My Modern House: Flow Gallery owner Yvonna Demczynska on contemporary ceramics and city life at her live/work home in Notting Hill
“I’ve had Flow Gallery since 1999, and it became my live/work home in 2014, when I sold my Victorian house in Shepherd’s Bush and converted part of the gallery into a contemporary flat.
“I was brought up in Poland under Communism. Both my parents appreciated craft, so they commissioned everything for our home from makers because you couldn’t buy what they were after in the shops.
“We had things like handmade furniture and rugs, and my mother would go to Bohemia and East Germany for beautiful lighting. She was a dentist but was also really interested in design – something I inherited from her, I think.
“I worked to promote British craft abroad for the Design Council for a number of years. I travelled to Japan quite a lot, doing trade shows. When I left the Design Council, I ended up working for a Japanese design guru whose greatest dream was to bring the Conran shop to Japan, which I helped him to do.
“I think my aesthetic and what I’m interested in is influenced by those days. When I started Flow, there wasn’t really anywhere showing contemporary craftwork from abroad in London. Celebrating overseas makers has always been the brief here.
“So, we have a lot of Japanese and Scandinavian makers whose work is clean and understated. I like handmade objects that have imperfections, and we sell very few sculptural ceramics – I like pieces to be useful. And, I only ever show pieces that I like.
“The gallery used to be a big, open white space, and everything was displayed on big white plinths.
“After doing that for 15 years I thought it was time for a change, so I decided to turn half of the gallery into a flat.
“Coming from a large Victorian house with original features and fireplaces, the size and contemporary feel of this flat was initially quite a shock!
“I love it now and am really happy it. It’s so easy to live in and the quality of light is amazing. I think John was great at introducing light from both sides and the open well by the staircase is much more interesting than just having windows.
“An open-plan arrangement is something that I’ve always wanted. Cooking is a great interest of mine, and I love being able to talk to friends while I make dinner – they even help out now!
“It’s a great space for entertaining, which I do a fair bit of. I started a book club for collectors at Flow, who have all become friends. Initially, we were going to only read art and design books, but now we cover everything.
“Not many people have direct access to their workspace like I do. It’s a blessing in one way, but it means it can be hard to switch off. I tend to do a lot of work in the evening, often sending emails at midnight after having been out.
“I have a door that separates the flat from the gallery, which I close to watch TV, read or listen to music, which I really like, especially jazz and baroque.
“Every day here is different and exciting, though. We have a varied mix of interesting people coming to the gallery, from loyal collectors to new customers and young people who have found out about us via Instagram.
“I do miss sitting by the fireplace at my old house. I asked John if I could have one here and he said no! There wasn’t enough space, unfortunately.
“But I have a place in Wales for that. It was a really ugly bungalow in Pembrokeshire, which Niall Maxwell of Rural Office for Architecture converted into a contemporary, Scandinavian-looking cabin clad in larch.
“I love the contrast of city and country life. When I’m in London I go out almost every night to the opera, theatre, ballet or cinema, and I work a lot. It’s great to be able to hop on a bus and be in town or go cycling through the parks.
“Every other weekend I leave on a Friday and go to Wales, where I recharge my batteries, do a lot of gardening and enjoy the fresh air. I go on long walks along the beach, which is why I got Bertie, my miniature dachshund.
“Then, after a few nights, I get in the car and really look forward to coming back to London. Being away from the gallery for a few days means I’m excited when I come back, which is really important. You have to have a passion for this kind of work. I love what I do and couldn’t think of doing anything else.”
Yvonna, how do you define modern living?
“When your home provides peace from the busyness of urban living and allows you to surround yourself with cherished and meaningful objects.”
If you were to move, what would be the first thing you’d take with you?
“A glass table with cream leather-clad chairs that fit under the top, designed by Merrow Associates. It was the first piece of furniture that my mother bought from Heal’s in 1971, together with a rosewood Danish sideboard with brass handles, when we arrived in England having left everything behind in Poland. It holds a lot of memories for me.”