Me And My Home: A massive remodelling job

Sculptor John Atkin has transfomed his Thirties house in Kingston Vale into an opulent family home complete with artist's studio
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I first came to Kingston in 1985 to take up a fellowship at Kingston University. Ten years later, I was looking for a house big enough for a studio with a garden that I could use as a sculpture garden. Driving down Robin Hood Lane, I saw this building site opposite St John's Church. There was no "For Sale" sign, just a lot of builders renovating a rather dingy Thirties house. Talking to them led me to the developer who had just bought the house. He was in a hurry, so the deal was done in 14 days flat.

"The house was built in 1935 and had been owned by the same family until we bought it 60 years later. The old chap who had lived here couldn't really look after it, so it was a mess. The back garden was a forest, with 20-foot high hawthorn trees and even taller conifers. We discovered a lost greenhouse, wasp nests, and a sea of brambles. It was like a huge tentacled monster grabbing at your ankles. My brother is a gardener from the north-east, so he came down, cleared the lot and laid a lawn.

"We lived in the house for a couple of years before we started the conversion, which took about eight months. There was a single garage at the side of the house. We knocked it down and built down into the ground to gain height for the studio. It's 12ft high, 30ft long and 20ft wide and glazed at each end. The painted concrete floor, white breezeblock walls and revealed RSJs all give the space the industrial quality I wanted. It's the best studio I've ever worked in.

"We even widened the drive so that a flat- bed lorry can back right up to the studio. I've worked on a 16-foot tall sculpture which had to be taken apart in sections in the garden, but generally eight-foot tall works are about the maximum.

"I am head of sculpture at Loughborough University, so I work up there three days a week during the academic year. The rest of the time I can help look after the kids - Joel, who is six, and Tallulah, who's three. And because my studio is on site, I can easily work here in the evenings.

"Former students of mine often take care of the actual fabrication of the sculptures. My latest work, the Navigator, was commissioned by the Ipswich River Action Group and has just been unveiled. I made the pattern here in the studio, then the finished work in corten steel was made in Nottingham. I've had 22 international exhibitions since 1998, so I suppose I'm quite prolific, but I'm always led by my work.

"My wife Kimberley is a fashion sales director in women's wear for a company based in Portland Street. It was her idea to put in floor-to-ceiling windows in the studio and the bedroom above. She is the driving force behind the colour scheme in the house - she really loves colours.

"The kitchen and dining room are painted lipstick pink - it's a fun, celebratory environment. The floor is a blue "Dalsouple" industrial-style rubber material which is soft, so very good for small children. Everything's tucked away. Plenty of down lighters and no wall units combine to create a real sense of space.

"The sitting room has an oak floor and a big, curved, leaded window - there's lots of light travelling through the house. The plum-coloured paint creates a really warm ambience. Ceramic reliefs by Elaine Wilson are displayed on the walls. My wife wanted the sensuous feel of a boudoir, so we have these rich net curtains; while the leather settees are ideal for sticky-fingered small children. Throughout the house we have used big oak-framed mirrors designed by Johnson Cole. Upstairs, we have four large double bedrooms and a fifth bedroom that I use as an office.

"The house has lots of reflective surfaces, so the outside colours are brought inside. The theme of the garden, designed by Caroline at Red Hot Pokers, is pinks, plums and purples to reflect and complement the colours we've used inside the house.

"The au pair lives in the garden room in the back garden. It is a diamond-shaped chalet using a wooden New England construction, built under the canopy of the trees. Most importantly, we built it into one corner, so it doesn't overlook the neighbours. There's also a great laurel tree for the kids to climb.

"We have used lots of decking in the back garden so when I sit out in the morning sun, it's like being on holiday. The sculptures in the garden are the ones I would never sell - they're sort of markers of my past work.

"The space we use most is the family room, a Victorian-style conservatory leading off the dining room into the garden. We spend 90 per cent of our time in there. It faces north, so it never gets too hot. We have a great view out over the whole garden, which faces south, so enjoys full sun.

"Kingston Vale is between Kingston and Putney. The area has good schools and the house is only 200 hundred yards from Richmond Park. It's not on a tube line, so you can always park in the street. There are good local shops, and for larger stores it's only two miles to Wimbledon village or Putney. Our favourite local restaurants are the Phoenix and Putney Bridge, both in Putney.

"The really remarkable thing about the house is that because it is opposite this beautiful church and in a conservation area, you can walk outside and feel as if you're in a village."

John Atkins's house in Robin Hood Lane is available through Jackson-Stops & Staff (020-8879 0099) at £850,000.

Comments