Written by Heather Dixon

Three storey end terrace in York

Alex Harrison, a retired financial services executive, and his partner Steve White, a marketing executive bought this three-storey end of terrace new build house in York in 2020. The couple got to work improving with a new kitchen, bathrooms, fixtures and fittings, furniture and landscaping. 

After ten years living in Australia, Alex Harrison and his partner Steve White were ready to move back to the UK to be closer to family and friends. The house they found in York was ideally situated in a quiet gated development, just a short walk from the centre. ‘We were living in a similar place in the suburbs of Sydney, and were keen to replicate the advantages we enjoyed out there,’ says Alex. ‘Apart from the weather, this house ticked all the boxes!’ What they could never have predicted, however, were the challenges of buying and refurbishing a property in the middle of a lockdown.

Kitchen and living room space in new build home in York

This vibrant yet relaxed space features units painted in Little Greene’s Deep Space Blue and a statement curved walnut island, highlighted by Tom Dixon’s Melt pendants above. Photo: Dave Burton

Putting your own stamp on

Part of a new development, the house was virtually a shell when Alex and Steve exchanged contracts. As it was the last property to be completed, they negotiated with the developer to buy it unfinished so they could put their own stamp on it. With the most basic of bathroom fittings, no kitchen, wires hanging out of the walls and just screed on the floor downstairs, the couple had their work cut out. As a result, they decided to rent a nearby AirBnB for three months while work was completed and ready for them to move in. ‘We liked the idea of having a blank canvas to work with,’ says Alex. ‘Plus as the house was empty, it provided a safe environment for tradespeople.’

Alex and Steve had clear ideas about the interior style of the house – including a striking kitchen in the open-plan living area. With a separate utility room providing space for practical appliances and extra storage, the new cabinetry could be designed more as a creative feature for the space. ‘We had heard of York-based FloCoe Interiors and asked them to come up with a kitchen design that would be eclectic and functional, but not minimalist,’ says Alex. ‘We wanted an obvious link between the kitchen and dining area to create a focal point for socialising. Plus we also needed more storage space.’ 

Working in close collaboration with the designers, the couple agreed to a kitchen design that included a floor-to-ceiling bank of mixed open shelving and built-in cupboards, plus a stunning block-walnut curved island. ‘Steve wasn’t convinced about having an island at all,’ recalls Alex. ‘He preferred to keep the whole area as open as possible. But, as soon as he saw the drawings, he changed his mind and completely bought into the idea. We really liked the fact that FloCoe listened and completely understood what we wanted, to the point where we didn’t change a thing in their design.’

Wooden furniture and kitchen island with frame wall and floor to ceiling ladder bookcase in new build home in York

The elegant, curved edge of the island leads the eye through the kitchen and into the snug. Photo: Dave Burton

Open-plan living area

Alex and Steve had underfloor heating laid downstairs on top of the bare screed, then chose large-format porcelain tiles to run through the open-plan living area and into the adjoining snug, which can be closed off with double doors. ‘When the doors are open the floor flows seamlessly from one room to the next,’ says Alex. ‘We use large rugs to break it up and create a cosier feel around the sofas. In the hall, however, we wanted to make statement with patterned tiles, and the space is large enough to take it without feeling too dark or closed in.’

Vibrant furniture adds a pop of colour to the white walls and neutral palette in the living room

Steve’s bold ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ portrait paintings were the inspiration for the layers of tones and textures in this cosy space. Photo: Dave Burton

Design-led pieces

On the stairs, landing and bedroom floors, Alex and Steve chose light, plain carpets to emphasise the generous spaces, adding window shutters for a stylish finish. They were particularly keen to swap the basic bathroom fittings for more design-led pieces. So they replaced a boxed-in white tub in the family bathroom for a freestanding one, and a standard shower enclosure for a walk-in design. This featured Crittall-style panels and hexagonal floor tiles, which spills out to join engineered wood on the rest of the floor space. 

freestanding bath in panelled bathroom with basin and cupboard

The newly fitted bathroom includes Alex’s wish-list Lusso Stone Egg bath and basin. Photo: Dave Burton

Light, free-flowing interiors

All the work was completed during lockdown, and although the process was slower than it would have been under normal circumstances, Alex and Steve were able to achieve most of the major jobs before moving in. ‘We did have to live with a chipboard worktop on the kitchen island for a while until the quartz turned up, but under the circumstances it all ran very smoothly,’ Alex says.

The overall impression of the interior is of light, free-flowing spaces interspersed with striking design details. It is also perfect for displaying their collection of artwork – including paintings by Steve – their furnishings are a mix of new pieces and old favourites shipped over from Australia. ‘Once we moved in, we were able to concentrate on the finishing touches,’ says Alex. ‘We felt at home straight away. It’s everything we hoped for, so now we are just enjoying living here and thinking about what we’d like to do next.’

Master bedroom of new build house with white furniture and pops of vibrant colours

Light-filled and simply furnished, this bedroom features a sycamore pendant, a find from a market in The Shambles area of York, and leather chair from the Futon Company. Photo: Dave Burton

A peaceful location

One project the couple did want to complete before the summer was the garden, which was just a small square of lawn to the back and very little planting at the front. After enlisting Leeds-based Kingdom Gardens, they have created a structural outdoor space that combines water features, hard landscaping, planting and seating areas. ‘We wanted the garden to be an extension of the house so that we can fling back the doors in summer, have a meal on the decked terrace or just enjoy the sunshine without having to spend hours maintaining it,’ says Alex. ‘For a city-centre location, it’s so private and peaceful.’

Leeds-based designers Cath and James Burridge of Kingdom Gardens designed and built this city garden, which includes tiled bridges over a long rectangular pond. Photo: Dave Burton

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