Period Property of the Month - September 2009
A cottage near the North Yorkshire Moors has become the perfect first home for Cheryl-ann and Gary.
Living the dream
Fashion designer and personal stylist Cheryl-ann Taylor thinks she may have been born in the wrong era. "I love old things," she says. "They're so characterful. And I adore living in this house. If I could have one wish, though, it would be to take the property back to the way it would have been originally. I'd like to reinstate the original staircase, for example, which would have faced you as you opened the front door."
But there are limits. The tiny stone Georgian cottage Cheryl-ann shares with her fiancé, Gary Davies, and their dog, Freckle, is picture-perfect and situated in a wildly pretty village near the North Yorkshire Moors. Originally, however, the loo would have been in a shed outside, and the kitchen - if you could call it that - would have been a pot in the fireplace... and that might be a regression too far.
One thing's for sure, however: Cheryl-ann and Gary, both 27, are certainly not interested in selling this house to find a bigger one, even when they start a family. That's because they've fallen in love with the cottage and never want to leave, so they'd prefer to extend instead. "Where else would we want to live?" reasons Cheryl-ann, checking off the plusses of their location: the beautiful surroundings, great neighbours and little village pub within walking distance.
The exact date of Cheryl-ann and Gary's house is unknown (late 1700s is a best guess); but, because it doesn't face the roadside, unlike all the neighbouring houses, it's believed to be the oldest property in their village. It's a home Cheryl-ann knows well because she lived here once before. The cottage was bought by her parents in the year 2000, along with a detached property next door which her mother and father took on as a renovation project. While work was being completed on the main house, Cheryl-ann moved into the cottage with her mother and younger brothers.
Cheryl-ann was in her late teens at the time and remembers the cottage was very basic. The present kitchen area was an unused space with a real fire, plus there was a small sink in what is now the living room. The walls were roughly plastered and the beams on the low downstairs ceiling were painted black, making the rooms feel bleak and oppressive. There was no central heating, either, and while the large, original flagstones had been exposed and looked suitably imposing, they also made the house seem cold and rather stark.
When she was 20, Cheryl-ann moved away to college, first to nearby York and then to London, where she met Gary, who was studying furniture design. After graduation, Gary suggested they move north to set up a business together, with a view to one day buying the cottage from Cheryl-ann's parents. By now, Cheryl-ann had a successful career selling textile designs to the fashion industry, but relocating to a rural idyll hasn't harmed her career one iota. Alongside her fashion business, she currently works as a personal stylist (revampme.co.uk) and also helps Gary run a web and graphic design company called Design Farm from a converted granary building on her parents' property.
"We moved into the cottage two years ago on Valentine's Day," remembers Cheryl-ann. "We were so desperate to get in, start work on the place and call it our own. My parents had installed the old kitchen from their house which I refreshed by painting the doors. They'd also had central heating put in, thankfully. We hired a decorator to paint the whole cottage, which he completed, amazingly, in five days - that gave us a blank canvas to put our own stamp on the place. When we moved in, we decided we wanted a proper country cottage - that's the look we've tried to achieve." Mission accomplished. This is now a warm and welcoming house, especially in the winter months when the fire is crackling in the grate.
With her designer's eye for textiles and colours, Cheryl-ann completely changed the look of the cottage from dark and dreary to homely and snug - and achieved it on a budget, too. The downstairs ceiling and beams have been painted to make the most of the light, and, in the living area, the flagstones have been toned down with textured rugs. Cheryl-ann and Gary have bought most of their eclectic vintage fabric and furniture from car boot sales, antique shops and sale rooms. With his background in furniture design, Gary likes modern pieces - yet he also admits that contemporary items wouldn't fit into their country cottage surroundings and insists that period furniture is much better made.
The only problem with such a small house is that space is always at a premium: Cheryl-ann and Gary quickly run out of room, and when they find a piece of furniture they like - their farmhouse-style table, for instance, is a recent acquisition - they have to make space for it, which is easier said than done. But this is still a small price to pay for living in such an idyllic and rustically charming home. "Before we moved in, we had this dream about how good this house was going to be and all the things we could do here," says Cheryl-ann. "But, actually, the reality is better."
Why we love our cottage
"We love the different look between the upstairs and downstairs. When we moved in, we thought the ceilings downstairs were really low - perhaps too low - although it gives the house a snug, cosy feel. The upstairs rooms, however, have lovely high ceilings and lots of light. It's that contrast which makes this house so special."