My Modern House: Photographer Jonathan Root’s retro interiors in a converted piano factory in Camden
My Modern House
Jonathan: “My mum was an editor at House & Garden magazine during the 1950s, and both my parents were antique dealers, so I suppose that prompted me to start collecting. The retro interiors here are the result of a lot of time spent on eBay!
“I’m a photographer by trade. I did an Art foundation before studying photography and fell in love with the darkroom; the magic of it. I moved to London and started out assisting a few photographers.
“I don’t shoot much these days – doing up my house has been a full-time job – but I’ve shot people like the designer Philippe Starck on his ghost chair, the Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, David Hockney, Nicky Haslam and Gilbert and George.
“When I started photographing designers, architects and artists I became more aware of, and interested in, mid-century design, so I started buying pieces.
“There’s a mix of contemporary and mid-century here, which I think works well. Some of my favourite pieces include the first edition Eames lounger, the 1965 Egg chair and the mahogany Ladderax system.
“Cameras are great too; they’re beautiful. I think one of my cameras was designed by the same guy who designed the green De Tomaso Mangusta sports car that I used to have. I love that when you start looking into design, it’s all connected.
“There are some older objects too. I’ve got a lobster-tailed pot helmet from the Civil War. The shape of it is so modern. Ideas of Modernism has been around for a long, long time; it’s not something that is 50 or 100 years old.
“This building used to be part of the Chappell Piano factory, which was the largest in Europe. The original Victorian factory is opposite, and I helped save it from being knocked down. It’s now on a list of important industrial buildings in Camden.
“I bought this place in 1996. The sculptor Tim Scott was here before me. Downstairs was his studio and the space above was going to be a gallery, but it was never finished.
“It was repossessed when I bought it, with a ladder for a staircase. There was no water or gas and I had to add a heavy steel door because it was pretty dodgy around here.
“Then, five or six years ago the roof was leaking, and I knew I’d have to knock it down to build up. I’ve really enjoyed the process of doing it, and working with Friend and Company was great.
“All of what I’ve done here is about finding stuff and reusing it. I really like meeting people that I buy and sell from. I’ve met some interesting people from eBay.
“The staircase is an up-cycled industrial one that I painted myself over the summer. It’s had 10 coats of paint and it’s still not quite finished, at least to me. I blame modern paint: they’ve removed all the lead and chemicals – it’s like water!
“The idea for the upstairs extension was for it to resemble a lightbox. We used polycarbonate panelling, which I love for its Japanese feel. It’s amazing when it’s lit up at night.
“The stairs lead up to a rooftop. I’m a tenor in the Primrose Hill choir and last summer I had 30 other members up there. I didn’t manage to convince them to sing, but this summer I will.”
Jonathan, how do you define modern living?
“Modern living is all about freedom: freedom to express yourself, freedom to alter and rearrange your home to suit how you want to entertain, and freedom to display beautiful objects to express your individuality.
“To do this you need a space that is adaptable and reconfigurable and, ultimately, only a modern, open-plan home gives you this.”
If you were to move, what would be the first thing you’d take with you?
“My mother’s rocking chair she acquired during her editing days. It’s not worth much, but my sister and I keep nicking it off each other. Last time I got it, I had it reupholstered.”