Focus: The light's fantastic

Large open spaces, huge windows - and old-world charm. Former artists' studios are the latest fashion in modern living
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The Independent Online

Artists have always been ahead of the game. We've become blasé with hearing modern developers and self-builders crowing on about their Mies-inspired houses, but painters and sculptors have been seeking out space and light for centuries. The quest for these basic features has meant their studios have taken on a distinctive architectural language where "form" trots respectfully behind "function".

Features such as double-height rooms allowed a freedom of movement for large canvases and sculptures, while soaring panes of glass made the most of any precious natural light. Consequently, generations of artists have created buildings that now fit the current fashion of how we like to live our lives, and they're being snapped up as quickly as the work that has poured out of them.

One such building is Stratford studios in Kensington, where No 4 is for sale. The gable end presents you with a hint of Victorian classical pretension, but the studio behind is anything but traditional. The glazed wall and roof lights sport updated steel frames, while the layout of the bedrooms, kitchen and study areas have an organic, flowing design that is closer to Starck than Whistler. Essentially, it's all still here, however, with the living areas coming second to the main open-plan work space.

It was owned by Sir Frank Brangwyn RA, who lived here from 1891 to 1899. Brangwyn is noted for his controversial First World War poster "Put Strength in the Final Blow", which provoked the Kaiser to put a bounty on his head.

It seems this building's history is as unconventional as the layout. But at £1.8m, what artist can afford this light-filled space? A combination of its royal borough location and slick interiors put it way beyond the pockets of most aspiring YBAs.

But all is not lost for the tortured creative. Get a few successful solo shows under your belt and your budget might stretch to a one-bedroom studio on, appropriately, Gainsborough Road, W4, where the painter Norman Adams RA lived until his death in 2005.

The house has a vaulted studio with parquet flooring and plenty of flat, northern light flooding in. There's good use of space, with a basic scaffolding mezzanine, but this could be removed if you needed further ceiling height. There's also a small, secluded garden in which to get some air and summon the muse.

Altogether there are four artists' studios here, reputedly built in the 1880s from bricks left over from the construction of Bedford Park. Painters and sculptors have lived in Chiswick since Hogarth's time and these tucked-away spaces are about as authentic as you're likely to find, being, unusually, still owned and used by artists. Adams's work can still be seen standing on the easel he worked at, but unfortunately the sale of this atelier does not include any of his dreamy, visionary paintings.

If W4 is too far from your dealer, why not view Paramount Studio, near the King's Road? It's a short stroll from the Chelsea Arts Club if you need a shot of absinthe and, as with many studios, it has a real sense of a space being carved out to suit the purpose.

Wide doors lead from a terrace into the double-height studio, which draws all its light from the abundant glazing in the roof. The wooden floor keeps things practical and the living accommodation is tucked away behind partition walls to avoid distractions. This is a great space, but you will need a few more sales, because your winning Turner Prize cheque won't be quite enough for the 5 per cent deposit.

So, whether you are looking for a private sanctuary to gather your thoughts or a small enclave in which to share them, these purpose-built studios could carry on providing inspirational space for several centuries to come.

Cachet and mystique have always surrounded them, from the Mall Studios, in Belsize Park, where in the Thirties Herbert Read presided over his "nest of gentle artists", to the achingly cool community of Hoxton Square in the Nineties.

But where there's energy, the money is not far behind, pricing the artists out of the areas they helped create a buzz about in the first place. The modern idea of live/work seems not that new after all. Painters and sculptors have been doing exactly that, living and working in these creative hubs for years, seeking out and building large, affordable spaces in which to justify their existence.

Most of these original studios are now only attainable by artists through a spending spree by Mr Saatchi, but the canvas is not the only outlet for their inspiration. The wheels are constantly turning and the next artistic hotspot is probably already being explored by these inventive property pioneers. Wherever the new Hoxton turns out to be, I wonder how long it'll take before the stockbrokers start to move in?

Stratford Studios is for sale at £1.8m through Savills (020- 7535 3300,; Gainsborough Road Studio, at £495,000, is on sale with Whitman & Co (020-8747 8800,; Paramount Studio is with Geo Joslin (020 7352 3746, for £575,000