Words by Heather Dixon
Pictures by Dave Burton
Nothing is quite what it seems in Sue Holliday’s cosy two-bedroom cottage near Howden. Look a little closer and her home takes on a theatrical quality thanks to her ability to upcycle and reinvent.
The shelf in the sitting room is half a chair; a set of coat hooks on the wall is actually the tailgate off a lorry and the stylish bathroom toiletries unit is made from timber cast-offs.
Husband Greg is also adept at reworking furniture – so much so that it’s hard to tell which items are original and which have been modified. Yet their combined skill in finding new uses for items other people might throw away has saved them a small fortune. It has also given their home a truly eclectic style.
’We are both avid collectors of all sorts of things, from glassware and tins to fabrics, wood and furniture,’ says Sue. ‘We spend our weekends looking around car boot sales and antique fairs for bargains, then giving them a new lease of life. Neither of us like to see things go to waste if they can be loved and appreciated. It’s really satisfying to rescue a discarded piece of furniture and turn it into something useful and beautiful.’
They first spotted the property when they were out walking and enquired about renting it for a while until they could find a more permanent home.
‘It had nothing inside – just a cooker and shelf in the kitchen and an old red tiled floor in the dining room,’ recalls Sue. ‘We just loved the original features and its location and decided to move in. We had to buy kitchen units because it was literally just a shell.’
Their short term plans turned into a 20-year stay, during which time they decorated and installed new bathroom fittings.
‘We saved up and gradually spruced it up, and made it our home, but we always felt a bit restricted because it wasn’t ours,’ says Sue. ‘There were cupboards we wanted to take out and changes we dreamed of making, but we didn’t want to invest our time and money in someone else’s property.’
Their patience, however, paid off. The owner eventually decided to sell the cottage and gave Sue and Greg first refusal.
‘We jumped at the chance. We loved living here and this meant we could finally make it our own.’
Sue and Greg replastered the walls, laid wooden floors, removed old fashioned fitted cupboards, hung new doors and put in a chimney breast and fireplace ready for a Suffolk farmhouse cast iron rang.
‘I bought it online and it was delivered in the back of a van,’ recalls Sue. ‘It was far too heavy for myself and the van driver to lift into the house, so I called on two neighbours to help us carry into the dining room.
‘We literally shuffled it into the fireplace,’ recalls Sue. ‘It was a perfect fit and I love it. It’s in fabulous condition.’
The house began to evolve in a way which reflected Sue’s love of painted furniture and Greg’s passion for wood.
‘He was worked with wood all his life,’ says Sue. ‘He is always making things, reinventing and creating. We generally go shopping together and rarely come home empty handed. We like the same things and often see potential in something that someone else wouldn’t give a second glance. We rarely keep things the same as when we bought them – they are re-worked, adapted or painted, and often completely transformed.’
As a result the house has evolved – and continues to evolve – as Sue and Greg bring home bargains and salvaged furniture which they do up to keep themselves, or sell at fairs across the country.
‘Sometimes I have to be really strong and not buy something because we haven’t got room, but there is always space for the smaller things that turn a house into a home. I like things to have a memory and a meaning attached to them. Everything in the house has a story attached to it,’ says Sue.
The couple have even rescued unwanted furniture from skips. The pelmet in the dining room was destined for the tip when Sue spotted it and asked the owner if they could have it.
‘Most people are happy that someone else can find good use for something they no longer want,’ says Sue. ‘We don’t want our home to be the same as anyone else’s and this way we make everything individual and personal.’
Sue and Greg’s appreciation of anything with history or of sentimental value is already rubbing off on their sons Sam and Joe.
‘Sam recently got his own house and he has already asked us to do up one or two things for him,’ says Sue. ‘They both like the idea of creating a lovely place to live on a budget. You don’t have to spend a fortune to create a beautiful home.’