Ye olde DIY

A group of ar­ti­sans ren­o­vate a house us­ing Vic­to­rian tech­niques in an en­light­en­ing new se­ries

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jenny John­ston The Vic­to­rian House Of Arts And Crafts, Fri­day, 9pm, BBC2.

Telly peo­ple do love go­ing back in time. We’ve had shows with folk eat­ing sheep’s heads, oth­ers where their homes are dec­o­rated in For­ties style, and le­gions of corsets as part of the ‘fun’.

Now we have The Vic­to­rian House Of Arts And Crafts, which prises six modern- day ar­ti­sans from their iPads and chal­lenges them to de­sign things the way the Vic­to­ri­ans did. Not only will they have to dec­o­rate a man­sion in the Welsh Hills, but they will have to live there for the du­ra­tion, ad­her­ing to the prin­ci­ples set down by pi­o­neers of the Arts And Crafts move­ment such as Wil­liam Mor­ris, John Ruskin and Gertrude Jekyll.

These artists re­jected the in­dus­trial ad­vances that swept Britain in the late 19th cen­tury, and be­lieved that fac­tory-based man­u­fac­tur­ing, with its em­pha­sis on speed and ma­chin­ery, was counter- pro­duc­tive. They pushed for a re­turn to more tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing meth­ods, and com­mu­nal liv­ing was seen as a way of en­cour­ag­ing artists to share ex­per­tise and ethos.

Every week our modern ar­ti­sans are chal­lenged to dec­o­rate a par­tic­u­lar room, pulling to­gether to make, from scratch, ob­jects like a chair, a bed­side clock and a weather vane – watched over by pre­sen­ter Anita Rani, ce­ram­i­cist Keith Brymer Jones and Arts And Crafts ex­pert Patch Rogers. The ar­ti­sans can­not Google their de­signs, ob­vi­ously, or pop to B&Q when they’ve run out of sup­plies. Power tools are most def­i­nitely banned.

Liver­pool- based prod­uct de­signer Ilsa Parry de­signs eve- ry­thing from lamps to walk­ing aids. And the first thing she does at her work­shop is turn on the com­puter. For her, tak­ing part was about see­ing how she would func­tion with­out the de­sign ‘trap­pings’.

‘Any piece starts with a note­book,’ she says. ‘I write down what I’m try­ing to achieve. But the next stage is in­vari­ably com- puter- aided. This wasn’t an op­tion here and it tested us all.’ Ilsa is charged with de­sign­ing and print­ing a Wil­liam Mor­ris­style wall­pa­per. ‘It took me 22 hours to do some­thing that would be done in min­utes on the com­puter. Some­one had to phys­i­cally make the print­ing blocks. There was no time to tweak things. I found that re­ally dif­fi­cult.’

It’s an en­light­en­ing show – not least be­cause the group find them­selves work­ing in the dark. ‘That was one of the big ad­just­ments,’ ad­mits fur­ni­ture­maker Ab­dol­lah Nafisi, who runs his own com­pany in Hor­sham, West Sus­sex. ‘In my work­shop I start at 9am, and keep go­ing un­til when­ever I want. Here, once the light started go­ing, that was it. I had to start at 5am. If I waited till 9am, I’d have lost four hours of the day. I got into a rou­tine of see­ing the sun­rise, mak­ing a fire.’ Oh yes, with­out cen­tral heat­ing, it was often freez­ing. ‘But you re­alised that if you worked hard you’d get warm. Once you’d made that shift, it made the work more en­joy­able.’ It wasn’t the only ad­just­ment. At his work­shop Ab­dol­lah can spend four months work­ing on a be­spoke piece. In the house, he has to select his ma­te­ri­als the way the Vic­to­ri­ans would have.

‘I go to my wood sup­plier and they have the wood sawn and ready. I choose the grain.’ In the show, Ab­dol­lah is stunned to take de­liv­ery of a large tree. It is up to him to do the rest – and he can’t just plug in a power saw.

‘The worst part was the fin­ish­ing,’ he ad­mits. ‘It all had to be done by hand, which is la­bo­ri­ous. I knew I wouldn’t man­age alone, so I had to call the oth­ers in to help me. It was fas­ci­nat­ing. When you use a hand-plane you get into the rhythm of it. You see the wood shav­ings com­ing off and every one is dif­fer­ent. By the end, fun­nily, you don’t want to stop.’

But would he want to work like this all the time? ‘I love the modern age. I would have loved to see Wil­liam Mor­ris us­ing In­sta­gram. But it made me think about get­ting that bal­ance in my work. The fo­cus was ex­tra­or­di­nary. There were no dis­trac­tions, no phones ring­ing. We got a lot done.’

It is the com­mu­nal ‘life­style’ that seems to test the par­tic­i­pants most. In the kitchen, Ilsa de­cides Arts And Crafts life is not for her when she has to pre­pare pig’s trot­ters for cook­ing by shav­ing hair from them and scrap­ing fat from the claws. ‘It was dis­gust­ing,’ she says. ‘I wanted to be sick.’

It was one skillset she reck­ons is best con­signed to his­tory.

Host Anita Rani, cen­tre, with the par­tic­i­pants and ex­perts on The Vic­to­rian House Of Arts And Crafts

Ilsa Parry has a go at hand-print­ing wall­pa­per

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