A Work Of Art
Lesley Seeger’s once-gloomy cottage is now brimming with bright colours, bold patterns and her own eye-catching artwork
Iloved living in the city, but when I moved into my partner, Michael’s 18th-century cottage in a rural hamlet in Yorkshire, I saw it as a golden opportunity to develop my landscape paintings. Deep down, I’m also a country girl at heart,’ says artist Lesley.
There was just one drawback. The cottage was so small that there was barely enough room for her easel.
‘There were two rooms upstairs, and two downstairs,’ she recalls. ‘First of all, we built a small studio in the garden so I could continue working from home, while we worked out what to do with the cottage. Michael had bought the house in 2010 and had already had planning permission to build an extension so, as soon as we could, we got the builders in and moved back into my house in York until the extension was finished.’
The new section, built of the same stone as the original, includes a sitting room, garden room and second bedroom. The floors in the old part of the house were also dug up for a damp-proof course, the walls were insulated and dry-lined, and the floors relaid. Some windows were replaced with new ones in the same period style, and a porch and pergola were added to link the house to the cottage garden.
‘When we came back, the whole place was not only much bigger, but also lighter and more modern, without losing any of its original charm or structural features, like the ceiling beams and low doors,’ says Lesley.
‘All the rooms look out over the garden and countryside, so all the inspiration I need is right here. Working out in the open brings a freshness to my paintings. I hang them on the walls of the cottage until they are sold, which in turn keeps the rooms fresh because they are always changing and evolving. To me, aesthetics are really important in a home. It’s rather like a painting – each room is a blank canvas to be developed.’
Lesley and Michael wanted to keep the character of the original cottage by choosing semi-fitted kitchen units, which they have combined with free-standing cupboards, a dresser and painted second-hand furniture. Lesley painted the dark beams the same colour as the walls to give them a modern edge.
Traditional dark oak furniture from Michael’s family is teamed with Lesley’s colourful rugs, throws and cushions, and every shelf and spare wall is adorned with ceramics, paintings and mirrors, which bring vibrancy into every corner of the house. ‘I use as much
colour as I can,’ said Lesley. ‘Neutral shades just don’t do it for me.’
Lesley has had to make the most of every inch of space in the cottage, especially in the extension. The garden room transforms easily into a guest bedroom and the main sitting room also serves as an open-plan study with stairs leading to the main bedroom and en-suite bathroom, which have been built into the roof space.
‘The house has grown according to our needs,’ says Lesley. ‘It started out as a small, dark cottage which has been transformed into a light, bright and colourful home. But it was having the countryside on our doorstep, and the inspiration it offers, that finally convinced me to give up city life.’
LESSONS LEARNT: Use big furniture and hang large artworks, even in small rooms, to create impact and balance.
DESIGN HINT: Houses need colour and variety to give them personality. Buy handmade, original things, whether it’s art, textiles or accessories, to make your home beautiful.
Left: The blue cupboard was built to Lesley’s exact specifications so that it didn’t take up too much room. The mirrored doors reflect light back into the room. A mixture of family furniture and bargain finds create a pretty, mismatched look
Right: The pink front door offers a hint of the bright, bold colours that fill Lesley and Michael’s pretty country cottage. Their home overlooks the River Derwent, which is a constant source of inspiration for Lesley’s
Below: Lesley likes designs from all eras and often mixes modern or retro furniture with antiques, like this Oriental bedhead bought years ago.
Lesley and Michael wanted a country-style kitchen in the original part of the cottage, using the fireplace for an Aga and open shelves to display Lesley’s eclectic assortment of crockery and ceramics ‘The stone sink in the kitchen was half-buried in Michael’s garden at his last house, so we cleaned it up and used it. I don’t like to see anything go to waste,’ says Lesley
Tucked into the cosy roof space, the main bedroom was a challenge to furnish because of the sloping roof
Left: Splashes of colour gives the sitting-room extension a cheerful look, which combines old sofas, an antique chest and a painted bookcase with Lesley’s colourful abstract paintings