The age of elegance
Norma and John Staker introduced Parisian style and grace to a dated Yorkshire apartment
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