THE renovation of a former sea captain’s cottage in Staithes led to a life-changing move for a London couple, as they tell Jenny Needham

The Northern Echo:

THE glass balls hanging from the ceilings of many of the holiday cottages in the North Yorkshire coastal village of Staithes reflect its history as a thriving fishing community. Often hand-blown, these floats once held nets up across vast swathes of the North Sea; now they’ve found their way into homes here as works of art.

There’s a colourful cluster of them in the sitting room window at Cowbar View Cottage, more hanging individually from beams in the vaulted master bedroom of this characterful abode. They were bought by owners Luke Wooster and Sophie Neild, and added to the eclectic collection of furniture, ancient and modern, and other “finds” that now fill this former sea captain’s home.

A mustardy-coloured velvet sofa sits next to modern dining chairs in the living space; lighting includes an eccentric suspended cup and saucer invention and ocean-coloured anglepoise lamps; there is a collection of mismatched furniture from different periods and of differing styles; decorative additions include potted cacti, clusters of seashells and fishing ephemera. And yet it all works together beautifully. It’s not surprising to discover that Luke was an antiques dealer on the King’s Road in London for ten years and has always had a keen eye for furniture.

The house itself has been in Luke’s family since the 1960s when his mother bought it for £1,000. “We would come to Staithes for summer holidays,” he says. “I bought the house from my parents 15 years ago and we have holidayed in the village since our own children were babies. We never envisaged we would live in North Yorkshire, but here we are.”

“We” is Luke, Sophie, and their three children, six-year-old twin girls Bo and Betsy, and little Archie, who is about to celebrate his first birthday. After initially doing up Cowbar View and using it for seaside breaks, two years ago the couple finally decided to make a permanent break, sold their London home and moved up North.

“Luke runs an estate agent’s in London and felt he needed a change of life, so we decided to take the plunge,” says Sophie. Having bought a Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse in Whitby, they now rent out Cowbar View as a holiday let and have opened a shop and deli in Staithes. “It’s been a huge change, but we are gradually adjusting to the new pace of life up here,” she adds.

In the 15 years they have owned Cowbar View, the couple have done a lot of work on the place, bringing it up to date whilst retaining its character. Being double-fronted, the stone-built detached house, which dates back to early 18th century, is one of the bigger properties in Staithes, a higgledy-piggledy jumble of pocket-sized whitewashed cottages with pantile roofs threaded through with little ginnels.

The property looks out over Staithes Beck – you can peer down on it as you soak in the free-standing, roll-top bath in the master bedroom – and sits over three floors with two double and two single bedrooms. Downstairs is the sitting/dining room, and the kitchen, into which these two dedicated foodies put particular thought and effort.

Luke made the units himself, using century-old teak canal lock gates left over from a property renovation in London; the freestanding unit was purchased from the Sandsend East Row shop; the oven is a Smeg and the tiles Fired Earth.

Next door, the yellowy-green velvet sofa came from the LillianDaph interiors shop in Saltburn, the leather sofa and yellow armchairs were auction purchases and the modern dining chairs are Ikea classics.

“Luke didn’t follow a style per se, he just wanted to create a lovely home filled with beautiful furniture and sympathetic colours. We used the whole palate of Farrow & Ball colours,” laughs Sophie. “Having been an estate agent for 20 years, he has seen thousands of properties but recognised that this one, with its stand-alone location and room layout, was very special.”

Thankfully, a lot of the original features, including the original doors, locks and windows remain, but one area where Luke decided to let modern living intrude was in the Scandi-inspired bathroom. It’s contemporary, luxurious even, though he designed it with a log cabin feel in mind.

Naturally, even though the house is large by Staithes standards, moving large pieces of furniture in and out did sometimes prove problematic. The superking Gothic oak bed, Luke’s favourite piece of furniture, was destined for the master bedroom on the top floor. “Due to its epic size, it had to be cut in half and put back together again,” Sophie remembers. Then there was the Esse range, a feature for the sitting room. “It was the heaviest thing Luke has ever lifted,” she adds. “It took ten men to move and left gouge marks on the stone steps. Never again! We use it predominately to heat the house, but it can also be used for cooking and roasts things beautifully.”

Step outside Cowbar View and there are steps leading down left and right from the property. Turn around and to your right, on the lean-to, there’s a boat sailing out from behind the downpipe towards a three-dimensional shell. These are among eight trompe l’oeil artworks painted around the village by talented local resident Paul Czainski, which feature in the increasingly popular Staithes Art Festival each year.

“Paul was commissioned to paint a series of ‘illusions’ in hidden corners of the village and visitors are encouraged to follow his trail around the village with the help of a leaflet,” says Sophie. “He also hand-painted the beautiful images on Betsy and Bo’s shop window.”

It’s fair to say Staithes has long been a magnet for artists. There’s a lovely gallery selling originals paintings, and the couple have succumbed to temptation on occasion. Cowbar View boasts quite a collection, all with a personal connection to the couple. “We have a couple by Rob Shaw, a Staithes-based artist. He’s a firm favourite of ours and a pivotal person in the Staithes Arts and Heritage Festival,” says Sophie.

Cultural events aside, the kids just like to be by the seaside, crabbing, rock pooling, or having an ice cream and watching the waves tumble in. “Our six-years-olds still refer to Staithes as ‘Old Jack’s’ due to the CBeebies show,” laughs Sophie.

The adults are quite entranced with their surroundings, too. “Like Luke, I was born and bred in London and worked as a teacher in an inner-city primary school,” says Sophie. “I never imagined moving, let alone to North Yorkshire. London is where most of our family are, so it will always play a part in our life, but Luke’s stress levels have reduced considerably since we moved and we simply love our shop. It still fills our heart with joy every time we set foot in it.”


Because they found it hard to source good ingredients locally, self-confessed foodies Luke and Sophie decided to open their own deli in Staithes. They bought the Gift Shop, which had been run by the same family for 50 years, opened a sweet shop – named Betsy and Bo after the twins – and set to work turning the back of the store into a deli, complete with a beautiful and marble worktop where their hand-tempered chocolates are made.

The produce is mainly sourced locally. The chewy sourdough bread and delicious Pastel de Nata are made in Runswick Bay, the organic fruit cordials and some of the cheeses are from Botton, and other cheeses come from The Courtyard Dairy, in Settle. “The fromagerie of the North,” says Sophie.

“We have been selling to villagers and tourists, but we are slowly making a name for ourselves and people from further afield are coming to see what we are doing.”