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Interiors: An Englishman's home is his...folly

PUBLISHED: 13:36 22 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:02 20 February 2013

This office door came a part of a job lot

This office door came a part of a job lot

One man has taken his magpie-like obsession with collecting old household items to new heights by designing his Suffolk home around the unwanted treasures he finds at auctions, salvage yards and car boot sales. Jane Sneesby went to meet him

One man has taken his magpie-like obsession with collecting old household items to new heights by designing his Suffolk home around the unwanted treasures he finds at auctions, salvage yards and car boot sales. Jane Sneesby went to meet him





Steve Colby has spent the past six years creating what his architect described as a folly hidden behind the main street of a west Suffolk village, as a refuge from his international travels as a photographer.


Built on the site of the former village wood mill, the weather boarded exterior of the three-bedroom house with its huge cart bay window is designed to be in keeping with the surrounding barns, so gives little away at first sight.


But step inside and you find yourself in a grand hallway complete with an imposing turning staircase, chandelier, an intricate wood block floor, arched windows, and tall library doors leading off at each corner.


The whole house has been designed around the majestic Victorian mahogany staircase that Steve bought for a few hundred pounds from a salvage dealer who was going out of business.


"I had only seen blurred photographs of the staircase and didnt think it was what I was looking for until it was delivered and I realised how good it was," said Steve, who cannot resist a bargain.


Steve is a devotee of dark, hand-carved hardwood, which has become very unfashionable because it does not fit with modern homes, so can be picked up for next to nothing.



The wood block floor came from a school in south London and is made of jarrah wood from Australian eucalyptus trees. Steve re-worked the blocks to form large squares with complex patterns similar to the flooring he admires at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.



Upstairs, the extra wide floorboards along the landing and in the bedrooms are made from long mahogany planks of packing timber used to transport more valuable cargo on ships. It took over a year to collect enough for the whole house and Steve bevelled each one by hand.



Steve also buys big old wardrobes, delicate chiffonier tops, and bits of carved mouldings very cheaply and adapts them to his own style and scale by adding mirrors and finials.


He says: "You could say I cannibalise them to get the look I want but it works and you get wonderful quality at a fraction of the price of modern materials. When you think of the effort that went into making and carving them, its a shame not to use it."


The large kitchen dresser looks spectacular loaded with his burgeoning collection of colourful Victorian china oddments lavishly decorated with birds and flowers. Youd never guess it was made from a pine workbench top bought for a tenner, two curved shop front windows, old wooden doors and shelving distressed with pink and green paint.


Many of Steves best deals have come from TW Gazes auction rooms and architectural salvage sales in Diss, where he is a regular bidder and often buys goods that nobody else wants.


All the doors complete with etched glass, leaded lights, moulding and beading came as a job lot because they are too big or quirky for modern frames. The heavy iron radiators are now quite sought after, but Steve found two of his dumped on the side of the road!



His eclectic taste continues throughout the house and into the garden. The main sitting room is given a gentlemens club feel with its stained glass window and arched stone surrounds from a demolished church in Enfield. Across the hall, the snug has a hand-painted frieze to hide the supporting metal beam and there are a series of carved wooden arches over the fireplace. In one corner theres a reproduction of an Egyptian relief from a museum and in another room there are a stack of paintings and drawings waiting to be hung.


Outside, a pink plastic leaping fawn used to advertise Babysham in the 1950s can be glimpsed at the end of an avenue of prunus trees that will soon look stunning covered in spring blossom, and behind a beech hedge theres a hidden folly built to look like a kitsch Belgian public urinal with pink stone and turquoise glass.




Steve still has the brass bedstead he was born on at home in Lincolnshire and has maintained his childhood fascination with fossils, which was the start of his love of collecting old and unusual things.


Having trained as a painter at the Hornsey College of Art, he turned to photography when he realised that he could never make a living in fine art. More shelves hold his collection of old cameras and he is running out of wall space to display all the Victorian prints and Pre-Raphelite-style paintings he has amassed, alongside pieces of modern art.


He concludes: "I do get obsessed with collecting things and, of course, I make mistakes but it doesnt matter if it hasnt cost too much. The house slowly evolved as I went along. Its just an indulgence or a folly as my architect calls it."




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