Me and my home: Artist in residence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Richard Bramble, a painter and ceramic designer, is married to Sarah, a teacher. They live in Vauxhall, London, in a converted Victorian house that also serves as a studio and storage area for his work

Richard Bramble, a painter and ceramic designer, is married to Sarah, a teacher. They live in Vauxhall, London, in a converted Victorian house that also serves as a studio and storage area for his work

When I first moved here, I had no intention of staying a long time in London. After I graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 1990, I went back home to Dorset and started working full-time as an artist. But painting landscapes in the winter in Dorset can be tough, so I returned to London and started drawing the exteriors of buildings. From this I fell into doing pictures of restaurants, which led to an exhibition of my pictures based on Michelin-starred restaurants, and that eventually grew into a book.

Around that time, I began renting this flat - well, a maisonette really, since it covers a full two floors - on-and-off from a friend of my cousin. But in 1998, a taxi knocked me off my motorbike and I shattered my left wrist. It got me thinking that I'd better put some roots down, so I approached my cousin's friend and I managed to buy it off of him.

This is a great place for people to come and look at my work and it's close enough to Borough Market, where I sell my ceramics. The stall is run by friends and they sometimes come into the house to get stock. So I hung an old cow bell above the door, which I found while walking in the Picos de Europa mountains in Spain, to let me know when people are coming in or out.

One of the first things we did when we bought the flat was to put a shower in. The bath sits in the centre of the room, so my father-in-law made me a shower rail out of copper piping and we bolted it onto the ceiling. We bought chrome piping, a large rose shower head and a couple of joins - it was good thing there was enough pressure from the combination boiler in the kitchen.

My cousin is an interior designer, so I've kept most of his decorative details, like the living room's distressed paintwork and fleur-de-lis stencilling, and even the bathroom's ceiling mural of clouds and blue sky, although I've had a lot of shelves and cupboards put in. Even the large pine loft space in the studio, where we now sleep and keep a desk and computer, was already installed when I moved in.

All the changes that I've made have evolved organically as and when I needed (and had the time) - and everything takes longer than you first think. A year ago, the living room and half of the first floor would have been full of piles of plates. Now half of my stock is in my studio in Dorset. But maybe that has something to do with my wife Sarah, who is a teacher. She is very tidy but I'm not, so we like to have organised chaos. We used to sleep in the small spare room, because the upstairs loft and studio was filled with stock. We had a carpenter bolt a platform bed into the brickwork of the spare room to create more space - it's great up there, very cosy.

Sarah and I only got married at the end of January, and soon afterwards we had the new kitchen installed, complete with a marble work-surface, recessed halogen lights and an industrial extractor fan. Installing the fan had me dangling by a rope out of the kitchen window to drill an opening through the outside wall. This year I also finally got around to refitting all the lights, which made a big difference. When you've done things like that you think: "Why didn't I do that ages ago?"

Anyone who has done DIY knows that you make mistakes but you only know when you get things up, so before I installed a bespoke banister around the stairs I made a cardboard cut-out of it and put it up to see what it looked like. I got an idea from friend around the corner - it's quite crucial to see what works and what doesn't.

What's great about this place is the wall area - you've got a lot of room to hang pictures. Because the flat is quite small I have had to use all the possible space, but now I've run out - although a friend said that I could still fit a few beds on top of the cupboards. We're trying to find another property, possibly with outbuildings so I can have a bigger studio, and, since I like to be near the sea, we've looked in Dorset and Cornwall. But prices have really shot up down there. It's also difficult because it's hard to live in more than one place at a time, and I have to spend time in London because of the market. The stall works like a gallery, because people know I'm there, see my work and then come and buy pictures when they do up their kitchens.

To show off my work I decided to paint the hallway terracotta, and I ragged-on the paint to create a rustic effect. Without the pictures it's very dark, but since they have a lot of white in them it really shows them off. Fundamentally it's a functional flat where I do most of my work. There are minor things that can be improved but, at some stage, in between the market and my work, I will eventually get round to them.