An Open Secret

In the first of a regular Tees Life series, Richard and Sam Bendelow show us around their beautiful home in Kirklevington – complete with a bar, retro gaming room, cinema room and even a secret door…

Looks can be deceiving. As you approach Richard and Sam Bendelow’s home through the winding Kirklevington road, it’s hard to imagine the wonders inside.

But the simple brick exterior to the large 20-year-old house hides a stunning interior crafted with love – and money – since they purchased it two years ago.

Three years ago a management buyout saw Richard end his long association with Visualsoft, the Teesside web firm he’d built from scratch with fellow director Dean Benson over 20 years.

Having “retired” at the age of 41, Richard and wife Sam looked for and discovered their “forever home”.

The additional funds in the bank account created the opportunity to not only buy the house but stay in their former home in Yarm while extensive renovations were carried out over a six-month period.

Richard says: “The couple we bought the house off quite cleverly built and designed it so that the front of the house, facing the road, is where all the utilities are, but all the main rooms face out onto the fantastic view.”

And the view really is worth looking at. To the rolling Cleveland Hills in the far distance, the vista takes in only green fields and sheep.

With the support of brother Michael and nephew Liam, Richard spent much of his new-found spare time transforming the house into a home, with Thirsk firm Treske carrying out the skilled installation of oak décor throughout.

“We were fortunate that we didn’t have to sell our old house, as this was a building site for six months,” admits Richard. “Michael and Liam did the majority of the graft with me – knocking balls out, taking it back to the brickwork, re-plastering and decorating it all.

“We didn’t want it oldy world, nor modern – so we went for oak to give it a contemporary feel. That’s where Treske came in to create the classic look.”

Now the couple love what they readily agree is their dream home. It’s striking interior is full of personal quirks, designed in detail to suit their own personal taste.

The large, open plan kitchen, dining room and snug provide a wonderful communal feel to their main living area, while their utility room Richard admits is the size of some people’s kitchen.

Next on our tour is Richard’s office, surrounded on three sides with oak bookcases – filled, not with books, but with thousands of blu-ray DVDs. Richard’s collection – one of several collections, as we will discover – included several limited editions in steel cases, unopened and sealed.

But the room’s best feature – inspired by Scooby Doo cartoons – is one that’s hardest to spot. Touch what looks like a book called The Secret Room and there’s a click as a bolt releases. A touch of the shelf and a bookcase transforms into a door, opening into a previously hidden personal gym.

On the first floor, extensive work has created a stunning main bedroom, featuring a walk-in wardrobe that was converted from a bedroom and six-metre long en suite bath and shower room. And there’s a view to die for across the fields, with a small step up taking you onto what was once an external balcony but now features an incredible arched window.

But the truly personal touches – and Richard’s favourite rooms – are reserved for the top floor. That’s where you’ll find his games room featuring an eye-watering collection of retro games consoles, computers and arcade machines.

Lining a table along the full length of the room are classic computers including an Atari, ZX81, Toshiba, Acorn Electron and a Commodore Vic-20 similar to the one that inspired the career in which Richard would make his fortune.

He explains: “When I was about 10 my cousin gave me a Vic-20 to play computer games on, but it didn’t have a tape drive. So I had to write the games out in Basic. When you finished, you’d press ‘run’ and it might say ‘Syntax error on line 40’ and you’d have to work out what you’d done wrong.

“That’s how I learned to programme. If he’d given me a tape drive, my whole life might have been different.”

But this museum to computer gaming history isn’t Richard’s favourite room. That accolade belongs to the space next door – the cinema room.

Formerly the home of their son Callum – now studying at university – this is an air-conditioned room with the true wow factor. It features a 120-inch acoustically transparent screen specially woven to allow sound through it from the huge sub-woofer and massive speakers that sit behind it.

The audio-visual experience of a fully Dolby Atmos surround sound system – supplied by local firm Wakefields – is further enhanced by two side speakers and two more at the rear – and completed by acoustic panelling on the walls and ceiling, low lighting and a settee that cries out to be lounged on.

An interior designer quoted £10,000 for the acoustic panels alone – Richard and friend Gav Dawson made and installed them instead for just £800 – while he admits the speakers “were a fortune!”

Outside in the garden, there’s the surprise of a large wooden fort – built specially for the visits of grandson, Noah – and a summerhouse complete with its own fully stocked bar, pool table, retro NeoGeo arcade machine, TV area and external decking and patio.

It’s the perfect place for the popular family parties and barbecues the Bendelows regularly host.

Unsurprisingly, Richard and Sam are incredibly happy in their home.

Richard adds: “I’ve spent 50% more on the house on top of what I paid for it. People ask me ‘Do you think you’ll get that back?’ but we didn’t buy the house as an investment, we bought it as our home. I’ll never get hardly any of it back in money but I will in enjoyment.”