Once home to St Ives’ criminal fraternity, the town’s former police cells now have new owners. Chris and Jo Russell tell Carol Burns how they turned a Victorian prison into St Ives’ most des res…
Chris and Jo Russell call St Ives their spiritual home – and were spending time in the popular harbour around four times a week when the left-hand side of the former St Ives Police Station came up for sale early last year. ‘It was very unusual being in the centre of St Ives yet having ample parking,’ says Chris.
‘This attracted us to the property and so we decided to buy it as a second home seeing as we were travelling to St Ives around three or four times a year. Sergeant’s Retreat came up for sale shortly afterwards so it made sense to acquire the whole building.’
The centrally located building was constructed in 1890 following the amalgamation of the former St Ives Borough Police into the Cornwall Constabulary; it has now been converted into three properties, which for part of the year are let by local St Ives holiday specialists The Cottage Boutique.
‘Both properties had already been divided into rooms and although we did some knocking through of bedrooms into bathrooms to create en suites, it was relatively easy,’ continues Chris.
But before the fun of interior design could begin the couple had remedial work to carry out. ‘The left hand side of the building had much more damp than was evident at first glance so quite a few walls had to be knocked back and tanked before being replastered,’ says Chris. ‘What started as a decorating job did end up by being a complete renovation with new electrics, plug sockets and switches, new radiators all over, new bathrooms and of course the entire house had to be refurnished.’
The couple brought in interior designer Kerry Knight from Beaten Green to overhaul The Old Police Station and the Sergeant’s Retreat. Their brief for both sides of the building was to create bright, cosy and interesting interiors for their family and guests to enjoy.
There was also a desire to ensure the many original and novel features of the building were kept and incorporated into the design. The Old Police Station now features historical framed photos of the building sourced from the St Ives Archives, and a disused phone from the same era mounted in the hallway, while Sergeant’s Retreat features a diverse collection of framed artwork, hand-painted furniture, locally-made lampshades and carefully selected ceramics.
‘There was some privacy glass in the old interview room, which we replaced and is now one of the two master e suites and there was an old outbuilding that was turned into an outside shower that the builder put jail bars into, having spent a long day feeling like he was in a cell whilst rendering the inside. He got so into character of being held captive that he ended up etching roman numerals into the drying render as if counting down the days until his escape!
‘There are also two very small high windows in the kitchen and a central pillar, remnants of an old dividing wall between two cells. The property has beautifully high arched windows in every room of the front elevation which give it a wonderfully symmetrical exterior, but they were very awkward windows to dress!’
These painstaking efforts to source upcycled and locally-made accessories have more than paid off. The Sergeant’s Retreat has a modern Scandinavian feel to set it apart from its sister property. The interior at Sergeant’s Retreat also includes carefully sourced pieces of furniture and accessories discovered online and in local auction houses; Kerry works with an upholsterer to bring unloved chairs and other pieces back to life, introducing vintage design icons with high quality finishes.
‘Kerry scoured local auction houses for most of the wardrobes and chests of drawers, looking for original pieces that could be renovated or up-cycled. The finished look of the up-cycled furniture was exactly the look we wanted, which was mixing old and new with some quirky bits too,’ he says.
And now both sides are complete – and Chris and Jo rent out the properties as holiday lets for part of the year through The Cottage Boutique (cornwall-cottage-boutique.co.uk).
So now it’s finished, what are the favourite bits? ‘I love the half painted walls and bathroom floor tiles,’ says Jo. ‘I also really like the snug with its original fire place and the revamped kitchen is like being in a different house!’
This article first appeared in Cornwall Life October 2015 issue