Interior designer Carole Whitby has taken a student HMO and converted it into one of the most desirable homes in central York. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Joe Burn and James Hardisty.
Moving from the city to the country was, says Carole Whitby, “an unsuccessful experiment. I’d lived in London, then York and then we moved to a village. It was a bridge too far. I really missed city life.”
Her return was hastened by the promise of the perfect home. Although she hadn’t started house hunting, an estate agent contact, who helps her source properties for clients, called and said: “You’re going to want to see this.” A rare gem on one of York city centre’s most desirable streets, the Grade II-listed house came with parking, a garage and a large garden. Better still, it was tired and in need of restoration, which appealed to interior designer Carole.
“It had been turned into a HMO with five bedrooms and four mini kitchens but the period features were there. It needed gutting but I knew it could be a wonderful family home,” she says.
She began by increasing the living space with a spectacular basement conversion. The cellar was tanked to keep out the damp and the four dark, dank rooms were combined into an open-plan living kitchen with a separate bedroom and bathroom.
New windows and doors have brought natural light into the space, along with views of the garden. Carole worked with York City Council’s conservation officer to achieve a compromise that was sensitive to the original building while taking into account the basement’s new use. It meant abandoning plans for a wall of glass but she is pleased with the outcome and the cost.
“The building work on the basement was £30,000, mainly because we needed tanking and steel supports, which are costly, but it has been well worth it,” says Carole, who had the kitchen cabinets made to her own design.
Upstairs, on the ground and upper floors, a team of tradespeople restored the carved-up rooms to their original size. Carole also specified a luxury bathroom with white Calacatta marble from Mandarin Stone, a huge, freestanding bath and a flattering aged mirror. Zoffany’s Victorian Purple paint adds depth and drama to the walls. “I wanted to create a sanctuary and I wanted to use marble because it really is nature at its best. You see something different in it every day. It was an extravagance but I also like a bargain and the bath was from an eBay trader and was £1,000 cheaper than anything else I’d seen.”
Elsewhere, period features, including fireplaces, decorative plasterwork and ceiling roses that were hidden beneath layers of gloss paint, were uncovered and restored. It took three craftsmen, including a French polisher, to bring the staircase back to its original splendour.
Flooring includes elm in the kitchen (“better and more sustainable than oak”), a mahogany chevron parquet made from library shelves and more parquet upcycled from an old squash court. Lighting is equally interesting and includes a wall lamp from a Russian cargo ship and industrial lighting from Yorkshire-based Urban Cottage Industries.
The walls and woodwork are painted in Mylands, Zoffany, Little Greene and Farrow & Ball, which all have palettes that cater for historic houses. The building and redecoration work took almost six months and was complete in time for Christmas, though only just.
“It was a big push and I didn’t even have a tree until a friend went to find me one on Christmas Eve. My daughters burst into tears when they saw it because they thought I’d forgotten about Christmas,” says Carole.
Since then she has added more furniture, furnishings and finishing touches to her six-bedroom home. The sitting room is smart but comfortable with French leather chairs that date from the 1930s and a favourite sofa that she had reupholstered in bright green.
The bench and sofa in her bedroom are from London store Mufti. The vintage French bed in the guest room was reupholstered but looks original thanks to tacks that Carole aged by soaking them in vinegar then baking them in the oven.
The dining chairs are a mix of Thonet originals and retro Ben chairs and the table was made from a piece of oak that was left in the house.
“Quite a lot of the furniture is made to my own design but I like to mix it with vintage and antiques,” she Carole, pointing to the vaulting horse liberated from a school gym to become a kitchen stool.
She describes her style as “eclectic” and says it’s an amalgam of 30 years worth of collecting while working as a buyer and designer. Originally from Halifax, Carole had a successful career as a homeware buyer for Asda and Marks & Spencer before becoming trading director for home and garden at Homebase.
After taking a break to have her children, Olivia, 10, and Clara, eight, she set up her interior design business, Upside Down Interiors, with Carole and her team tackling anything from a new pair of curtains to a whole house rebuild.
She now has her own shop on Bootham, which also features work by artists and makers.
Her love of art and craft is obvious in her own home. Some of her favourite pieces are by her neighbour, Richard Mackness, who made the copper sculptures, and there are textiles by Jo Bound of Boeme Design, which Carole also sells in her shop.
“They help personalise a home,” says Carole, who has every intention of keeping what could be her forever house. “I’ve moved too many times. Now I am staying put.”
Upside Down Design is at 27 Bootham, York, upsidedowndesign.co.uk. Joe Burn Photography, joeburnphotography.co.uk