A long time coming


For Paula and David Matthews, creating their dream home began back in the late 90s when they first bought their house, completing decades of good (and not-so-good) alterations before finally unlocking its full potential


Paula and David Matthews’ house in West Yorkshire has been a ‘work in progress’ ever since they bought it, nearly 30 years ago.

Most of that time has been a long and expensive learning curve as they have added, reformed and modernised their 1960s detached property to try and achieve the home of their dreams. Yet no matter how hard they tried, they never felt the house had quite reached its full potential, and they were always left wanting more.

That was until they were introduced to architect Mark Scratchyard of Guiseley-based MAS Design Consultants in 2019. With a visionary eye and an (almost) unlimited client budget, he came up with a grand plan that would shake out the property’s niggles once and for all and turn the relatively uninspiring house into an ‘eat-your-heart-out’ family home with the Matthews’ eagerly sought-after ‘wow’ factor. 

The design was so radical that Paula and David fleetingly wondered whether it would have been better to demolish the house and start again, but the architect’s main focus was to open up the disjointed ground floor rooms, replace an entire rear wall with glass and create free-flowing spaces that would transform the way in which it was used and lived in.

For Paula and David, it was a game changer.

“We spent a lot of time and money and made a lot of mistakes trying to get the house as we wanted, but we never quite felt we had got it right,” says David.

“I think the house looked quite ugly before this,” added Paula. “It was just an ordinary red brick house with white windows on the outside and a series of rooms inside. Lots of things didn’t work from a design perspective. There had been so many additions over the years, including ours, yet nothing seemed joined up and we made some expensive mistakes trying to get it right.”

The protracted story of their dream house began in 1997 when the property they had
often driven past and commented on came up for sale.

“At that time we were living in a four-bedroom detached estate house, in a cul-de-sac, and had reached a point where we wanted something bigger,” says Paula. “We were young and starting out, and wanted to up-scale. We had no idea, really, what we were taking on.”

The house they had their eye on was a five-bedroom detached property sitting in four acres of land in the middle of the countryside. It was close to Harrogate and Leeds, where David ran a packaging factory, and was well located for their two daughters’ schooling. For large chunks of the year it was standing empty, the former owner spending a lot of time abroad, so when it eventually came up for sale Paula and David’s offer was readily accepted.

On the day of completion, the house was still full of furniture and personal belongings, which the former owner then had professionally cleared while he was still in Italy. 

“After that it was all systems go, and not long after moving in we decorated, recarpeted and generally gave the house a refresh,” says Paula. “It had been neglected and was quite dated, but we wanted to live in it for a while before making any major changes.”

Over the next 10 years they made a number of key changes to the floorplan to create more living space and join the garage to the house. They built a single-storey games room and replaced the dark brown stained wooden windows with Georgian-style white PVCu windows – a decision they later regretted even though it was a popular choice at the time.

They also built dormer rooms over the garage. These adjustments gave them three extra rooms, increasing the house from a four bedroom to eight-bedroom property with four family bathrooms.

Things settled down again while work and family commitments occupied most of their time but then, in 2019, they found themselves with enough time and funds to be able to revisit their plans for the house and take it to its next phase. 

By this time the girls were young adults, David had diversified into property development alongside the packaging business, and they had reached the crossroads of either selling up or getting the best out of their family home.

“Even though we had made all these changes, we still felt the house wasn’t reaching its full potential. We could have moved, but we love the location,” says David.

Through his property development business, David was in an ideal position to get a team of builders and contractors on board to do any major structural work and to link up with architect Mark Scratchyard via their builder, Jamie Carter of Leeds-based Albion Builders. 

“Mark helped us to see the house totally differently,” says Paula. “I was always thinking about things we could have done differently or better. I was always coming up with new ideas of designs I liked or rooms that inspired me on social media. I think we both realised that the house wasn’t quite where we wanted it, but we weren’t sure what we did want!” Not only that, but they had no idea where to start. With so many alterations and additions over the years, the only thing they were sure of was that the house didn’t flow very well. It was, says Paula, very disjointed and, in many ways, still quite dated.

But when Mark came up with an alternative plan for the house, Paula and David were bowled over by his vision and ideas.

They included a radical redesign of the whole ground floor, knocking out an exterior wall across the back of the house to make way for a wall of sliding doors opening onto a covered patio area; removing a wall between the kitchen and dining room; reconfiguring the hall and stairs and turning the entrance area into a two-storey glass atrium which would draw masses of natural light into the main living spaces.

“Between Mark and Jamie, they managed to get as many square feet as possible into the areas being developed,” says David. “The footprint of the house remained the same, but that was it. Everything else changed beyond recognition.”

The plans were passed by Leeds City Council without any changes to the design or objections and the builders were on standby to begin work straight away – just months ahead of lockdown.

The family – including both daughters, their son-in-law and infant grandchild – all moved into one side of the house while the work was being done. The build team meanwhile started to demolish the internal walls between rooms that were being opened into large, light living spaces.

During this early stage they also demolished an exterior wall at the back to create the opening for large, sliding glass doors that would seamlessly link the house and garden.

