Me and my home: Stuffed with history

At Sam Samociuk's home, gargoyles and Victoriana reign supreme. By Caroline Brannigan
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The Independent Online

Sam Samociuk, 40, built his house near Wetherby, North Yorkshire, in a Gothic style and has filled it with Victoriana

Sam Samociuk, 40, built his house near Wetherby, North Yorkshire, in a Gothic style and has filled it with Victoriana

The first time you see my house it looks quite small and old but it's really very big inside and most of it is new. The house is completely in Gothic style, with narrow wooden windows and lots of carved wood.

Gothic appeals to me because it's different and keeps coming back at various periods. The Victorians loved it. It does mean some of the bedrooms are a bit dark but bedrooms are for going to bed in.

You'll see the first of my gargoyles peering up at you from the flower beds. They're all over the place, inside and out. A true gargoyle is a water spout. Other similar carved figures are technically called grotesques. They're meant to ward off evil spirits and I like the fact that craftsmen have carved them out over many years. My favourite one is in the bathroom. He's in the same style as those on Notre Dame cathedral.

But it's harder now to fine genuine old ones, as so many are sold direct to America. There's a very unusual one in the living room which is Victorian and carved from clay to look like a dragon.

When I bought this place 18 years ago it was just a three-room gatehouse, built in 1890. It now has 12 rooms. The living room is one of the new parts but you wouldn't think so because there's so much salvage material in it.

Most of it I've found myself because I'm a builder and if I see something old that I can use, I have to buy it. I don't think much about what it's for. In the end I had so much stuff I set up an architectural salvage business in Wetherby called The Gargoyle Shed. We get a lot of interior designers coming in to hunt for things.

In the living room the big fireplace is made from an old stone bay window I rescued from a mansion that was coming down. The floors are reclaimed pine. It's a big room with a warm glow from light pouring in through red stained-glass panels in the windows. This is where most of my favourite things are. There's a big Victorian polar bear skin, complete with head and bullet hole, on the floor. There's also a wolf skin. I don't see anything wrong with having them, I'm just preserving a bit of history. They were killed years ago and there's nothing we can do about it now. What are people going to do, put it in a skip? But I am totally against killing them today.

I've got a lot of Victorian stuffed birds and the taxidermy is a superb piece of craftsmanship. There's more gargoyles and grotesques, a table carved from a tree-stump and a huge Indonesian drum. In one corner is a metre-high, solid mahogany carving of two monkeys, which look a bit fierce. They aren't, they're a mother and child, but people take them the wrong way.

A few jaws drop when visitors come for the first time but no one's ever said it's awful. When I'm sitting here on my own at night, it's not frightening. The scariest thing is when my big, white dog, Zara, looks in through the window from the garden. That's really scary.

Next-door is the dining room, which is in the old part of the house and goes up to the rafters. I've painted the walls blue, using brushes and cloths to look like marble. There's a tall wooden board in there with a prayer inscribed on it, about three metres high, which came from an old church. But the kitchen and bathroom are a real contrast because they're ultra modern. I thought I'd do something different from the rest of the house.

One of the nicest things about my home is that there are lots of unexpected cubby holes and even a secret bedroom with its own narrow staircase behind a door. The main staircase is carved oak that I saved it from a mansion that was being pulled down in Harrogate. I had to butcher it because it was originally on six levels with steps two metres wide.

Many of the walls have unusual decorations on them. In the guest bedroom upstairs there's a big tree painted on the walls. I call it the tree room. People who have slept in there have enjoyed it because the tree is full of birds and insects and there's always something to look up at. The wooden bed is painted with a trailing ivy and has a cobweb carved into it.

I've been very happy here, but it's too big for me now. My children grew up here, and my favourite things are the portraits of them, showing them doing their favourite things. Now it's up for sale and the agents want me to tone it down a bit but I don't want to do that as long as I'm living here. It's in a lovely village which is very rural but only eight miles from Leeds and very close to my business, so I'm not desperate to sell.

It's not cluttered or untidy and, if anybody wants it, it can be toned down instantly. It's only my things. But a lot of people can't see through the colour of the walls, let alone a lot of gargoyles.

The house is for sale at £495,000 via Dacre, Son & Hartley: 01937 586177,, 0770 9427 462

Sam Samociuk restoration: 07832 350609