An Impressionist's Dream - Cottage in Youlgreave, Derbyshire

When impressionist artist Lucien Pissarro, visited Derbyshire at the turn of the century he was inspired to paint a delightful cottage on the banks of the River Bradford. Despite many changes since, it still has the power to captivate and inspire...

Chris Read and her husband have lived in her hidden gem of a cottage for thirty years. Chris is an interior designer but cheerfully admits that her style at home is accretion rather than design. The cottage nestles at the bottom of a limestone valley in the heart of the Peak District and has an enviable village edge location. The view from the windows has changed little since Pissarro’s visit with acres of natural woodland, local allotments, a meandering river and the occasional contented cow.

The cottage is of varying ages and was originally three separate dwellings – the oldest in the middle was built in the 1690s and the largest being rebuilt in the early part of the twentieth century after lying derelict for many years. Chris explains, ‘We used to be able to say that the house dated from 1690s to the 1960s, but the Sixties extension fell down! We took the opportunity to replace it with a conservatory which floods the back of the house with light.’

Because the valley is so steep, the conservatory is upstairs and the sunshine spills down the stairs into the heart of the cottage. Like many traditional Derbyshire stone cottages, the windows are not enormous, but Chris has filled the house with warmth and life. ‘It’s interesting,’ she muses, ‘I’ve used lots of cool colours like deep aubergine and navy blue, muted aqua, greens and stone off-whites, but it’s easy to bring them to life with natural wood and quirky accessories. I find it’s a common mistake that most people think warm colours will make a room cheerful, but it often makes it feel small and claustrophobic. As a designer I help people to use colour to make the bestof the space as well as the character of their homes.’

Chris describes the interior style as organic eclectic and has a particular penchant for hand made objects, whether for use or for decoration, ‘I really enjoy using something handmade – it’s satisfying to the eye and the mind and the hand.  It’s little things like this that enhance the day.’

Interesting objects, works of arts and books are scattered through the house, making it a very personal space. Almost every item has a story. The dining room chairs, hand-turned locally, were a wedding present from Chris’s mother who died a couple of years later, which makes them very special. Many of the ceramics are French but were bought less than a 100 yards away from neighbours who travelled around French potteries and then held selling exhibitions in their nearby cottage. Although the space is personal, the house is very welcoming to newcomers, who delight in its relaxed comfort. It’s a house where you don’t feel you need to leave your shoes at the door, and one where you feel invited to sprawl in front of the fire with the Sunday papers.

The small galley kitchen sits off the dining room. ‘I have never wanted an open plan area,’ says Chris. ‘I love cooking but I’m not that good at it and I need privacy to panic before it all comes together. And I want to be able to shut the door on the mess while I enjoy my meal with guests.’ The kitchen was originally a lean-to with a variety of 1960s open shelving and diy cupboards, including some so high up that a stool was needed to reach the handle. It was refitted 20 years ago by local company Churchwood Design and has stood the test of time. Chris has changed nothing in all that time. It’s a classic country kitchen, well designed and well built, and wear and tear has just added a patina to the natural materials.

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The dining room is the family space with a traditional log burning stove from Robey’s in Belper, pretty antique dresser and magnificent refectory table. The painted server was from Grand Illusions and a treasured Christmas present from Chris’s husband. It provides display space for antique and modern ceramics and a large painting by an artist friend dominates the wall above.  Found objects make a strong decorative element to this room and, Chris believes, have a special beauty. ‘I love patina and complex pattern and the depth and subtlety of colour you find in nature.’ Barred young gull feathers and small pebbles from the beach at Biarritz are stuck directly to the wall, seed heads strung from the ceiling turn lazily in the heat of the fire and fossils and minerals are half-hidden on small ledges inside the enormous fireplace. The fireplace used to be covered over and it was after one long evening meal that Chris’s stepson suggested it would be worth investigating what was behind.  An hour, two sledgehammers and a lot of dust later, the inglenook was revealed.

The study is book-lined and the desk chair is an original captain’s chair from the Scandinavian shipping line DFDS. It sits on a base of lead so that it would remain stable when the sailing ship rolled. It has a reversible seat with velour for winter and canework for summer. Andrew Martin curtains in deep colours and with an intense graphic pattern echo the books on the shelves.

