Life in full colour

An artist cou­ple has filled ev­ery floor of their 18th-cen­tury Spi­tal­fields home with vis­ual wit and warmth

The Observer Magazine - - Style - Words JO CRAVEN Pho­to­graphs AN­DREW FAR­RAR

Pop art per­vades the Lon­don home of artists Philip and Char­lotte Col­bert: a chair re­sem­bling an open shark’s mouth sits along­side iconic soup can de­signs and a fried-egg rug that Philip has made. The brightly coloured ob­jects and im­ages make a bold state­ment against the muted colours of the pan­elled walls.

This im­mac­u­lately re­stored pan­elling pre­vails through­out the ground and first floors of this Ge­or­gian home, lib­er­ally sprin­kled with art­works by the likes of Karel Ap­pel and Bob and Roberta Smith whose sign “Ve­nessa Bell is an Id­iot” hangs along­side Char­lotte’s re­cent video sculp­ture with Sue Til­ley (the famed sub­ject of Lu­cian Freud’s Ben­e­fits Su­per­vi­sor Sleep­ing paint­ing).

The other half of the dou­ble draw­ing room is dom­i­nated by a huge sawn-in-half, prim­i­tive-style paint­ing that they res­cued from a skip. The sense of fun con­tin­ues with a Keith Har­ing baby rocker and a shark pushchair from a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ma­claren. On one wall there’s a pro­jec­tor screen op­po­site a mod­u­lar sofa cov­ered with bright wo­ven throws. On movie nights they close the wooden shut­ters and light the fire.

Their street in Spi­tal­fields is typ­i­cal of this part of east Lon­don: on one side car parks and char­ac­ter­less of­fice blocks, on the other a tiny row of per­fectly re­stored 18th-cen­tury houses. “We used to live in Co­lum­bia Road but, as the fam­ily grew, we needed more space. We plan to stay here now,” says Char­lotte. “We love the area, it has such en­ergy. It cre­ates en­coun­ters.”

Char­lotte laughs as she re­calls the day they dis­cov­ered their new home was on the route of the lo­cal Jack the Rip­per tour. “I was in a hurry and dashed out the front door with my hair all over the place,” she says. “I col­lided with a group of tourists star­ing at me, their mouths dropped open. We had no idea. It was so spooky, but I’ve got over it now.”

It’s a two-minute walk from the house to the stu­dio where the cou­ple work side by side. Philip, just back from three shows in Asia, is work­ing on sev­eral 6m-wide can­vases for his up­com­ing Saatchi Gallery show. As in his pre­vi­ous works, the lob­ster is a re­cur­rent mo­tif and it also ap­pears as a printed logo on suits he makes for his la­bel, the Rod­nik Band.

In the other half of the stu­dio Char­lotte, a fine art pho­tog­ra­pher, ce­ram­i­cist and screen­writer, works on her lat­est flocked ce­ramic vases, along­side her video sculp­tures and an up­com­ing film project. The prox­im­ity of stu­dio and home was in­ten­tional as the Col­berts have two tod­dlers, so they wanted a short com­mute in or­der to get home as quickly as pos­si­ble at the end of the day.

Fam­ily life hap­pens mostly below stairs. On de­scend­ing the glass-screened stair­case into the open-plan base­ment,

‹ there’s a shift to the con­tem­po­rary. There’s a large white mod­ernist kitchen and liv­ing area, with an L-shaped sofa, a black­board wall and a sprin­kling of kids’ toys and books sit­ting along­side Char­lotte’s vases (in­spired by uterus shapes and body forms), and Philip’s pop art lob­ster and cac­tus-in­spired chairs. “The kids love the lob­sters,” says Char­lotte. “They’ve grown up with them.”

The most strik­ing fea­ture of the space is a green “liv­ing wall” that ex­tends across two floors, stretch­ing up to a glass roof that beams much­needed light into an oth­er­wise dark base­ment. “On bon­fire night, we could watch all the fire­works go­ing off in the neigh­bour­hood at close hand. It was quite ter­ri­fy­ing!” says Char­lotte.

Their art col­lec­tion ex­tends here, too, and there’s a cased sculp­ture by Nam June Paik – an artist who is an in­spi­ra­tion for Char­lotte’s work – next to a stun­ning Rose Wylie paint­ing bought years be­fore her re­cent re­nais­sance. A 12-seater white din­ing ta­ble (“We’re more likely to be drink­ing tea than host­ing din­ner par­ties,” says Char­lotte) is sur­rounded by more pot­ted plants – one bal­anced, at first glance, on an iconic Andy Warhol Brillo cube, but looks are de­cep­tive. “We made those our­selves. It has per­fect pro­por­tions for a plant stand,” says Philip.

The de­signer for the four-storey house, tasked with cre­at­ing a light, con­tem­po­rary space fit for fam­ily life while pre­serv­ing an 18th-cen­tury orig­i­nal, was lo­cal ar­chi­tect Chris Dyson. Up­stairs, the neu­tral back­drop of the wood pan­elling in the bed­rooms pro­vides a coun­ter­point to more con­tem­po­rary el­e­ments, such as the Takashi Mu­rakami flower cush­ions scat­tered on a bed, along­side a me­dieval re­li­gious sculp­ture that casts a shadow with a finger raised in bless­ing. Hand-painted lamp­shades through­out the house are by Claire de Quéne­tain, and above the bed is a framed pho­to­graph by Char­lotte, A Day at Home.

The pair have a long list of projects on the go. “I’ve been up since 5am for the last month fin­ish­ing a screen­play,” says Char­lotte, and she is also in talks with a Stoke-on-Trent pot­tery for her ceram­ics. “I need more time,” she says. “Philip is far bet­ter at spin­ning many plates than me,” she laughs. A sense of hu­mour cer­tainly comes in handy if you’re go­ing to live such a busy life. The same shared sense of hu­mour lights up ev­ery room of the Col­berts’ house. ■ Philip Col­bert’s New Paint­ings ex­hi­bi­tion opens at the Saatchi Gallery, Lon­don SW3 on 15 De­cem­ber (col­bert­stu­

‘We plan to stay here now. We love the area, it has such en­ergy. It cre­ates en­coun­ters’

Home is where the art is: (from left) Char­lotte and Philip Col­bert in front of the liv­ing green wall; and the front room com­plete with shark chair, car­pet by Philip and art­works, in­clud­ing Bob and Roberta Smith’s ‘Ve­nessa Bell is an Id­iot’

Art­ful liv­ing: (clock­wise from left) a Keith Har­ing baby rocker and shark pushchair; a cabi­net with one of Char­lotte’s vases; the cou­ple’s bed­room with Takashi Mu­rakami flower cush­ions and a me­dieval re­li­gious sculp­ture

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