The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine
Leaving London for the countryside, Ann Louise Roswald and Nick Hartley swapped their flat for a derelict 18th-century house and farm. Eleven years later, their ‘slow reno’ is an ongoing labour of love.
From a city flat to a very big house in the country… By Claire Bingham
JUST OVER A DECADE AGO, fashion designer Ann Louise Roswald and her husband Nick Hartley were living in a twobedroom loft in east London with a baby and a three-year-old toddler. The family was, says Roswald, ‘happy and settled’. They certainly had no intention of upping sticks and leaving life in the big smoke.
Until, that was, while visiting their parents in Scarborough (where they both grew up), they spotted a derelict 18th-century farm in the village of Hawsker for sale in The Yorkshire Post, and decided to embark on an adventure. They viewed the property – a crumbling manor house and old outbuildings on 32 acres of land – on a Sunday, and by Monday they were in the middle of a bidding war.
‘It was a quick decision,’ says Hartley, of the spontaneous buy. As they had paid off the mortgage on their London flat, the couple were able to borrow against it to buy the estate for
cash, using money that they had been saving up in order to start on the initial renovation works.
Fast forward to now and Roswald, 47, and Hartley, 54, have four children, aged 14, 11, nine and six, and life couldn’t be more different from their London days. Here, they are surrounded by fields, and summer weekends are spent swimming, surfing and relaxing at their nearby beach hut. Hartley, who previously owned a printing firm, now heads up a coffee company that he co-founded in 2013, and which is based on the estate, in a barn that has been repurposed as a roastery.
The ‘slow reno’ of the manor house and gardens, which is still ongoing, has been their passion project. The house was initially uninhabitable, so Hartley set about updating it, with the aim to both retain its Georgian character and provide a modern, open-plan living space for the family to enjoy.
His first task was to make sure it was dry and waterproof from top to bottom, working hands-on with a team of local builders to strip the house back to its brick walls and roof spars, and adding insulation to make it as warm as possible. During this time, he was living between his parents’ home and an on-site caravan, visiting Roswald and
‘Opportunities exist the more broken down a place is’
their children back in London at the weekends. The couple eventually sold the flat and the whole family moved in the following summer, in August 2011, by which time the house was liveable. They then continued by adding a modern, black-framed glass-box dining-room extension, which leads out from the side of the house on to a new family room.
The project has required a lot of hard graft, an acceptance that it may always be a work in progress, and vision. Hartley’s father is a carpenter and he grew up around fixer-uppers, so he wasn’t put off by the formidable amount of work. ‘Opportunities exist the more broken down a place is, as it makes a house like this far more affordable,’ Hartley says. ‘It was completely derelict, but for me, if you have that initial wow factor, especially with an old wreck, it’s inspiring.’
Renovations do not come without their challenges and there have been plenty here. They had to convince the planners to allow dormer windows to be reinstated to the attic bedrooms, complicated by the fact the house is on National Park land (Hartley found an old photograph of the house 50 years ago that showed it had dormers at the time), as well as dial down ideas to save on costs.
The dining-room extension, for instance, was originally intended to be constructed from frameless, seamless glass. ‘We nearly fell off our chairs when it was priced up at over £60,000,’ says Roswald. ‘Our budget wasn’t a bottomless pit by any means, so you have to think outside of the box.’ The blackframed windows of the structure, which made it more affordable, were at first a compromise. ‘But now, I couldn’t imagine it any other way,’ laughs Roswald. ‘And it’s allowed us to have doors that open out on either side.’
The extension leads into the family room. This is housed in another new structure built in red brick to echo the main house, with a high, pitched roof and a central fireplace surrounded by sofas. Bifold doors open from here on to a covered outdoor dining and kitchen area that’s strung with fairy lights,
‘If you have that initial wow factor with an old wreck, it’s inspiring’
with steps leading down to a sunken outdoor fire pit, which has been much in use over the spring and summer.
Alongside the renovation of the house, landscaping the twoacre garden, which is on several different levels, has presented another challenge. Reclaimed stone from dilapidated outbuildings has been deployed on other buildings, as well as to landscape the garden with terraces and walls.
‘We knew that it was going to be a long-term project, and that we would have to do it in sections, as and when we had the money,’ says Roswald. ‘It has been a journey to create a home, and things have just evolved over the years.’
For this family, however, life in the country has not been slow. As well as Hartley’s roastery,
Roswald has moved into designing interiors, with projects including a coffee shop in London (HR Higgins in Mayfair), and residential jobs, to which she brings a mix of traditional British and modern Scandinavian style (she is half Swedish).
Work continues on the house and grounds, too. They recently finished the drive, which now joins the house to the roastery, and next they plan to knock through a wall between the back of the kitchen and the hall, to create a boot room. ‘You learn,’ says Roswald of the glassbox entrance they added to the house. ‘In hindsight, we didn’t realise how valuable being able to close a door on all of the kids’ clothes and boots would be.’
‘We are always moving towards something,’ says Hartley. ‘When we came up here that very first Sunday, we could imagine how it could be, with a lot of work. If you love something, it doesn’t matter if it takes 20 years to complete.’
‘It has been a journey, and things have just evolved over the years’