City mansion’s return to its former glory began with a chance meeting
They’re an unlikely couple, but Kim Gonsalves and Jonathan Graves have the perfect property marriage. Sharon Dale reports.
KISMET can be strange, as Kim Gonsalves discovered when a lost BT cable in her home led to a brand new career in bricks and mortar.
A chat with builder and architectural restorer Jonathan Graves, who came to fix the problem, resulted in an unlikely partnership and a mammoth project to restore an early Victorian mansion house in York.
She was a housewife with money while he had the specialist construction skills and they both have lots of ideas.
Now, after almost two years of working together, Ashfield House in York is nearing completion and the result is a stunning and meticulous conversion of the former York College headquarters into four luxury townhouses.
“I couldn’t find the cable and he built the house, so he came to show me where it was.
“We got chatting about property and that was it.
“I had some funds but at that time the market was dodgy so I didn’t fancy putting the money in the bank and there wasn’t a lot of work around for builders because of the recession,” says Kent-born Kim, who settled in York after working as head of an IT department in Johannesburg.
“I had absolutely no experience in developing at all but I am interested in architecture and how people react with their environment and I had ideas. Jonathan had the know-how and his own ideas.”
The recession worked in their favour. Ashfield was bought for a good price in July 2008 and Jonathan, who already had a team of craftsmen joiners, had his pick of the best brickies and tradespeople.
“At one point, I’d get about 24 calls a day from people asking if we had any work. It was a terrible time for the industry and a lot of people were out of work,” he says.
They set up their own workshop on site and have helped recreate period features for the properties.
Ashfield House, which backs on to Tadcaster Road close to the racecourse and is at the edge of new development, was built in 1841 in a Georgian style for the Lycett Green banking family, before being requisitioned by the RAF and then used as college offices. It had few features left.
There was an original mahogany staircase, which has been renovated, as have the sash windows.
“There wasn’t much in the way of original features but we managed to replicate the bits of cornicing and architraves we found.
“We found the original tiles in the hallway but they were covered in self-levelling concrete and had vinyl on top so we couldn’t rescue them. We replicated them instead,” says Kim.
They’ve also replaced windows and doors, created deep skirting boards and have bought traditional anthracite radiators and Georgian-style fireplaces. The copies aren’t cheap. The fireplace in the sitting room of number six is made in York from marble they had imported from Italy.
The internal doors are all hung on period-style cast hinges and have full mortice locks with solid bronze rather than brass handles. Few would notice the difference, but Jon insisted that the railings surrounding the property were made to Victorian standards, so they were cast in London and welded together rather than bolted on.
They are both exacting as one tradesman found when he bet Jonathan a pound that Kim wouldn’t notice a bathroom tile that didn’t look quite right.
“She noticed immediately and he had to do it again,” says Jonathan, who admits there have been “marital” rows.
Wecould’ve done it cheaper but it’s not just about profit. We want something we can be proud of.
“We’re both strong personalities and we are both emotionally involved in the project, but we work well together and we’ve learnt a lot from each other.
“He is very traditional and a real craftsman and I bring more contemporary design ideas,” says Kim, who is very hands-on.
She has been involved in everything from the kitchen design to choosing the socket plates with no visible screws, which cost £18.99 each (compared to the £1.99 plastic versions).
They have overspent but the results are impressive and combine Georgian-style elegance with the best of modern technology including state-of-the-art insulation and ultra-thin double glazing in the wooden sash windows.
“We could’ve done it cheaper and we could’ve divided this house into flats, which would’ve been more profitable, but it’s not just about profit. We want to specialise in this area of restoration and we want something we can be proud of,” says Kim, who has called her company Hestia (after the Greek goddess of hearth and home).
She adds: “Investing money in property is far more exciting than having it in the bank.”
Number 6 Ashfield House, one of the four town houses, has a hall, sitting room, dining room, kitchen and cloakroom plus four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a large basement room. Outside there is a garage, a courtyard and a garden. It is on sale for £725,000. Contact RM English on 01904 697900. www.rmenglish.co.uk
CONVERSION: Front view of Ashfield House in York, formerly part of York College, now restored to luxury townhouses.
PARTNERSHIP: Jonathan Graves and Kim Gonsalves.
RECREATED: No expense was spared on the interior of the house.