Drawn to the light

Many of us dream of being surrounded by open countryside with far-reaching views, but three artists who work from home had just one more wish - separate studio space. Mary Wilson reports
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For a painter to work from home, he or she must have somewhere that is quiet, peaceful and if possible, inspirational. Working from a room within the house is usually not the preferred option as there are too many distractions. The ideal place is a studio in the garden.

Barry Watkin works from his garden studio just 20 yards from his 15th-century home Yard Farm, which is outside the village of Stoghumber, Somerset. He and his wife, Pippa, have lived there for the last 16 years and during that time have run very successful residential painting courses. Barry specialises in pastels and holds an annual exhibition in December.

"We didn't intend to buy a house in Somerset," says Barry. "We were originally looking in Dorset but couldn't find anything suitable. As soon as we drove into the county, I realised that the countryside was absolutely gorgeous and when we saw the house from a quarter of a mile away, I knew it was the one. We were looking for somewhere to live and run painting courses from and it was perfect for that."

Barry converted the old cow shippen (the local dialect for cow shed) into a large studio, which now has a small kitchen, cloakroom, six storage heaters and loft storage above. And although he is still running four or five courses a year, he wants to scale these back and revert to his first love - painting in oils. Yard Farm is in the prettiest of locations with river frontage along Donniford Stream and has views of the Brendon and Quantock Hills. With five bedrooms, a self-contained one-bedroom flat and croquet lawn in about nine acres, it is for sale through Jackson-Stops & Staff with a guide price of £775,000.

Another house with a separate studio is Clanna Gardens in Alvington, Gloucestershire. This is owned by Ron Ranson, an artist, teacher and broadcaster who has lived, with his wife Darlis, in the heart of the Forest of Dean for 10 years. He also runs workshops on watercolour painting, imparting his knowledge to students in the day time and relaxing in the evening with a glass of wine in front of the log fire in the drawing room.

"The drawing room used to be an artist's studio in the 1880s," he says, "with a minstrel's gallery and huge arched window, about 15 feet by 10 feet, facing north. This was in the gardens of a much larger estate. Then 100 years later, it was restored and the rest of the house built around it so you can't see the join."

For his painting classes, Ranson uses another studio in the garden, which takes about 18 people. "I teach them the basics there and then they can paint in the garden or go to a couple of lakes across the fields and of course, the Forest of Dean is only 200 yards away," he says. "It is an exceptionally light house and very tranquil. All the windows face the south, except for the huge one which looks over the Forest of Dean. From the south, you can see the Severn Estuary."

With a 12-feet-high walled garden, it is exceptionally private and peaceful and the gardens are lovely. But the Ransons are moving to the US and have put the five-bedroom house with tennis court and 5.5 acres on the market through Archer & Co (01291 626262) with a price guide of £875,000.

Brent House in Holbeton, south Devon, does not have a separate studio, but the owners, Mike and Kate Westbrook, have turned a rather ordinary single-storey house into a striking building with music room and separate studio at one end. Mike is a musician and composer, who has worked all over the world and Kate is an artist, librettist and singer.

"A few months after we bought the house, its location and the inspiration we gained from it gradually became more of a factor," says Mike. "My last recording was inspired by the landscape and the birdsong and Kate soon began painting landscapes, which she hadn't done much of before, as a response to the wonderful scenery around us. It opened a whole new chapter for us both."

The couple didn't really like the house when they bought it 12 years ago, but they loved the area, which they knew well, very much. So they gutted the interior of the house and re-divided the space, extending the basic ground plan at one end to add their work space, making a guest suite with a small kitchenette and its own entrance in the middle. At the other end they extended the living room, which is now 31 feet by 23 feet. This side of the house also has two bedrooms, a kitchen, shower room and en-suite bathroom.

To create the illusion of height, they put in vertical windows, rather than panoramic ones, to make the best of the wonderful views over the River Erme valley, and painted the exterior of the building with wide deep red and grey stripes. "That was Kate's idea," says Mike. "She used her experience as a colourist, picking out the deep red colour of the Devon soil, which looks beautiful in the sunlight."

The studio has a triple aspect, with six windows on two sides, a double-height vaulted ceiling and a small ceramic sink in one corner. Brent House, which has three bedrooms and about three-quarters of an acre, is for sale with a guide price of £475,000 through Marchand Petit (01548 831163).

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