WHEN Kathryn Roberts decided to leave London 14 years ago she did not set out to buy a historic property. But then she stumbled across this Grade II-listed old schoolhouse in a conservation area in Frome, Somerset — and fell in love with its lofty ceilings, vast rooms and the fact it was flooded with natural light.
‘Someone once said ‘‘space is luxury’’, and I was just wowed by the luxurious 1,577sq ft space of the Old School Room,’ says Kathryn, who runs a non-profit project with teenagers and has her own design business, Inside Interiors (insideshop.co.uk). She also once ran a theatre project in Cape Town, where she lived for a number of years (her group performed for Nelson Mandela’s 79th birthday) and has never been shy of a challenge.
‘This was built in the late 1850s and had been a Victorian school,’ Kathryn explains. ‘Then it became used as a part of the old chapel behind it. The building was actually in quite good condition when I bought it — but it had never been a home.’
Upon buying the property in 2005, Kathryn’s greatest challenge was to create a comfortable living room out of the vast 44ft-long main school hall, where the original pine floors had to be re-laid and re-varnished.
Then, in what is now a majestic master bedroom with an elegant en-suite bathroom, Kathryn spent a month of evenings, using a wire brush, scraping off the white paint which covered the original blonde oak and Iroko parquet floor. Today the two-bedroom home she shares with her 15-year-old son, Finn, is testament to both her slavish dedication and innate sense of style.
With mod cons including underfloor heating and high-tech lighting systems, she has seamlessly blended the old with the new.
The Old School Room’s original three-arched, 19th-century windows, at the front of this gabled property, still boast their vivid border of amber-coloured glass, while three enormous sash windows line another wall.
The 18ft-tall ceiling is adorned with bespoke, hand-painted mandalas — a quirky adaptation of the ceiling rose — while large bespoke metal candlesticks reflect the time which the building spent as part of the chapel.
The Neff kitchen at the far end of the room has a Corian worktop, and smoked grey glass-fronted cabinets, with Art Deco handles. What looks like a ceramic floor is actually Niesha Crosland vinyl tiles.
Aside from the kitchen, everything else in the large room is moveable. ‘I wanted to create lifestyle pods that could be moved so that if I wanted a change it would be easy to configure the room differently,’ Kathryn explains.
Even the lengthy sofa-style seating (oak boxes, great for storage), covered in velvet seating pads and scattered with beautiful Lorca silk hand-embroidered cushions, can be easily moved.
From the giant acrylic ceiling light inside the entrance, to the dramatic central light of the living room — dripping strings of tiny black beads handmade by a Zulu tribe — Kathryn’s creative influence can be found throughout the home.
It is her master bedroom, however — with its silk-quilted aubergine headboard, gilt coving and exotic Italian quilted cream overhead light — which is arguably the star of this extraordinary home.
‘It’s the perfect chocolate box bedroom,’ Kathryn says. ‘I call it my beauty and brains room. The beauty is the lavish interior — the kind of room I wanted to be my retreat — while the brains is the remote-controlled mood lighting, blinds, TV (which poses as a mirror when it’s not in use), music system and the wonderful Stovax Riva woodburner.’ Two club swivel chairs sit in front of the fireplace. There are soft curves everywhere, including the giant circular panelled mirror above the fireplace. On another wall — covered in hand-laid wood wallpaper — there’s a dramatic, coconut-fringed mirror. The result is so sensuous, warm and soothing it’s hard to leave this room.
But the second bedroom is equally charming in a different way — just as large, painted in soothing cream hues, and with natural light flowing in from its enormous sash window.
The family bathroom with a great panel of wall mirror, has a large bath and oversized shower. ‘This bathroom did exist when I bought the property,’ Kathryn says. ‘But it was dark and dull — all in black slate.’
Kathryn has created a sensationally contemporary home within this significant and historic building. So why is she selling? ‘We’ve been here 14 years and I feel it’s now time to take my son Finn on a new adventure,’ she says. ‘I think it’s important to push yourself — to make changes. This has been a wonderful home. It’s been a real delight to take my time in transforming and reinventing it. It’s really very special.’
■ The Old School Room is £595,000 leasehold, with a share of the freehold, through themodernhouse.com