Me And My Home: It's a container for life

Charlotte Cullinan doesn't buy designer stuff for her warehouse - she makes it herself


One half of the art duo Artlab, Charlotte Cullinan lives with her husband and family in a two-storey, industrial building in Vyner Street, Bethnal Green.

One half of the art duo Artlab, Charlotte Cullinan lives with her husband and family in a two-storey, industrial building in Vyner Street, Bethnal Green.

We moved into Bethnal Green 19 years ago. We were worried that it was too far out but it was all that we could afford. Originally, we bought a run-down warehouse but we moved into this new one five years ago, because it was bigger and offered better opportunities to incorporate work and home.

As a two-storey building it functions very well - we have our living space, known as the "apartment", on the first floor, and the ground floor is my studio, which is the headquarters of Artlab. Jeanine Richards and I started working collaboratively as Artlab about six years ago. At the moment, we're producing work for a show that opens on 26 February at MOT, a small art venue in east London run by Chris Hammond.

Our Artlab studio is also used as an experimental micro-brewery by my husband, Nick, and Bill Buchannon, who are developing brewed-in-the-bottle organic beer for girls, with a Chinese herb recipe.

Our building has huge windows running across the front at ground level. The outside has been restored but deliberately retains its original appearance, so that there's not much evidence externally that it is lived in. Vyner Street is in a commercial area and we only have one residential neighbour, so it's important that it doesn't stand out from its surroundings, for security reasons. It was built in 1961, so it's quite fortress-y from the outside. We don't have any curtains either, because we don't like them. Opposite us is the gallery Modern Art, owned by Stuart Shave. Every weekend, chauffer-driven collectors arrive to view the shows there - which makes for a heady mix in our part of Vyner Street.

When we bought our house, the first floor was disused and the business that had operated from the ground floor was said to have gone bust. We had to clear miles of old conduit piping and a massive heating system. On both floors there were men's and ladies' lavatories, so it was obvious where the bathroom was going to go. We filled three skips with rubbish - Jeanine and I became expert skip-packers.

We didn't have to do too much to the studio after that. We have tried to make use of existing materials wherever we can. We got our hands on this huge piece of glass that was originally intended to go into the Lloyd's building; we have used it as a partition, which dictated the size of the studio. The headquarters have evolved that way - in an accidental, makeshift way - making use of the things that we've found and often dictated by the particular kind of work that we're producing at the time.

The first floor involved much more design. It was part of our "Uberplan" that the outside of the house would remain the same but that the inside would be specialised. We employed the services of CABAL, my brother Dominic's architectural practice, which did an incredible job. We began by partitioning it off into a five-bedroom apartment. One of our main reasons for moving was that the kids desperately wanted separate bedrooms. The walls are built of breeze blocks. The floor area of 2,000 sq ft looked much bigger after the partitions went up - I suppose they provided a sense of scale. The plywood doors are full height. Most of this work was done by a team of firemen - it's true that firemen are some of the most lovely men, and it shows in the tender workmanship and details. The rear wall of the building has five windows spaced along it and there is one included in each of the four partitioned bedrooms and the bathroom that adjoins them. The master bedroom is at the front, occupying the space originally taken by the foreman's office.

Although there were existing skylights, we wanted to add a greenhouse on the roof. We put the staircase in and cut a hole in the ceiling. From the greenhouse, there is a great view of Canary Wharf, and the door leads out on to the roof garden, where we hang the washing and keep the bees. We have three hives at the moment - the bees have a two-minute flight to Victoria Park.

The main space is divided by the staircase and adjoining wall. We are not interested in designer stuff - we prefer to fabricate stuff for ourselves. The main shell of the house has been given a lot of thought by CABAL, but the individual furniture pieces are much more incidental. This follows the mood of what happens in the studio. The kitchen table was designed by Nick and made by some roof-rack fabricators down the road. The top is made of painted ply that was left over by the firemen.

Our sofas were chucked out by the House of Commons - we found them in a second-hand shop. The chairs are random light-industrial sewing-machinists' chairs that were left behind by the last parting tenants. We do have a Smeg fridge - but it didn't come from Peter Jones, but we bought it around the corner in a shop that sells slightly damaged goods. My brother Dominic was working on a job in west London where the clients were throwing out the cooker, the basin and the dishwasher.

A lot of the work we do at Artlab follows the same philosophy - after careful planning and deliberation, the random acquisition of "found objects" is important. We have used taxi seats from our friends at Cyprus Taxis down the road, in some of our sculpture and have also made some chandeliers/sculptures from found cable reels.

Our flooring is made of blocks of reclaimed maple that are quite tiny - about 6in x 2in each - but very thick and of unknown origins. They were individually cleaned by Nick to remove the tar that they had originally been set in, before being laid, also by Nick, to cover the entire 2,000 sq ft of floor. We got someone else in to sand them afterwards, as Nick's back had had enough.

Our house is still evolving and probably always will. We love the feel of it and the way it looks - it's a "container for life".

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas