WHAT is thought to be one of the oldest brick-built houses in the region, Higham Dykes, in Ponteland, has been transformed into a stunning modern family home by owners Daniel and Gemma Harrison. “Most people couldn’t understand why we wanted to change the house, but the minute they walk through the door and see the changes, they understand,” says Gemma, 34, who has lived in the grand Flemish-inspired property for nine years. Following the arrival of the couple’s two young children, four-year-old Hazell, and Chester, two, the couple decided it was time to modernise their historic home and enlisted Doonan Architects to help create a luxury living space fit for their family’s needs.

It’s not the first time Daniel has been involved with bringing Higham’s history into the 21st century, as his parents bought the 17th century hall 24 years ago. But growing up in Higham was very different to the luxury living conditions he now enjoys. “My parents had to rip the entire house out and start again. It was in desperate need of some TLC,” says the 37-year-old, who is originally from Gateshead.

Although Higham looked very luxurious from the outside when he lived there as a child, inside was quite different, he explains, “There were no carpets or wallpaper and huge sections of the house required work. One winter it was so cold there that the water in my drinking glass froze over. Luckily, we all mucked in and helped my mum and dad shape the property back to its natural state.”

Daniel and Gemma didn’t have to think twice about taking over the reins at Higham. “It’s such a beautiful home in an outstanding location. When we were given the amazing opportunity to own Higham, we didn’t have to think for a second,” says Gemma, who is delighted to be living in her hometown of Ponteland.

Higham Dykes is now the epitome of luxury inside and out following the completion of their grand plans, which were brought to life by Hexham-based firm Doonan Architects, along with various specialist contractors and interior companies. Daniel chose to use Doonan for the project as his family have worked with the team before. “Despite the fact that I’ve lived at Higham for a number of years, Kate from Doonan came up with some fantastic ideas that I simply hadn’t considered.”

First, the layout was reconfigured as the space didn’t work well for the couple’s young family. “There was an annexe in one wing of the house, which was hardly ever used, and as we wanted to spend more time together in the kitchen and dining areas, extending the day-to-day space was the obvious place to start,” says Daniel.

The initial brief was to extend the kitchen area and make sense of the internal flow of the house. However, the project took on a life of its own after the team at Doonan suggested remodelling other areas including the dining room, the cellar, all of the bathrooms and even the garden shed. In June 2017, STP began the building work and the whole transformation was complete in 15 months.

“We are delighted with the result, and I’m very glad that we bit the bullet and got everything done at once,” says Daniel. While the work was being done, the family (including rescue cats Lollipop and Dynamo) moved into a rented property in Ponteland, which provided a quiet haven away from all the building work.

Gemma took charge of the interior design and was supported by Daniel as he ‘signed-off’ her ideas. Admittedly daunted by the size of the project, Gemma invested in some help from Inside Contracts. “I’d always imagined doing one room at a time, but we had to choose how we wanted every single room from scratch. I had to think about everything from floorboards to light fittings,” she says. “Thankfully, Rachel, Diane and Kendra from Complete Interiors were our absolute saviours. They took us through the whole process step-by-step and patiently worked with me through hundreds of emails, site meetings, and more swatches of material than I knew existed.”

Simmer and Soak were hired to design and install the kitchen, a space that is now the couple’s favourite room in the house. “On a warm day, it’s the nicest feeling in the world to be able to slide open the doors and extend the area onto the patio,” says Daniel. This space has been particularly welcomed by stay-at-home mum Gemma. “The kitchen has completely changed the way we live as a family – life just flows better,” she says. “As a mum, the changes are phenomenal. Previously our kitchen and living areas were completely separate, meaning I could only cook and tidy up in the kitchen when the children were asleep, or run in and out hoping CBeebies would keep them entertained. Now we are able to cook, play, and relax in the same area together. I am absolutely thrilled with the transformation. It has changed what was already a beautiful house into an amazing family home, designed just for us.

For Daniel, chief executive at financial services company True Potential, it’s a delight to return home after a hectic day at work, or a week of travelling. “Every day is a treat coming home and I never take it for granted,” he says. “ I’m very proud of what Gemma and I have helped create here. If you look back at the history of the house, it has evolved throughout its life and these latest works have added to the story of Higham Dykes further. We have everything we want and couldn’t be happier here – we’re very lucky. It would be my great hope that we pass Higham onto our children and they and their families embrace it as we have done and my parents did.” Daniel’s parents are also ‘blown away’ by the transformation.

It’s certainly a forever home for the family, as Gemma explains. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s the home we brought both our children to from hospital, and it’s where they will grow up. I absolutely love living here, and although it’s cliched, I feel so lucky we have a house which is absolutely perfect for our family. There’s no looking at something and thinking I wish it was different. I adore having friends and family over. The space is so flexible now, and there are no worries about where the children are or if there’s enough room for everyone. There are many happy memories here already and room for a lifetime more. It’s very special to be the next chapter of Higham’s history.”