Artists in res­i­dence

Over­flow­ing with cre­ativ­ity and dec­o­rated in a vi­brant rain­bow of paints, Vanessa Ar­buth­nott’s country home and gar­den is the in­spi­ra­tional back­drop for her dis­tinc­tive tex­tile de­signs

Period Living - - Contents - Words Karen Dar­low | Styling Pippa Blenk­in­sop | Pho­to­graphs Brent Darby

As vi­brant and dec­o­ra­tive as her beau­ti­ful fab­rics, Vanessa Ar­buth­nott’s Cotswold home is alive with cre­ative en­ergy

The kitchen is cre­ated from a mix­ture of old shelves and dresser bases found at auc­tion and painted; Vanessa added dec­o­ra­tive scrolls to the wall cup­boards to unify them. The work­tops around the Ever­hot range are slate from an old bil­liard ta­ble. Vanessa up­hol­stered Ikea’s Nord­myra din­ing chairs in her own Pretty Maids fab­ric in Lime. The table­cloth is an In­dian hand-block printed de­sign from nearby Abbey Home Farm. On the easel is a still life by Rose Ar­buth­nott. The strik­ing or­ange wall paint is Lit­tle Greene’s Marigold

Scorch­ing shades of tan­ger­ine and hot pink, rich mossy greens, ce­les­tial blues and moody char­coals - these are the colours of Vanessa Ar­buth­nott’s pal­ette. They are the tones she favours for her dis­tinc­tive tex­tiles and for the dé­cor and fur­nish­ings of the con­verted cow byre that has been the fam­ily home for 25 years. Step­ping into Vanessa’s kitchen, vis­i­tors are cos­seted by cosy or­ange walls, the warmth of the range cooker and, at the far end of the room, hud­dled among comfy so­fas and plump cush­ions, the glow of a wood-burn­ing stove. It’s a scene crowded with sculp­tures, pic­tures and fam­ily trea­sures, while near the French win­dows, a still life on easel cap­tures the rem­nants of au­tumn sun.

This eclec­tic do­mes­tic scene, burst­ing with pat­tern and cre­ativ­ity, brings to mind the fa­mous Blooms­bury Artists’ painted in­te­ri­ors. Yet these Vic­to­rian farm build­ings haven’t al­ways felt quite so idyl­li­cally homely. ‘We bought the prop­erty 25 years ago when the cows had just left. It was an open u-shaped build­ing with a cor­ru­gated iron roof and a Dutch barn for an­i­mal feed,’ ex­plains Vanessa. It took six months to make just a sec­tion of the prop­erty hab­it­able enough to move in.

‘There were no doors or skirt­ing boards, and the chil­dren slept on mat­tresses on the floor,’ re­calls Vanessa. But slowly, she and Ni­cholas be­gan to trans­form their home around the fam­ily, paint­ing walls and hang­ing doors as they went, although with­out any over­all de­fined plan for the build­ings or their even­tual pur­pose. ‘When you’ve got four chil­dren, all un­der six years of age, it’s like the sur­vival of the fittest,’ says Vanessa, although she charts her pas­sion for in­te­ri­ors back to those early days in the prop­erty. ‘It was the first time that I be­came in­ter­ested in in­te­rior de­sign – a bit like hav­ing your first gar­den – it was re­ally fun to start dis­cov­er­ing what my style was,’ she adds.

Vanessa and Ni­cholas agreed on one key area of style: they both like painted wood­work. ‘We didn’t re­ally like the colour brown at all. In ret­ro­spect, I think we should have left the oak beams above the wood­burn­ers un­painted… But no, we painted ev­ery­thing!’ Up­stairs un­der the eaves, where all the bed­rooms are, the paint­ing trans­for­ma­tion was some­what slowed down by the need to con­ceal the thick blue in­su­la­tion be­tween the rafters with wall­pa­per, be­fore cov­er­ing it over with white paint. The chil­dren chose the wall colours for their own rooms – from a care­fully col­lated se­lec­tion!

On a lim­ited bud­get, the cou­ple cov­ered the chip­board bed­room floors with huge worn rugs for £50 or £60 pounds apiece from the auc­tion rooms in Wot­ton-un­der-edge. ‘Ini­tially all the fur­ni­ture was old bar­gain buys that we’ve grad­u­ally re­placed with bet­ter pieces,’ says Vanessa. ‘In fact, it wasn’t un­til 2010, when I started to de­sign and sell so­fas for the busi­ness that I had a new one of my own.’

Two years ago, Vanessa and Ni­cholas con­verted a stu­dio space at the back of the prop­erty into a con­tem­po­rary liv­ing room. The new space has full-height glazed doors on two sides, through which they can en­joy the yew arch and lime av­enue that Ni­cholas planted some years ago.

The lat­est up­date is the down­stairs bath­room, re­fit­ted and re­dec­o­rated in a mix of coastal blues, in­clud­ing a fab­ric de­signed by Ni­cholas.

Just as the prop­erty, fur­nish­ings and ac­ces­sories have been added to over the years, so Vanessa’s tex­tile de­signs are fre­quently re­freshed with new tech­niques – whether this is the Ja­panese art of Shi­bori, or the cut paper tech­nique she ex­plored at a work­shop on de­signer Lu­ci­enne Day, which in­spired this sea­son’s cut de­signs. ‘I like to learn dif­fer­ent skills as it sets you off in a new di­rec­tion,’ she ex­plains. ‘Oth­er­wise it’s just my hand, do­ing the same style of draw­ing. When I’m ready to start new de­signs I’ll set up a ta­ble in the kitchen and pin things up, or I’ll work in the stu­dio. But I al­ways draw in pen­cil on trac­ing paper. Other than that, noth­ing in my life is rit­ual or pre­dictable.’

One con­stant, though, is the pres­ence of artis­tic tal­ent – from the Ar­buth­nott fam­ily and from the artists and crafts­peo­ple who use the stu­dios op­po­site the home. Many of them run work­shops at Vanessa Ar­buth­nott’s show­room in Cirences­ter, in­clud­ing com­mu­nity projects for refugees, and art ther­apy for the el­derly and peo­ple in need. ‘That’s where my real pas­sion lies,’ says Vanessa. ‘I love these sorts of projects, and I miss be­ing in­volved in them di­rectly, but now with the art space at the show­room I feel I can give some­thing back.’

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