Gothic-style house that cocks a snook at minimalism and greige
This semi-detached house hides a bold, gothic interior. Sheena Hastings reports. Pictures by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
WHEN the interior of a house belies its exterior it’s more often than not because, behind an elderly facade, you find an orgy of stark urban chic. Extensive older period style behind a more modern mask is much more rare – but that’s what Debbie and Stephen Barraclough set out to create.
Those Victorians knew how to do things on a grand scale, and they experimented with everything from steam combustion and new-fangled domestic appliances to musical instruments. Their taste in interior design tended to the dark and gothic – deep stained oak and leather, rich reds, ornate silver and pewter, heavily carved wood and ornaments imported from the far-reaching empire.
Finding this sort of interior inside an outwardly neat and unremarkable 1920s semi in north Leeds is quite a shock to the senses, and the Barracloughs seem to enjoy gauging newcomers’ reaction to the home they share with their eight-yearold son and 13-year-old daughter.
The Tardis-like four-bedroom house is chock full of different 19th century trends in furnishing and decoration. It’s a curiosity shop of paraphernalia that could easily dress a Dickensian stage set.
There’s more taxidermy than you can shake a stick at; no less than 10 harmoniums (although no-one here plays them); heavily ornate crimson drapes, dark red walls and toning Queen Anne-style leather chesterfields; gargoyles; heavy carved chairs; many wind-up or pendulum clocks (all keeping slightly different time), and oak panelling installed by Stephen then sanded and stained by Debbie.
When Stephen bought the house with a big mortgage in 1984 it cost £15,000 and was a study in white-painted anaglypta. Despite having grown up and lived for many years in his parents’ modern house in this same road, the 53-year-old factory manager says he always felt he was “born in the wrong age”.
“I loved older things, and visiting old places like Fountains Abbey. When my parents saw what we were doing to this house they couldn’t understand it, but older things were really made to last and have character.”
When Stephen got together with Debbie a few years later, he found a kindred spirit in plundering car boot sales, auctions and eBay for Victorian items of furniture and decoration that would complement Stephen’s burgeoning collection of taxidermy and growing fixation with what he calls “saving things that many other people don’t want to save”
Despite working long hours, Debbie says Stephen puts in many more keeping on top of what’s selling online, and a day out at the coast will usually include a mooch around auction houses and antique shops.
Recent acquisitions include Victorian bell pushes to summon the servants, which have beeninstalled in several rooms. The porch has a proper old bell pull. Stephen made the skirting in the reception rooms the right height according to Victorian interiors research. He says they often buy something then worry about where to put it later, but they did get to the point where the artefacts and Debbie’s collections of silver and pewterware plus her teddy bears (both stuffed and 4,500 ceramic versions) needed more space.
The answer was to build an extension on the back of the house where custom-made cabinets could be fitted. This second sitting room is built around a black wrought iron spiral staircase that goes down foxes? In all there are 80 stuffed animals.
“No, not at all. It’s a very comfortable house, and they are like friends, really,” says Debbie.
Stephen, who has paid anything from £15 for a stuffed squirrel to £500-£600 for a fox, says he loves animals and seeing taxidermy around them has helped to educate the children about creatures they might never otherwise see close-up.
The Barracloughs fancy a change from Leeds – so they’re selling up and moving to a half-converted former church in Todmorden that is nearly two centuries old.
Stephen and helpers are busy completing the conversion, and he has his eye on yet more treasure. Once settled in their new home, their gothic taste can spread out and flourish – and their domain will include a graveyard of 900 souls, many of them Victorian.
Debbie and Stephen Barraclough have spent years transforming their semi-detached home in Roundhay, Leeds, into a study of Victorian gothic splendour. The period details have been carefully researched and a huge collection amassed. The family’s next project will be a two hundred year-old converted church in Todmorden.
The furnishings include a large collection of taxidermy and ten harmoniums. The double bedroom in the loft features organ pipes behind the bed head.