The hall is one of Chris’s favourite spaces. ‘It’s lovely to have the luxury of a whole room – it provides breathing space, a bridge between inside and out and welcomes people in. Besides, it’s brilliant for dumping the shopping!’ The hall is part of the oldest part of the house with branches – with scraps of bark still visible – used as lintels. The ceiling is low and the window small, but the room feels spacious and light. This is the one room where Chris has resisted adding lots of works of art, although she admits that it’s always a battle. ‘I have my eye on a watercolour by an excellent local artist, Lewis Noble, that just begs to sit on the wall above the stone bench,’ she muses.

The sitting room is packed with original features and Chris has wisely decided to keep colours neutral. A solitary purple silky cushion picks up and intensifies the colours of an oil painting, where the rest of the room isa concerto of off whites and taupes. The architectural features are allowed to shine whilst warmth and comfort is provided with lots of sensuous textures in the soft furnishings. There is an original inset cupboard next to the fireplace and the neutral colour scheme is abandoned when it’s opened – Chris has painted the inside a pillar box red. ‘I like the idea of hidden design – it adds another layer to the mix, and only reveals itself gradually and allows you to put things together that wouldn’t normally work.’

The main bedroom and en suite bathroom is tucked away up its own winding staircase, which makes it feel like a retreat from the bustle of daily life. The bedroom is partly open to the eaves and has a double aspect, making it one of the lightest and airiest rooms in the house. It has a hint of Gustavian style about it, with soft blue walls, painted and limed wooden furniture and a touch of distressed gold. The curtains were originally from Chris’s childhood home, she chose them for her bedroom when she was 11 years old. They’ve stood the test of time well and the 1960s gold Greek key pattern sits surprisingly well in this country cottage. The cage light fitting was picked up on a family ‘girls weekend’ in Shrewsbury. When it was being fitted she overheard the builder’s mate asking the electrician what he’d done with the parrot. Chris says she’ll put a stuffed one in there if she can find one in matching colours. The views make this room special. It overlooks the river that runs at the bottom of the garden and reflected sunlight plays on the old uneven plaster walls.

The main guest bedroom is in the newer part of the house. The original cottage on this site lay derelict at the end of the nineteenth century and was rebuilt early last century. The decoration here is a rich mix of colour, with a feature wall painted in Dulux Garnet Symphony and soft furnishings in sage greens, aubergines and ochre yellows. The other walls are painted in Chris’s favourite neutral, Dulux Subtle Ivory 3, to make the mix liveable. ‘I had a bit of a designer moment,’ Chris admits, ‘and went overboard on the colour and the pattern – I had great fun. I used the unusual painting of a chair as my inspiration and things developed rapidly from there!’ Under the painting sits an antique rosewood and marble topped wash stand that Chris picked up for a song as a student to use as a table in a tiny bedsit. The bed is dressed with home made cushions, an Oxfam duvet set and a throw made from a Voyage fabric remnant.

The family bathroom is large and originally two small rooms. You can sit in the bath and look out over the valley. It has been decorated in a French country style, although again items come from lots of different sources – a painted chest was a cheap Sheffield buy, the collection of small animal prints, given importance by being massed together, come from many different countries. Only the old linen sheet that acts as a shower curtain is genuinely French. Chris says, ‘Don’t you hate it when someone says they picked something up from a little market for a tiny sum? Well, I’m afraid this is one of those – I found a market trader in a small Provencal market selling everything for 10 Euros, whether it was a polyester pillowcase or beautiful old embroidered linen. I bought everything I could find and had to pay excess baggage on the plane!’ All the curtains are different – Chris is not the matching type: Edwardian lace panels came from an antique fabric shop in Buxton, unfortunately now closed, and the other is an old tablecloth simply clipped onto rings.

This is a unique family home which is full of colour, warmth and life. Chris and her husband have been here for a long time and intend to stay for many years to come, adding extra layers of warmth and patina to an already famous impressionist’s dream home.

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