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
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine