ARTIST IN RESIDENCE When a sculptor restored a weavers’ workplace in Lyon, her creative talent proved useful
Sculptor Isabelle Healy used her creative skills when she restored a former silk weaver’s workplace
For sculptor Isabelle Healy, moving to Lyon from Saint-etienne, some 30 miles away, with her husband Oliver, heralded a new creative chapter in her life. This creaky, 19th-century building in historic Croix-rousse, once whirred and clanked to the sound of looms worked by Canuts – silk weavers – but now exudes a deep sense of calm. ‘I love the fact that, 200 years later, I live and work in the same place as those craftspeople, making objects that also use age-old skills,’ she says.
The house, which has outbuildings that Isabelle has converted into her art studio, dates from 1842. ‘At that time, the city of Lyon was a prosperous centre of silk-making,’ explains Isabelle. ‘This felt like a good omen, as my husband comes from a family that has made luxury silk ribbons and other decorative trimmings for several generations.’
Although the building had, at some point, been divided into two apartments, vestiges of its working past still remained. ‘The sitting room ceiling is wonderfully high – over 13ft – because this was where the large looms would have been placed,’ Isabelle explains.
The couple decided to renovate the property, adding new touches but also bringing out its sense of heritage. The centrepiece is the spiral staircase in the sitting room. ‘It dates from when the house was built and makes a complete turn, which is very rare,’ Isabelle explains. ‘It had been neglected for years, but our carpenter carefully sanded the steps to return them to the original oak, revealing its hidden beauty.’ Similarly, plasterboard panels on the ceiling were
design advice‘ If you have an old property, research its history before renovating so you can restore features in keeping with the period’
removed to expose the beams, while the concrete screed floor was replaced with reclaimed boards. The result is a stunning sitting room with a cocooning, calm and cultured feel.
‘I think that a home should reflect the lives and interests of the people who inhabit it,’ says Isabelle, gesturing to book shelves that contain volumes on literature, art history and sculpting, all of which the couple has amassed over their years together. To display these, Isabelle designed the library shelving and had it made by a local carpenter. ‘My aim was to recreate the atmosphere of a classic gentleman’s club from the past and the libraries of the great historic universities.’
However, there is no hint of stuffiness about this artistic bibliophile’s setting. Throughout the house, Isabelle has included contemporary design touches to keep things feeling fresh. She likes to add Mid-century pieces, so she has iconic Scandi chairs by Hay in the kitchen and an elegant 1950s hairpin armchair in the sitting room, which are partnered with modern coffee and dining tables with angular shapes.
Then there is the half-glazed wall separating two rooms, with glass set into decisive, black rectangles – a nod to the style of the local bistros. The couple mostly eat in the kitchen, which is decorated in ivory to complement a classic French Lacanche range cooker, but in summer, they entertain outside, under a wisteria-draped pergola.
Throughout the house is evidence of Isabelle’s creative skills, from her interior design style to her art and sculptures. This is a home the silk weavers who once worked here would love and understand, just as much as its new owner does.
KITCHEN- DINER Isabelle designed the oak table and pendant light, and had them made by local artisans. Moooi long pendant, £590, is similar; hay AAC22 chairs, £199 each, both utility
BATHROOM The towel rail makes a handy jewellery stand. edinburgh mirror, £660, Neptune, is a good match
MASTER BEDROOM The wardrobe was designed using reclaimed, traditional louvred doors. Z1 pendant light, £325, Ay Illuminate at Ines Cole