A 18th-century barn renovation in York
A renovated barn filled with mid-century classics and statement lighting gives Rebecca Herman’s period York home a contemporary twist. Feature Louise O’Bryan. Photographs Rachael Smith
Rebecca Herman credits her passion for design to growing up in the 1960s and 70s with parents who experimented with adventurous interiors. ‘As a child, I was very aware of my parents’ love of interiors and their belief that your home should be filled with beautiful and meaningful objects,’ she says. ‘They collected pieces from across all periods and loved to restore furniture. The time they spent at auction houses with me and my sister encouraged us to develop our own style and to see the value of antique furniture.’
Rebecca’s obsession for seeking out old and interesting pieces began in earnest when she inherited a 1960s lamp and coffee table from her parents for her first flat in London. Since then, she’s continued to mix eclectic finds with family heirlooms. ‘My 1930s leather armchairs have followed me to every property that I’ve owned and the 1970s kitchen stools are from my childhood home. Mork & Mindy [an American sitcom] had the same ones!’
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When Rebecca and her husband, Dan, bought this 18th-century home 13 years ago, they were drawn to its potential and, unusually, the derelict barn in the back garden. ‘The barn didn’t have a roof and needed totally rebuilding but we could see that it would be a great way to extend the house. It now provides a contemporary surprise at the back of the period frontage,’ says Rebecca.
Within a few months of moving in, work began on the front portion of the house (which featured blue nylon carpet tiles and the ubiquitous avocado bathroom suite) while the barn was eventually rebuilt six years later. ‘I had plenty of time to research and plan what we wanted – the final design was inspired by a house in Amsterdam I’d seen in a magazine, with plenty of light. I loved the idea of having this urban, edgy, industrial living space behind the cosy traditional rooms at the front of the house,’ says Rebecca.
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With such a vast space to play with, Rebecca sourced shapely mid-century chairs to create intimacy and define the separate seating areas, while also softening the crisp white walls and cool tiled floor. As the eye drifts up the striking open metal staircase to the mezzanine level above, the vastness of the space is further highlighted by the caged pendant light hanging in the centre. ‘Converting the barn was a great excuse to introduce another era of furniture to the house – the bold mid-century pieces really complement the rustic aesthetic,’ says Rebecca.
Meanwhile, her trusty leather armchairs are at home in the front living room against a classic Morris & Co wallpaper. ‘I love pattern but tend to stick to a fairly neutral palette of sludgy colours,’ says Rebecca, whose choice of organic tones is the perfect foil for her lovingly referred to ‘brown’ furniture.
These thoughtful backdrops are key to the success of Rebecca’s mix of styles from across the eras as they masterfully tie each room together. ‘Sadly, we don’t have space for any more furniture so for now I only source antique pieces for clients,’ says Rebecca. ‘Instead, I tend to buy ceramics and paintings to update our spaces. My sister is also a great vintage hunter and we regularly swap finds between our houses. A love of old pieces definitely runs in the family.’
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