It took four years to find a live-work home and another two to make it perfect. Now Maxine Stead lives right next door to her own health spa. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Tony Johnson.
Bali had a life-changing effect on Elizabeth Gilbert who revealed the experience in the bestselling book and subsequent hit movie Eat Pray Love. It’s something Maxine Stead can relate to. She credits the beautiful Indonesian island for prompting a decision to quit her stressful job and launch her own holistic health spa.
“I was working in cancer research and wasn’t happy. I’d spent a couple of years thinking about what else I could do and the flash of inspiration came while I was on holiday in Bali,” she says.
“I’d always been interested in health and wellbeing and the idea of opening a spa really appealed. As soon as I got back home I began writing a business plan.”
That epiphany was ten years ago and after making a success of her Huddersfield-based spa, she has now relocated and expanded to create the ultimate live-work home.
“At first I rented premises for the spa but I really wanted to buy my own place so I sold my house to raise the money and started looking for something that was also suitable for me to live in, which wasn’t easy,” says Maxine.
It took her four years to find the ideal property – a large grade-II listed Georgian house in Birkby with an adjoining coach house. It presented a huge project but Maxine had the perfect right-hand man.
Her partner, Alan Whyke, owns Brunswick Estates Construction and is an experienced property developer and builder with a keen interest in interior design. After getting planning permission for commercial use from Kirklees Council, the first job was to turn the main house into the Alexandra House Spa.
A reception was created and the living space was transformed into treatment rooms, changing rooms and luxurious relaxation areas. The cellars and the old coal hole also offered potential. Inspired by the history of the area, which boasts evidence of Roman settlements, Maxine came up with the idea of turning the basement into a Roman-style bath house complete with laconium and tepidarium and a water feature that she bought from Liberty in London.
As the cellars sit on the water table, flood-proofing it was a major undertaking. Alan and his team had to dig 3ft into the rock, install a sump pump and create a herringbone drainage system topped with a damp-proof membrane and screed.
“It was difficult but worthwhile because it looks and feels amazing and worth all the effort. The idea is to give people a place where they can totally switch off and leave life behind for a bit,” says Maxine, a reiki master who employs a team of beauty therapists.
Creating a new home in the coach house next door was also a challenge. Part of it had been turned into a cottage and garage and it was riddled with structural issues. The building wasn’t tied in properly to the adjoining main house, the walls were bowing and the first floor was on a myriad of different levels.
“It was in a really poor state so we stripped it back completely, took the roof off, ripped the internal walls and ceilings out and stitched it all back together,” says Alan, who specialises in restoring historic buildings.
One of the compensations was the discovery of a centuries-old 15ft well under old stone flags in the kitchen. Alan couldn’t resist climbing down to inspect it and found everything from dead animals to shoes. The well is now a quirky feature that has been lit and topped with glass.
Although the main house has plenty of period features, the coach house was lacking them. While there were some original beams in the building, most of the character has been added by Maxine and Alan. Their new home has sliding sash windows and the staircase is bespoke and made by Schottons Joinery. The layout includes an open-plan living kitchen, a snug and a garden room on the ground floor, with a bathroom and an enormous en-suite bedroom on the first floor.
The decor was Alan’s domain and features Farrow & Ball heritage colours throughout with furniture from Ponsfords in Sheffield, Redbrick Mill in Batley and Marks & Spencer. The walls are decorated with the couple’s collection of art, including favourite pictures by the artist John Waterhouse and sculptures from the Greek island of Skiathos.
“I’ve always been a white skirting board, white ceiling sort of person when it comes to decorating but Alan is more adventurous and he has pushed my boundaries,” says Maxine, who is concentrating on her business before pushing ahead with more development plans, which include creating an extension and a Georgian-style orangerie with tropical plants and water features.
She and Alan would also like to tap into the natural water source that runs into their well so they can bottle their own Alexandra House Spa Water.
It would be the perfect way to toast their new live/work home.
“I am so pleased I bought it and I love living next door to work,” says Maxine. “I am on hand all the time but I have my own space.
“Plus, there are lots of benefits. If we have friends and family round for dinner we can pop next door and use the thermal rooms, which is a great treat.”
Alexandra House holistic health and wellbeing spa, 128 Halifax Old Road, Birkby, Huddersfield, tel: 01484 303786, alexandrahouse.org.uk