Home is where the art is

Furnish your home with just your own creations? Sounds like the work of an egomaniac. Not so, says Cayte Williams. She met Simon Packard, a man who puts a new spin on the term artist in residence
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Simon Packard is an artist and lecturer who has proudly furnished his little cottage in the Gloucestershire countryside with all his own work. A visit to his house didn't sound like an interesting prospect, but rather than finding a pretentious character living in an ego-driven art gallery, I found a charming man surrounded by a wonderful jumble of intricate paintwork, prints, ceramics and metalwork.

The cottage, which he shares with his girlfriend, two cats and four dogs, is in a pretty row, and more likely to be home to Laura Ashley furnishings than a riot of own-made colour. "I presume this was a weaver's cottage once because there's an old mill over the road," says Packard, liking the artisan history of his home, "and the cottage has very high ceilings, so he could get his loom in the attic and work."

The last owners, however, were not quite so romantic. "When I moved in, this area was made up of two small rooms and a corridor with thick carpet, gas fires and plastered walls which covered the original fireplaces," he explains of the large dining/studio area at the front of the house.

Now, the walls are white-washed and there are two huge mosaic panels above the reclaimed hearths at either end of the room. "The mosaics took four years to do, but they are just a start," he says. "I want to develop them further, so it will become a cool room in the summer. I want an eastern or Indian influence."

The mosaics are made from old, smashed crockery in swimming-pool blue. By contrast, there's a multicoloured door near the kitchen painstakingly painted in coloured squares, and several of his huge, framed, monochrome prints line the walls.

In the centre of the room is a huge wooden table on which he has carved the figure of a cat. "It's an old BT cable drum which I found in London years ago," he says with pride. At the moment, he's working on a dovecote which stands in front of one fireplace. The atmosphere is so individual and lived-in that it looks like Packard's been here forever. How long did it take him to do?

"I bought this cottage in 1990 and took about nine months off work to get the basic things over and done with, like ripping out walls, re-wiring and re-plastering," he explains. "Then there was a lull in selling art and commissions in the early Nineties, so I started making things for my home."

Each room has a theme: the cool eastern main room, the bright orange kitchen, the bubbly blue bathroom and the cosy red sitting room, which was the scene of an epic battle between Packard and some crimson Chinese paper. "It wasn't meant to be used as wallpaper because it was so delicate," he sighs. "But I printed on it and stuck it on with Polycell which dragged all the dye out. I had to find special glue and even then it was tricky. That was the one thing I wish I hadn't started!"

As well as teaching at the Stroud College of Art, Packard makes ceramic commissions for dapper London homes and he's just been asked to make a huge mosaic for the London Business School. "I did a Masters degree in fine art and print-making at the Royal College of Art," he explains," and when I moved to this area, I became interested in ceramics."

It shows. He has either found or has been given all the furniture in the cottage. "People tell me about house clearances and they know what I like. Somebody gave me a set of white habitat plates and I decorated them with some paint-on glazes." They hold pride of place in the kitchen, fighting for attention with a bright pink ceramic lobster and a wrought- iron butterfly dangling from the rafters.

Packard has also hand-fired and hand-painted all the tiles in the kitchen, drawing inspiration for the tiles from books on Persian manuscripts. The tiny intricate paintwork on the stairs - which took him six years to complete - has a Far Eastern feel. How does he find time to do everything?

"My students come along and give me a hand. They don't mind doing it, they're intrigued," he laughs. However, there may be some students who still have nightmares about Packard's bathroom. The blue walls are smothered in tiny bubbles which extend from a gush above the loo to cover the ceiling. If Willy Wonker had a WC in his Chocolate Factory, this would be it. "They drove one or two students completely potty," he admits. "But it's supposed to be like you're under the water. It's the smallest room and its one of the most interesting, and it's an on-going project."

So how can you turn a house into your own riot of colour? "You can use any found paints on wood," Packard begins. "I use quite a lot of enamels on the mosaics, because they look thick on the surface and don't sink in. The stairs are just done in gloss paint and I didn't bother with varnish on them as it just comes off in time and it's slippery.

"You have to be careful about the quality of the finish. The investment is really in time rather than materials. You just need decent brushes that you would use for oil painting and colours," he continues. "My only advice is keep an eye on the quality of what you're doing and don't rush it."

Is there anything in this house that he has actually bought? I spy a fish-print sofa cover in the red room that looks like it could be straight out of Habitat. "No, I printed this from a wood block, but it's so sharp that it looks like screen-printing." He pauses. "I mean, I'm not a 'I'm never going to buy a chair' obsessive."

Simon Packard is available for commissions and can be contacted on 01453 755429

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