<BACK TO CASE STUDIES
In 1962 American folk singer Malvina Reynolds wrote a song about “little boxes all made out of ticky-tacky all looking just the same.” She might have been heartened by this particular project. Emily Bell visits a first home that is distinctly different.
RISING FROM THE ASHES
At the mention of first-time buyers, you’d be forgiven for conjuring up images of uniform estates filled with cheaply-built, orange-brick starter homes, stuffed with identical flat-pack furniture- a postage-stamp-sized patch of newly laid turf to the rear and two freshly-tarmacked parking spaces to the front. However, when you are a first-time buyer who is the daughter of an awarding winning architect, and have spent your childhood living in a converted water-storage tank, run-of-the-mill starter homes just don’t cut it.
Katie Lee (daughter of Mark Lee, partner at Yorkshire’s ONE17 Architects and Interior Designers) and her fiancé (now husband), Josh Hazeldine (also an employee at the practice) faced this dilemma when deciding to search for their first home together in 2015. “We must have looked at twenty different houses” said Katie, now sitting in her beautifully renovated cottage, “everything we looked at was either overlooked, had a tiny garden or felt cramped.”
Although their search area was essentially just within a small area of south-east Huddersfield, Katie and Josh refused to compromise on what they wanted for their first-time home: “we knew we wanted a ‘project’, a garden and a property with some original features,” explained Josh, and on Christmas Eve 2015 their search finally ended when they got the keys to a semi-detached, stone-built cottage on Ashes Lane, in the shadow of Huddersfield’s landmark Castle Hill.
“WE KNEW WE WANTED A ‘PROJECT’, A GARDEN AND A PROPERTY WITH SOME ORIGINAL FEATURES,” EXPLAINED JOSH
Originally a weaver’s cottage that had fallen victim to the 19th century Window Tax, the interior of the cottage was dark and dingy, with a single-storey front extension that Mark Lee described as “offensive”. Not to mention the mouldy kitchen, dated wall-paper and hideous 70’s fireplace, which would have deterred many first-time buyers. Katie and Josh were able to see past these superficial issues, “As long as the location and shell were OK, I trusted Josh and my Dad completely to create something amazing,” said Katie.
The cottage sits in a beautiful and sought-after location: Castle Hill stands watch to the side, with green fields all the way to the village of Farnley Tyas at the rear. But the real selling point of this cottage for Katie and Josh was the stunning, panoramic views across Huddersfield from the front of the property.
“The views really inspired the redesign of the property; we decided to completely rebuild the existing extension to create a cat-slide roof, which allowed us to install two large roof-lights and take full advantage of the location,” explained Josh, who took on the responsibility of project managing the redesign of the cottage.
Work began in January 2016. Several skips later, and with help from family and friends, Katie and Josh had stripped the cottage bare - “at one point, I said to my friend - we’ve paid all this money and all we have left now is four walls! It was quite daunting!” admitted Katie.
The demolition work was necessary, though, as Katie and Josh had a particular layout in mind for the interior, which required a complete restructuring of the plan - both upstairs and downstairs. The demolition work also revealed some surprising original features, including a large stone fireplace, curved stone steps and a stone-flagged floor, all of which were incorporated into the new design.
When it came to choosing materials for the interior of the cottage, Katie and Josh knew they didn’t want to compromise on quality. Sitting in the cottage now, one material dominates: oak. Used both structurally and as an aesthetic component, oak is everywhere in this cottage. From the huge oak beam that supports the new mezzanine over the kitchen, to the under-floor heated, engineered-oak floor that covers the majority of the downstairs spaces. Despite the open-plan interior, Josh and Mark have also utilised oak posts, in carefully selected locations, to create defined spaces. One of Josh’s masterstrokes in this property is the steel brackets he designed to connect the oak posts and beams; this technique was then transferred outside to the porch area, where Josh designed two bespoke log-stores in the same material, which double as supports. “Oak and steel are very different but highly complementary materials” explained Josh.
Once the main interior spaces had been created, work began on designing bespoke furniture for the cottage. Katie and Josh commissioned a unique dining table from The DYEHOUSE (ONE17’s furniture design company), which comprises tapered oak legs, a steel top and oak centre-piece. The finished table was revealed to them at a DYEHOUSE showcase event in December 2016. “I instantly fell in love with our table, it seemed like the perfect fusion of the key materials in our cottage. We love entertaining and cooking for our friends, so it needed to be perfect,” explained Katie.
Other bespoke pieces have also been commissioned, including a shelving unit for the living room, fitted wardrobes and vanity area for the master bedroom and a desk for the office area, all created using the highest-quality materials.
ORIGINALLY A WEAVER’S COTTAGE THAT HAD FALLEN VICTIM TO THE 19TH CENTURY WINDOW TAX, THE INTERIOR OF THE COTTAGE WAS DARK AND DINGY, WITH A SINGLE-STOREY FRONT EXTENSION THAT MARK LEE DESCRIBED AS “OFFENSIVE”.
There is nothing standard about this cottage - even the banister has been custom-designed and handmade - and as you descend the curved stone staircase, you are greeted by an enormous free-standing oak-framed mirror, another DYEHOUSE design, which creates even more light and space in the living area.
Now that the cottage is almost complete (there’s still work to do in the cellar, as Josh reminded me) and the couple are happily married, I asked Katie and Josh what they had learned from their first-time buyer experience and whether the extra effort (and increased costs) had been worth it: “I’ve learnt a lot from project managing my own home - sometimes you have to compromise on things when you’re working with contractors - and I’ve realised I’m a very particular client! But it’s been more than worth the evenings and weekends of hard work to create something so perfect for us and our future,” said Josh.
“I just love to sit in my living room and look around at the beautiful home we have created together - it’s everything we hoped for and more and I feel incredibly lucky to have had such expert and passionate people involved in creating our perfect home,” said Katie.
So perhaps we need to rethink our expectations of first-time buyers: if Katie and Josh’s example is anything to go by, they demonstrate that it is possible to create a unique and inspiring home from your first property purchase. And, yes, of course, it helps when you have connections in the world of architecture and design; but an appreciation of aesthetics and a refusal to compromise on materials doesn’t require any qualifications: it’s something to which all first-time buyers can aspire.