Norfolk home: Former Victorian school in Matlaske
PUBLISHED: 16:50 23 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:50 23 March 2020
It’s a special house in a special place, as Tony Hall discovered
Driving around the lanes and byways of Norfolk I sometimes see something that makes me very curious. In this instance it is a Victorian former school, of the type usually more associated with a market town.
My interest was aroused as it is situated in rolling countryside, with not a house or village in sight; a strange location, situated on a triangle of byways. I have passed by several times over the years, and was, after a wait of several years, pleased to take a call from Mark Norton.
He and his wife Kalina, with daughters Scarlet and Poppy, bought an end section of this Victorian building in July 2018 to use as a holiday home. They have completely updated the interior and gardens, turning it into a modern stylish home, and invited me to visit them. At last my curiosity was to be sated.
“This Victorian school was built in 1876 to serve three villages, Matlaske, Barningham and Plumstead Green,” says Mark. “So it was sited here to be approximately equal distance from each. It had three large classrooms and closed in 1961, when it then became the village hall until the 1980s. It was then converted into three dwellings.
“Some people refer to here as ‘The Bermuda Triangle of Norfolk’,” says Mark. “The intersection of the lanes forms this triangular site and our garden is triangular. We get lots of light from the large triangular gable window. We live in London in a triangular house, created by the shape of bordering roads.”
Mark is a Norfolk boy, born and raised in Morley near Wymondham. His parents were teachers and in the early 1950s helped set up Wymondham College. “The school was set on an old US Air Force hospital site and I was born in a Nissen hut. I went to school at Morley village primary, which this school so much reminds me of,” says Mark.
“Running around the main room are the original wooden slats that pupils pinned their pictures to. The step from here to what is now the kitchen is again original, worn down by countless young feet. Kalina and I particularly liked the old fireplace, unchanged since the building was a school.”
Mark then went to Norwich School, then to Great Yarmouth College of Art and The Central School of Art in London. In 1983 he set up his own business, now called Thinkfarm, a strategic branding and creative consultancy.
“I often create the name for a business or product, grow the name through visual identity, create films and stories, produce advertising, signage and television commercials. Certainly being able to draw and have a keen eye have helped enormously,” says Mark, whose clients include Nex, O2, Banking Circle and Magic Radio.
He has also been involved with rock bands and concert promotion, including work for The Rolling Stones, the 2007 Led Zeppelin concert and the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley.
Kalina, from Buckinghamshire, went to Brunel University to study art and design. After a period working for Mark, she now runs her own book design business, Studio Kalinka. Kalina also knew Norfolk, having stayed with friends at Wells-next-the-Sea on numerous occasions.
“It was the beautiful location and countryside, coupled with such a lovely period building that attracted us immediately,” recalls Kalina. “We had looked at two other places, but wanted a project to put our identity on.
“We have been coming up most weekends to do hands-on work, together with local tradespeople, which is why it has taken a year. As a colourist, I worked out the paint scheme and sourced some furniture. It’s a family home, so we didn’t want it to be precious.
The brief was to have a ‘time out place’, which would be fun to be in.”
As you can imagine for two highly creative people the end results are impressive. Large pieces of artwork adorn the walls and the furniture is a well-chosen mixture of retro and modern. Some older furniture and paintings came from Mark’s mum, a teacher with a keen eye herself, who sadly died before they bought this school.
There are modem items too, such as the gold design sideboard and furniture in the master bedroom, a very eclectic mix.
“We love being totally surrounded by nature,” adds Kalina, “the big school windows bring the views and fields right in. Our village neighbours have been fantastic, very friendly and helpful, with things going on such as quizzes and a Christmas party.
“We love the surrounding walks and are getting into the rural life. The crop rotations, sheep and pheasants in surrounding field. It is a very positive and uplifting experience.”
“As a keen cyclist, I am remembering and re-discovering much of the surrounding area,” says Mark. “We are only five miles from the coast, but delight in this undiscovered backwater. There is a great village shop at Itteringham, community run, with a cafe; ideal for cyclists. I often love doing a Sunday ride with my friend David from Matlaske and enjoy the lanes with wonderful views.
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“We have both found a new pleasure in gardening and have re-configured ours with the addition of a raised pergola area and the discovery of old brick pathways.”
“The sunsets are magical. Norfolk’s vast skies, ever changing, are always captivating. It’s just a great place to be,” adds Kalina.
The Old School House, Matlaske, is available for holiday lettings. Contact Norfolk Cottages, norfolkcottages.co.uk 01263 715799
Owners: Mark and Kalina Norton with daughters Scarlet, 17, and Poppy, 14.
Property: Part of a Victorian school.
Location: Near Matlaske, north Norfolk.
Bought: July 2018.
Professions: Mark is a partner in his company Thinkfarm; Kalina runs her own company, Studio Kalinka.
Favourite room: Both the living/ dining room as it is the hub, plus the kitchen with sweeping views and sunsets.
Favourite item: The three large school windows in main room. The light is amazing.
Favourite interiors shop: In Norwich; The Granary, particularly for the mid 20th century retro look.
Favourite other local shop: Itteringham village shop/cafe, community run. Also Stiffkey Gift Shop.
Favourite part of the county: Here, without doubt, a forgottenback water.
Favourite day out: Nearby Mannington Hall gardens and further away, Wells and Holkham.
Favourite waste of time: Mark says having a Norfolk Gin with tonic in the garden pergola, plus cycling the lanes. Kalina says, country walks.
Favourite walk: Letheringsett and the Glaven Valley, together with Salthouse to Cley, coastal path.
Favourite pub: We are spoilt with two nearby. The Gunton Arms and The Walpole.
Favourite cafe or restaurant: Rocky Bottom Seafood Cafe.
Hobbies: Besides cycling for Mark and walks for Kalina, both are really getting into gardening, transforming what was just a patch of grass into something special.