Vintage enthusiast and seamstress Paula Duggan has filled her beautiful home with collected and handmade treasures. Lucy Oates reports.
Paula Duggan chuckles as she recalls how her passion for collecting what she describes as “affordable antiques” began. One Sunday 20 years ago, her husband David spotted an advert in The Yorkshire Post for a series of antiques fairs in Wakefield and suggested they go along.
She remembers: “I joked about it at the time; we didn’t know anything and I thought it would be stuffy. It was actually three fairs that all used to take place on the same day and it ended up being like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears – the first fair was way too expensive; you needed a big purse. The second was not too bad, but the third was in a village hall with a tearoom and I felt right at home. I bought plates and cake stands, and I was hooked.”
From then on, Paula’s love of collecting spiralled and it wasn’t long before the couple needed more space to house their antique furniture, china and linen. When they spotted a rambling, period property on the market in Goole 15 years ago, they went along to have a look and discovered a fascinating family connection with what was to become their new home.
Built in 1912 as a residential property, Westfield House fell into local authority ownership at some point during the Second World War, when it became a military fire station.
“The Green Goddess fire engines were based here and David’s aunt was the chief fire warden,” says Paula.
“Previously there were extensive gardens and an orchard but at some point they were sold off by the council. Later, it was a dental surgery and then a social services building. It was sold to us by a guy who had bought it cheaply from the council two years earlier in a poor state of repair. There had been a fire in the loft and it was ready to be demolished.”
Sadly, most of the period features had been ripped out and only the picture rails survived. The previous owner had fitted a freestanding, cast-iron bath and a period fireplace in an attempt to restore some of the lost character, but it is Paula’s love of collecting, together with her self-taught sewing and upcycling skills, that has really breathed life back into the house.
A huge fan of classic English country house style, Paula’s interiors are nothing if not eclectic, seamlessly combining ornate Victorian furniture with stunning French, antique rugs; chintzy soft furnishings; pretty china festooned with blousy cabbage roses and animal motifs; and even taxidermy. Paula is quick to point out that, as a vegetarian and animal lover, she would only ever buy antique taxidermy and likes to know the story behind each piece. For example, the lower leg of a horse sitting in a glass case in her living room was once used for research purposes at a university.
In the spare bedroom, layer upon layer of beautiful vintage linen creates a charming Princess and the Pea effect on the cast-iron bedstead and, in the master bedroom, a stuffed swan perches on top of a mahogany corner cabinet. It’s quirky and fun, yet it’s a look that suits the age and dimensions of the house beautifully.
Paula adds: “Everything you see is salvaged, nothing is new. It’s just not me to go to B&Q. I do go to some antique fairs, but I also love eBay and car boot sales. I bought three French beds from one car boot sale – without thinking how I would get them home in the car, but we managed. With car boot sales, you have one chance to buy something because it won’t be there again.
“I love a particular type of country house chintz, the more subtle kind. In the 1980s, when Ikea was telling people ‘chuck out your chintz’, I was thinking chuck it my way! I love buying fabrics by Colefax and Fowler, Osborne & Little and GP & J Baker, which are based on 17th and 18th century designs.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether or not something is worth a great deal or if it’s damaged. I rarely go out and come back with nothing. I buy with my heart, not my head.
“I’m not sure how you’d categorise my look. I collect what I’d call affordable antiques and I think this house shows that you don’t have to live in a pretty cottage to achieve country house style.”
Paula admits that she stumbled into dealing antiques when her passion for collecting got out of hand and she forced herself to part with some of her buys. Since giving up her day job four years ago, she has focused on building her business, Little English House, which sells antiques and items handcrafted from antique fabrics.
Showing me a tea towel fashioned from an old curtain, she says: “I can’t throw anything away and I sometimes make things to get my money back for an item. I’ve taught myself to sew and upholster by deconstructing things to see how they’re made.”
She laughs as she says it, but something tells me she’s not joking when she adds: “My nightmare would be to live in a house with modern curtains. I don’t like clean lines, and neat and tidy. It has to be comfortable, lived in and loved.”
Little English House can be found on Etsy and Facebook. Alternatively, visit the Vintage Fair that Paula is staging at the Shire Hall in Howden next Saturday.
York Car Boot Sale – yorkcarboot.com
Hemswell Antiques Centre – hemswell-antiques.com
eBay – ebay.co.uk
Mountain Grey on Westfield Avenue, Goole (a little-known second- hand shop near Paula’s home that’s something of a treasure trove).
The Lincolnshire Antiques and Homes Show – asfairs.com
The Decorative Home and Salvage Show at Ripley Castle, Harrogate – asfairs.com