The age of el­e­gance

Norma and John Staker in­tro­duced Parisian style and grace to a dated York­shire apart­ment

Period Living - - Elegant Georgian House - Words Heather Dixon | Styling Karen Dar­low | As­sis­tant styling Emily Hawkes Pho­to­graphs Brent Darby

Christ­mas in the Staker house­hold can be a rather grand af­fair. The Christ­mas tree is full of sparkle, the kitchen burst­ing with fes­tive good­ies, and there is more than a touch of French el­e­gance to the sea­sonal dec­o­ra­tions.

Yet when Norma and John bought their stylish apart­ment in Har­ro­gate two years ago it was any­thing but grand. ‘It was a mess, to be hon­est,’ says Norma. ‘It had been rented out and noth­ing had been done to it for years. The whole place felt very dated and gloomy.’

The cou­ple have ren­o­vated many prop­er­ties over the years and so over­saw all the work on the apart­ment. With his build­ing team, run by Pe­ter Hall, John re­moved two large dec­o­ra­tive con­crete pil­lars in the hall­way to open up the space and cre­ate a long en­trance hall with a high ceil­ing.

They also re­moved old gas fires and opened a boarded-up fire­place in the liv­ing room, restor­ing it to its orig­i­nal splen­dour. They re­placed a dated kitchen with new units, up­dated the bath­room fix­tures and fit­tings, and took up car­pets to re­veal the beau­ti­ful old floor­boards un­der­neath. ‘We de­cided to leave them ex­posed,’ says Norma. ‘They are such a lovely pe­riod fea­ture.’

They had orig­i­nally hoped to have a mar­ble floor in the kitchen, but the lev­els be­tween the kitchen and hall floors were so dif­fi­cult to get right that, in the end, they re­turned the mar­ble and chose a Karn­dean floor in­stead. ‘We didn’t want to re-skim the floor so we de­cided to com­pro­mise, and we’re very happy with the re­sult,’ says Norma.

With the ba­sics done, Norma and John started to plan the finer de­tails. ‘Be­cause the ceil­ings are so high – one of the apart­ment’s best fea­tures John had the idea to panel the walls to give it more char­ac­ter,’ says Norma. ‘We also em­ployed spe­cial­ists to ren­o­vate and re­place ceil­ing cov­ing. They have done lots of work for me in the past and are ex­perts at what they do, of­ten work­ing in stately homes, so we were in good hands. The apart­ment looked com­pletely dif­fer­ent and I could vi­su­alise the way I wanted each room to look once we had this won­der­ful back­drop with which to work.’

Norma wanted a calm and so­phis­ti­cated feel for the dé­cor, so she chose a base palette of white, cream and grey. ‘I am pas­sion­ate about dec­o­ra­tive French fur­ni­ture and an­tiques,’ she says. ‘I have been for many years. They give such an el­e­gant look, but I also like to mix modern pieces with French an­tiques to cre­ate an authen­tic style.’

Many of Norma’s treasures were bought di­rectly from France, where she browses bro­cantes, street mar­kets and sale rooms for things to add to her col­lec­tion. Then she brings them home to ar­range in imag­i­na­tive ways – of­ten in pic­ture frames, in dis­play cab­i­nets or clus­tered on shelves. ‘I have been buy­ing from France for many years. The busi­ness of buy­ing and sell­ing French an­tiques has been my life, along­side in­te­rior de­sign and prop­erty ren­o­va­tion,’ says Norma. ‘Ev­ery­thing here has been bought specif­i­cally for the apart­ment.’

She has bought ‘moun­tains’ of French linen over the years but, rather than hide it away in a cup­board, she uses it to re-cover chairs, cre­ate cush­ions and turn into bed­ding. She is also fond of cherubs, which pop up some­where in most rooms. ‘I like the ro­mance of it all,’ says Norma. ‘I love any­thing pretty and beau­ti­ful, like old lace, aged mir­rors and fab­u­lous chan­de­liers, es­pe­cially if they have a story to tell.

‘One of the big­gest chal­lenges I faced with this apart­ment was to get the pro­por­tions right,’ she adds. ‘With its large rooms and high win­dows and ceil­ings, I had to think big and buy fur­ni­ture that wouldn’t look lost in the space – hence the triple ar­moire and the large so­fas.’

It took sev­eral months for Norma and John to get the apart­ment as they wanted it, mix­ing fur­ni­ture sourced by Norma with modern pieces from her son’s com­pany, Maine Fur­ni­ture; but now they can sit back and en­joy the fruits of their labours.

‘Christ­mas here is one of our favourite times of the year,’ says Norma. ‘The fam­ily gets to­gether over the Christ­mas pe­riod and we have plenty of room to cel­e­brate – gath­er­ing round the fire to open our presents or round the kitchen ta­ble for fam­ily meals. It’s easy to walk into the cen­tre of Har­ro­gate from here so we can go into town and en­joy all the fes­tiv­i­ties and Christ­mas lights, then come home, lock the door and un­wind. It’s our beau­ti­ful bolt­hole.’

These tall arched win­dows bring in lots of light but also posed a chal­lenge.‘We wanted pri­vacy with­out cov­er­ing up the beau­ti­ful fea­tures,’ says Norma. She solved the prob­lem with voile pan­els, cov­er­ing the fit­tings be­hind scal­loped tin pel­mets – al­ready there when they bought the apart­ment – which also added a dec­o­ra­tive touch. The sofa is a French an­tique; for sim­i­lar, try The French Bed­room Com­pany

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