Renovation leaves couple with a warm glow in wildest weather
Helena and Joseph Arcangelo turned a draughty old farmhouse into a cosy country home. Heather Dixon reports.
IT is a freezing autumn day and an easterly wind is gusting across the moor, battering the thick stone walls of Helena and Joseph Arcangelo’s Yorkshire farmhouse. Even the sheep outside their door, hardy to the bitter January gales, press against the stone wall that separates the Arcangelos’ halfacre garden from the breathtaking West Yorkshire moorlands.
Yet Helena and Joseph are as warm as toast. They spent a year making sure that the 200-yearold farm cottage and adjoining barn was so well heated and insulated that not even the icy blast of winter would penetrate its thick walls. And friends who ever doubted their choice of location – tucked against an exposed hillside – now understand why the couple fell in love with what was little more than a cold, stone shell when they bought it.
“The previous owners lived in it for 10 years but had done nothing inside,” said Helena. “The structure was solid and he’d put a new roof on at some stage, but inside there were breezeblock walls and concrete floors. His kitchen contained just a sink and stove and there was one log fire to heat the whole house. It was going to take a lot time and money to get it how we wanted it, but at least we were starting with a blank canvas inside.”
The couple already owned two adjoining properties in a nearby village, so they sold one and lived in the other to fund the renovation.
“We knew that if we bought this house it was likely to be our last move so we wanted to get it right,” said Joseph. “We had drawn up a wish-list and it ticked all the right boxes – including fabulous views, space for a garage, a good-sized garden and a large dining kitchen. We love older properties but there was scope for us to create a modern look inside.”
But the couple might never have seen the house, near Elland, if they hadn’t got lost looking for another property they wanted to view.
“We were driving down the road trying to get our bearings when I suddenly shouted: ‘Stop the car, we must get out’,” says Helena. “As soon as I saw it I knew it was the one. There was no-one in but we stood outside and took in the views and knew we had to live there. It was incredibly quiet and the landscape was stunning.”
The negotiations that followed were tough and nail-biting, but the property was finally theirs in January 2008 after paying the full asking price of £420,000 – plus £100 for a stone bird bath in the garden.
Work began immediately. The first job was to demolish a wall which divided the farmhouse from the adjoining barn, support the opening with steel lintels and create the dining kitchen in the middle of the house. A wall at the bottom of the stairs was knocked down to create a larger entrance hall and the ground floor levelled ready for underfloor heating.
“The most important thing was for the house to be warm,” said
Westood outside and took in the views and we knew we had to live there.
Joseph. “Winters are extremely cold up here and the wind buffets the side of the house. We didn’t want to be sitting here shivering.”
Although Helena and Joseph sought the advice of an architect, they knew from the outset the way they wanted the house to work.
The kitchen area would be the heart of the house with a twostorey high sitting room, featuring glass doors overlooking the countryside, in the area that used to be the barn. The entrance hall at the other end of the house features a bespoke oak staircase leading to three large bedrooms, a dressing area, en suite and house bathroom.
“The views influenced the layout,” says Joseph. “I do all the cooking so I spent hours trying to decide where I wanted to stand when I was in the kitchen – looking down the room or through the windows.”
Helena also faced tough decisions. “I am generally a very decisive person – Joseph and I are directors of a recruitment business so we make tough decisions every day – but by the end of the renovation I couldn’t even decide which door handles I wanted. There’s huge pressure to get it absolutely perfect when you’re going to live with the results, but you reach saturation point.”
Although Joseph project managed the renovation, he wasn’t averse to taking a handson approach – sometimes to his regret. “To save money I decided to seal the flagstone floor myself,” he says.
“More than 200 flagstones, each wrapped in brown paper, were duly delivered and stacked up outside, so I had to carry every single one inside and give them two coats of sealant. I don’t know how long it took me, but I got very depressed!”
The results were worth every back-breaking hour. “I love the floor now,” he says. “We wanted to use natural, local materials wherever we could so everything was in keeping with the style of the building.”
To this end, original beams were shot-blasted and varnished, a stone fireplace in the kitchen was raised with a block and tackle to accommodate a range cooker, and the original kitchen was turned into a practical boot and utility room complete with dog shower.
The renovation was completed in August 2008 and Helena and Joseph moved in a month later. Last year they added an oak panelled open porch to the front and this year they finally got planning permission to build a double garage in Yorkshire stone, which was completed two months ago, along with a gravel driveway.
“The house is everything we’d hoped for and more,” says Helena. “Although we wanted a modern interior, we also wanted the house to be warm and comfortable and lived in. We’ve managed to use a lot of furniture from our last house and we’ve kept the colour scheme neutral so that the natural tones and textures of the building speak for themselves.”
But to some extent, the interior décor is secondary to the 180degree views that sold the house to them in the first place.
“We had oak seats built underneath the kitchen windows and we spend hours just sitting there, taking it all in,” says Helena. “We get the most incredible sunsets and the scenery is constantly changing according to the weather, the season and the time of the day.
“Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves to remind ourselves that it’s real.”
DREAM HOME: Helena and Joseph Arcangelo live at the renovated farmhouse with their two dogs.
The farmhouse is well-insulated against the weather and boasts a modern interior.