From Yorkshire to China and back again

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Bikers Paul and Marlene Gardner have retired to a village they once called home after a 10-year odyssey in China and Japan. Sharon Dale reports.

Happy memories of 10 years spent in China and Japan are never far from Paul and Marlene Gardner’s minds.

The main bedroom  with Chinese cabinet doors incorporated into the wardrobe and a quilt made by Marlene, featuring mini kiminos.

The main bedroom with Chinese cabinet doors incorporated into the wardrobe and a quilt made by Marlene, featuring mini kiminos.

The couple are surrounded by souvenirs and keepsakes after turning their Yorkshire home into a reminder of their oriental odyssey.

The adventure began when Paul took a job in Shanghai and Marlene decided to retire from teaching maths and join him. Unlike some expats, they were keen to embrace the culture of the country and to fill their home with artisan furniture and furnishings.

When Paul’s job took him from China to Japan, they lived in Kobe, a sought-after location to the south of Osaka. Their apartment had views of the Pacific and, by Japanese standards, it was large, which enabled them to continue collecting.

Some of their finds were brought back from holidays exploring the area on their Harley Davidson. When Paul was working, Marlene kept herself busy learning the Chinese and Japanese languages and taking creative courses in everything from how to make Oshie wall art and paper “washi” dolls to mastering calligraphy.

Paul and Marlene Gardner's 'Washi dolls.

Paul and Marlene Gardner's 'Washi dolls.

A gifted seamstress and craftsperson, her decorative work is now displayed all over her Yorkshire home.

Deciding where to settle when they came back to Britain was a challenge as they had previously lived all over the country thanks to Paul’s career in the power station industry.

Keen motorcyclists, they biked all over England on the hunt for their retirement property and ended up in East Yorkshire in a village that they had once called home.

“We first lived in the village in 1984 when Paul was working nearby and we still had friends there,” says Marlene. They bought the former farmhouse in December 2013 while still based in Japan. In the summer of 2014, Marlene came over to supervise the renovation, which included solid wall insulation and updating.

A Chinese cabinet with some of the ornaments collected from the Far East.

A Chinese cabinet with some of the ornaments collected from the Far East.

One of their biggest investments was the stunning, handmade kitchen, made by Thirsk-based Treske. “We went to the factory in Thirsk and I could see the quality of the work. I was brought up with the ethos ‘do it well, do it once’,” says Paul.

The units are solid oak and there is a large central island that replaced the dining table that was there before. Like all the other rooms in the house, it reflects their time in the Far East.

There are Japanese lacquerware trays and the framed paper-cut above the sink is from China.

The dining room is also full of their treasures, although none of them are antiques. “It is illegal to take anything later than 100 years old of China so the furniture is mostly reproduction but we love the craftsmanship and the style. None of it is antique, it is all about sentimental value,” says Paul.

The home of 'Paul and Marlene Gardner.

The home of 'Paul and Marlene Gardner.

There is a Chinese altar table and a carved dining table. The steps are multi-functional. They are now a decorative display unit but their original use was to connect different levels and to act as storage, as each step has a storage drawer in it.

The oriental theme, which also extends to their cocker spaniel puppy being called “Sushi”, works beautifully with the period features in the Gardners’ home, which dates back to 1700.

The sitting room is largely Japanese, apart from the sofas. The walls are decorated with Obis, the wide belts used to tie kimonos, and the artwork above the fireplace is Japanese woodcraft.

The screens in front of the fire are Marlene’s work. They are “Oshies”, made from antique kimono silk, which is cut into patterns and stuck with starch glue to form pictures.

A stunning red wedding kimono brings colour and life to the stairway, while the large landing is home to a conversation piece: a beautifully carved Chinese “love chair” made for intimate moments.

Among their many ornaments is a porcelain pillow made for trainee geishas so they would learn not to disturb their elaborate hairdos while sleeping.

Oriental furniture has been cleverly integrated into the main bedroom.

“We had a huge Chinese cabinet that we couldn’t get upstairs so Treske salvaged the ornate doors and incorporated them into the built-in wardrobe. They also came up with the idea of putting a mirror behind them, which highlights the carving,” says Paul.

The red walls in the room perfectly complement the dark wood, as does the sensational patchwork quilt, with a mini kimono design, made by Marlene.

Quilting is one of her hobbies and one of the spare bedrooms has been turned into her sewing room. It houses her vast collection of fabrics, many of them brought back from the Far East.

She is now a member of a local quilting group and Paul is using his business and professional skills to aid his work as a local councillor. The couple have slotted back into their old community, despite a long absence.

“It is a great village and we have rekindled old friendships,” says Marlene. “As much as we loved our last home in Japan, it wouldn’t have been possible for us to live there. Houses in Japan are very expensive and, unlike British property, they depreciate in value because the Japanese don’t like anything second-hand.”

Paul adds: “We have lots of good memories and we are surrounded by them, which is lovely. Almost everything in here has a story.”

Treske, handmade kitchens and furniture, Thirsk,