Open House: urban gardening and plant-filled interiors at ceramicist Kate Griffin's north London home
Our ‘Open House’ series takes us for a nose around the homes of owners who are selling their spaces via The Modern House. Here, we talk to ceramicist and publisher Kate Griffin about urban gardening in her plant-filled north London home.
“I think I have been here for about 22 years. It hasn’t always been the same; it was a complete dump when I first saw it. You couldn’t even get into most of the rooms because the doors didn’t open.
“It was just awful – one of my daughters wouldn’t even come inside. She was nine or ten years old, and I remember her saying: ‘Mum, how could you buy a place with such a disgusting-coloured front door?’
“But it was big, and I was sick of living in a small flat in Stoke Newington. My two daughters didn’t have their own bedrooms, so it was time to move on.
“We had to have everything redone. I remember not having enough money left to paint it when the work was done, so my builder kindly filled up a big metal rubbish bin with paint and managed to give each wall two coats in one weekend.
“And it’s just evolved from then on. About eight years ago I had to have the house underpinned, so I thought that I should make any changes I wanted to do then, because I had decided to stay here for life.
“I extended the downstairs, so I could live there, converted the upstairs into a flat, insulated all the walls, had new floors laid, had new windows made to match the originals but with double glazing and sound-insulated the ceilings. I really went for it!
“I had a lovely garden before, but it was destroyed during the work. I didn’t want to spend another 12 years working on a new one, so I decided to get someone to help me.
“I wrote a letter to landscape designer Todd Longstaffe-Gowan and he happened to like it. I didn’t really know who he was, I think I had just seen a garden of his I liked.
“He came along and turned out to be very famous and expensive. I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford him and then he said, ‘Just pay my wine bill.’ I thought it would be really uncool to ask him how much that would be, but it turned out to not be too much.
“I finished all the work in two years and thought, ‘Right, that’s it, I don’t have to move or do any more work ever again. I can just sit pretty.’ I didn’t expect to fall in love at this stage in my life; mostly because I’m very fussy.
“I’m moving into my partner’s place. It’s hard living between two places and it’s certainly a bit unsettling for my pottery, which I started when I retired from working in publishing full-time. I didn’t think I was creative or artistic at all, and then I did a week-long course with Sandy Brown in Devon and I was unleashed!
“Christophe, my partner, is building me a studio more than two-and-a-half times bigger than my one now, which is hard to resist. He’s also letting me do up the basement flat, so I’ll have my own space.
“It will be fun to find a balance between our two styles. We overlap a lot, but he’s a bit more severe than me; he wouldn’t cover his Le Corbusier chaise lounge in floral linen.
“I’ll miss the neighbourhood. It’s very eclectic around here; there are Orthodox Jewish, West Indian, Bangladeshi and Indian communities, with a bit of slow gentrification.
“There are a lot of lefties, and a do-goody group of us called the East/West Bank Action Group. We look after the nature reserve opposite the house, which acts as a green corridor for 48 different types of birds and stretches down to Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington. We’ve really turned it around.”
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