to launch Tee Hee, a cheese monger and tea shop in Easingwold. She sold it after 11 years and now works from home.
A legendary baker and pastry chef, she is something of a “best kept secret” as she has no need to advertise, though you can find her on Facebook and Instagram.
She supplies a small number of delis, including Hunters in Helmsley, sells at local markets, including Ampleforth, and makes cakes for dinner parties and events. She also runs baking courses and supplies local customers.
“What I really love is dealing direct with customers,” says Sophie, who likes to use honey and maple syrup instead of sugar and has come up with new ways of baking for those with allergies. She refuses to use margarine and palm oil so makes her own vegan butter from almonds, yeast extract and cider vinegar.
Not that you can tell the difference. We know because she sent us away with a box full of the best cakes we’ve ever tasted.
“I’m a feeder. I like to feed people, so I am definitely in the right job,” she says.
Sophie Smith’s Bakehouse in the Barn can be found on Facebook and Instagram.