Paula and David relied heavily on Jamie’s experience and expertise to turn the architect’s plans into reality, after giving the architect ‘free rein’ to come up with a radical design.

“It’s really important to have a good relationship with your builders,” says David. “We relied on Jamie to do what he does best. You need to have a good rapport with your builder and know that they will do their best job, at the best price, on your behalf.”

Jamie also helped them to understand the order of the build itself – and to be flexible when materials failed to turn up on time.

While Paula and David were very happy with the way the build progressed overall, there were a few points of frustration and learning curves for both of them. Paula became particularly frustrated when she felt progress wasn’t being made – especially when the sliding doors took eight weeks to arrive. David, meanwhile, began to wish he had broken down the costings into more manageable sections, so he had a better overview of the spend – which ultimately came to around £300,000.

“In hindsight, I would have been less inclined to rush into things and taken more time over the detail. It’s not the big jobs which catch you out, it’s all the smaller expenditures which mount up, especially things like fixtures and fittings.”

In spite of that, they made very few changes to the initial design.

Those they did make included swapping bi-folds for sliding doors across the rear of the property, changing the style of the units in the kitchen and swapping their original plans for internal Crittall doors to look-alike alternatives to save money. None of these changes delayed the renovation works, however, and the project – which started in September 2022 – took the best part of a year to complete.

The entrance atrium at the front of the property was done first. The original entrance comprised a single-storey porch set into a two-storey overhang at the centre of the main part
of the house.

This was extended upwards and outwards to create a two-storey glazed atrium, supported by three steel girders, which has transformed and modernised the front of the property, inside and out. 

With this section complete, the builders turned their attention to the back of the house, demolishing internal walls to open up living spaces between the old kitchen and dining room, along with the utility and a room which was being used as a gym. A partition was built between the new-size dining-kitchen and the rest of the house so the builders could take down the rear external wall to create a nine metre-long opening. This required two major steel girders to support the upper floor. 

It was a nail-biting moment for Paula and David. “It could have caused massive problems because the wall was supporting the rest of the house across the back,” says David. “I was very relieved when it was secured.”

There was still a knock-on effect on the rooms above, however, where cracks began to appear in the plasterwork due to the shift in the overall structure.

“We had to support the exterior wall with acrow props before installing two long steel beams across the width of the opening,” says Jamie. “It was quite straightforward in building terms, but we had to seal off the rest of the house as efficiently as possible to keep the dust and debris to a minimum, and there was some remedial work to be done in the rooms above further down the line.”

At this point, the builders created the basic structure for an all-weather canopy from the back of the house, with a corresponding veranda directly off the main bedroom above.

Floors inside were relaid with a mix of concrete and suspended floors to accommodate Karndean floor coverings. In conjunction with this, all the old white Georgian-style windows were replaced with flush fitting PVCu windows in anthracite and two sets of sliding doors across the main opening into the garden.

Two smaller rooms – a cloakroom and toilet which had no natural light – were also fitted with lantern lights and space-saving sliding pocket doors, whereby the door slides into a purpose-built wall cavity.

All the restructured rooms were rewired and replumbed before being plastered out ready for second fixes. The new kitchen was last to be completed, but proved to be one of the most challenging aspects of the renovation for Paula and David.

Their original preference had been for something really modern but Paula was struggling to see how that would complement the age and essence of the 1960s/70s house. They finally settled on a hand-built ‘modern-vintage’ kitchen from Wharfedale Interiors, choosing a rich deep green colour to complement the wood-style floor.

With everything finally complete, it took a few months for Paula and David to get past the upheaval of living on a building site for a year and start to really enjoy their new-look home.

“Not all the rooms were affected by the changes, so we still had the old games room – now a media room – and two bedrooms above which were untouched,” says Paula. “It meant we had somewhere to escape to while the house was in chaos. There was a point where we had no kitchen at all for a couple of months, which was quite challenging. We had a kettle in the garage and lived off takeaways for a while.”

But now the dust has – literally – settled, Paula takes a more pragmatic view of the process.

“Looking back, the fact that we were without a kitchen for a while seems like nothing in the great scheme of things, but at the time I would get frustrated when things took longer than we anticipated,” says Paula. “I was happy as long as progress was being made, but you have to allow for delays and things outside of your control.”

Most of the renovation work was carried out during lockdown which presented its own unique set of challenges, including an increase in material prices, but it had its bonuses too.
The builders were able to focus 100% on the job, while Paula and David were onsite to oversee the build and make quick decisions when necessary.

“You do get decision fatigue,” says Paula. “Sometimes the smaller decisions – like what style door handles you’d like – are the most challenging because there is almost too much choice, and you know you have to live with those decisions.”

That said, there is nothing about the house they now regret.

“It’s taken many years and many changes to get the house to this point,” says David. “It might have been cheaper to have knocked it down when we bought it and started again, but we didn’t know back then what we know now. Not only that, but we would have lost all the layers of the building’s history, character and unique story. So we have no regrets. We finally have the house we always wanted.”