Front of House
Do you have a phobia about terrace houses? The double-reception room crisis with that dead room at the back that you never quite know what do you with? Then there is the hallway dilemma. What to do with that narrow, windowless space sandwiched in the middle of a home.
For many city dwellers like myself, approaching the hallway of a traditional Victorian terrace sometimes seems like entering a tunnel. I visited an interior designer’s home last week and she had widened her hallway at the expense of the sitting room, but with its Purbeck flagstones it had the air of entering something grander. I guess structural changes are sensible if you have a blank canvas.
Adding a little bit of your own personality to hallways can hint at what’s to come and reveal the character of the owner. My husband goes straight to bookcases but I think the entrance can be just as telling.
Hanging decorative plasterwork in entrance halls is atmospheric, maps make for interesting walls and murals are entertaining. Ben Pentreath often uses maps in interiors and he chose a magnified version of Rocque's 1746 map of London for the staircase in Bridie Hall’s home, where guests may linger finding the field where their house now is.
Murals are a great source of incredible imagery. Surface View collect images as others collect stamps. It then uses sate-of-the art print technology to create wonderful pictures for a dramatic welcome and unique service for personal touch.
Alternative Flooring chose the ‘Greater Flamingo’ from a 19th century coloured engraving in Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’. I don’t know what this bird says about this cool brand, but it suggests a flamboyant character. It certainly brightens up this hallway with its cheery pink runner and cobalt blue console.
It’s time to refresh your hallways to celebrate the start of British Summer Time. If you’d like a chance to win a Fair Isle runner designed by Margo Selby for Alternative Flooring then pay a visit to their Facebook pages, where the competition runs from Wednesday 1 April and closes midnight Sunday 12 April. Good luck!
I live in the northern neighbourhood of Dezeen whose head quarters is a former doctor’s surgery in Stoke Newington, which is a stone’s throw away from a renovated mews that is now the Waddington Studios, where artists sit behind pre-rusted Corten steel panels and double-height windows.
Peter York wrote about the middle class home tour in the Sunday Times Home last weekend which ends with the soulless glass box-living that makes our eyes glaze over. I sort of feel the same way about the soulless artist studio. I don’t want to see another weathered steel clad artist’s studio angled on a hillside or a converted munitions warehouse where architects say the concept was to retain the character of the building – although I love Edmund de Waal so much I can forgive that last example.
I like smaller studios that bear the soul of the maker. Geoffrey Preston is the country’s leading stuccoist. I loved my visit to his whitewashed workshop in Exeter and his latest studio is housed in a charming farm building that lies outside Exeter, surrounded by the rolling green hills of the Perridge estate. Inside is a chalky sea of work in progress from small stucco flower reliefs to a wildly exuberant Rococo ceiling to gasp at.
Tennant & Tennant gild in a studio in the bare-faced beauty of the Scottish borders, Margo Selby hand weaves in Whitstable, Bridie Hall has a small Bloomsbury studio above the Pentreath & Hall shop.
To top it all Cox London (above) has its workshop in a most unlikely spot which proves that the best studios are not necessarily about the exterior or architecture but what goes on inside. In a unit of an industrial estate you’ll find a metal foundry, newly fired moulds, benches laden with decorative plasterwork, tins of wax polish and pots of brushes for gilding. It is a place pulsing with creativity where a team of craftsmen who sculpt, forge, shape and finish the beautiful and sculptural lighting and furniture designed by Christopher and Nicola Cox.
The Max Factor
Now I am not saying that Avington, Hampshire is to join the ranks of Bruton, Somerset hailed by some as the hippest place in Britain. The new Notting Hill no less, although one is more than enough for me.
One reason that Bruton is the talk of the towns is Hauser & Wirth, an international art gallery housed in a converted dairy owned by the new locals Swiss art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth. The other reason is London restaurateur Catherine Butler who has opened The Chapel, an upmarket restaurant and bakery on the high street. Topped with a congregation of high-profile residents and you have the ingredients to make this Saxon town a smart success.
But back to Avington’s best-kept secret, the newly opened Max Rollitt showroom, which has the most charming address – Yavington Barn, Lovington Lane. This renovated barn is a special space where antique and bespoke pieces are arranged beautifully and given room to breathe.
Max Rollitt is a rare hybrid – interior designer, antiques dealer and furniture maker. He reminds me of dealer-decorator Robert Kime whose shop is also tucked away – a destination or place to be discovered.
‘I couldn't work the way I do if I didn't have a shop. Geoffrey Bennison taught me that you need to be a dealer to be a decorator. It's another interest, cross-fertilization. It's not that I depend on stock, but it does mean that people bring things to me. An entire room could begin with an atmospheric carpet or fabric or object. It feeds something in.’
Yavington Barn is a destination for leading interiors designers and top dealers. It also draws those who just want to buy a few eclectic and eloquent antiques for their home. Max is blessed with a good eye and visitors want to buy into his vision.
If Max Rollitt takes the stress out of decoration, then his wife’s adjoining barn is a retreat that is designed to relieve tension. Jane Watson is a qualified Feldenkrais practitioner and she offers classes and revitalise days in the Yavington studio.
Strikes me, we have the beginnings of a mini and more mindful Bruton.