This beautiful Wilmslow property was renovated with both family and business in mind
PUBLISHED: 06:13 03 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:36 03 August 2020
When designing her new home a vast kitchen island was top of the list for Gemma Wade of You Say Tomato
Gemma Wade grew up near Stockport, but it was a period of time spent living in California that brought her to a career she loves and a family home created in great part to support it.
“After graduating I went to London to work, in an advertising agency,” Gemma says. “I was there ten years and it’s where I met my husband, Pete. He was offered a role at his company’s head offices, in Silicon Valley, California. We moved there the day before our first child turned one and I was five months pregnant with our second, which in hindsight was a bit ridiculous. I was always going to return to work after my maternity leave, so I decided that I would give myself a couple of years of time off with my children, but it was during this period that my brain just started whirring.
“As the months went on I was meeting lots of other mums with small children and often they’d be at my house while I was preparing meals for the family – and watch with real curiosity. They’d ask what I was making, where I had learned, how to do it... It was all very simple stuff, but the US has a very strong culture of takeaways and quick meal packet-mix dining, especially with these families - very wealthy, had been to Harvard and Yale and worked for Apple and Google and Facebook. They just had never had time or learned to cook and now realised that they didn’t want to give their kids Thai takeaway for dinner.
“I found myself teaching my friends how to make meals that the whole family could eat, that were healthy but uncomplicated. Pete would come home from work and find me with about four women stood around me, watching me cook. One evening my husband and I were chatting and I was moaning about wanting to do something for work and he suggested I start doing cookery classes - and You Say Tomato was born.
“I started a Facebook page and it just hit right. Nobody else was doing anything like me – it was either all very cheffy, or very mumsy – let’s all make it into the shape of a clown’s face – whereas I went in with the very no-nonsense, northern one meal for the whole family, approach and it really took off. Before I knew it I was doing three or four classes a week, with ten people in each class, and events at Apple and Google – and I loved it.”
Gemma and Pete knew they would be returning from America after five years, and had already decided that London was not the place they wanted to call their forever home. Gemma wanted to be nearer her family and old friends, and with Wilmslow a fast commute to London for Pete, it was their first choice.
Pete arranged to work from home two days a week and then three in London. We knew that we wanted a ‘do-er upper’ and were very clear in our brief to estate agents – a home that belonged to 70-year olds who had looked after it, but not remodelled it. We looked for ages. We flew back twice a year and every time we would look at houses, but none suited. This one had been on the market for ages and we just thought there must be something wrong with it. Eventually we went to see it and within minutes knew it was perfect for us. We sat in the car and used the estate agent’s details to draw out the changes we would make, then made our offer.”
Take a look at this beautiful home renovation in Bowdon, accomplished on a shoestring budget.
Gemma and Pete bought the house in early 2015, when they were still living in California, and had all the building work done in absentia.
“We had a really good idea of what we wanted, but got an architect to draw it up for us for the planning process. We found a really good builder and had many, many early morning Skype calls as it all happened.”
The family moved back in June 2015 and moved into the now completed house the following September.
“The whole brief was really all about getting in lots of light and making it family-friendly. Oh, and a ridiculously large kitchen island.”
Gemma’s kitchen is truly glorious, and fills a space created from merging two rooms and building a small extension.
“It was quite funny. Every kitchen supplier we saw would say ‘how big?’ when said what size I wanted it to be. In the end we kind of did it ourselves, souring cupboard doors and appliances and everything ourselves and working with a really good joiner. Because I was so used to teaching in all these fabulous kitchens in California I had a really good idea of what needed to be where and I was very prescriptive. It all works so well and it’s where we spend most of our time.”
Some of Gemma’s demands make complete sense even to those of us who don’t cook for a living. All her metal baking trays for example slide vertically into their own slot on a shelf, rather than being piled one on top of another as in every other kitchen. I am definitely stealing that idea – wrestling with baking trays is never fun and always noisy. She also has an ‘appliance garage’, a place where all her appliances are tucked away, but plugged in and ready to use on demand. Genius.
Another item created to support Gemma’s work is the vast dining table, which her father built for her using old scaffolding planks.
“I needed it to be long, to seat my clients, and I wanted it to be a bit rustic too, to soften the otherwise very contemporary kitchen. I took my inspiration from Northern Quarter cafés. My dad was a bit unsure, but he went with it.”
Gemma’s design ethos is very Californian – lots of light, lots of clean and simple lines and a calm colour palette. This soothing approach spills throughout the whole home and allows Gemma to change rooms with ease, simply by swapping in new accessories.
“I like to change things around,” she says. “I think I’m a bit of a gypsy at heart – I like change and using colour as an accent, not as the lead note, gives me that option. We also collect a lot of bits and bobs on our travels, so these are scattered throughout the house.”
Gemma’s home, particularly her kitchen, caught the eye of the team at Lifestyle Locations, who added the house to their books for photoshoots and filming a couple of years ago.
“They saw my kitchen on my Instagram and asked me to sign up. I have only done one shoot though, as I am usually working in here myself.”
Life under lockdown has changed Gemma’s way of working, pushing her to make a change she had long been planning.
“I am now, finally, launching my subscription service. I am making cook-along videos and people can join up and learn at their leisure. It’s something I have wanted to do for a long time, and lockdown finally gave me the time to make it happen.”
Visit Gemma’s business at You Say Tomato for lots of great family recipes
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