Me And My Home: A reluctant minimalist
Cheryl Markosky talks to Sylvie Pierce
Wednesday 05 November 2003
Public sector worker-turned-developer Sylvie Pierce, of Capital and Provident Regeneration, brings good architecture to inner-city areas where it is lacking. Sylvie and her partner Carl Gardner, both 55, live in a small Georgian house in Marylebone, central London
By mistake, I originally bought a place in this area north of the Marylebone Road, which is seen by some as a bit of a no-no. My partner found our Georgian house about three-and-a-half years ago - and luckily, it was south of Marylebone Road. He looked at it in the dark, as it had no electrics. Apparently, only 10 per cent of the housing stock in Marylebone is houses and the rest is mansion blocks. But there seemed to be quite a few houses on the market. We must have hit a point when people were moving out.
"We moved in and painted walls and did a lot to the garden, as I'm really into gardening. There is still a lot to do to the house. We are about to tackle the main structural work. One of the disadvantages is that the house hasn't got a room that just flows outdoors, that link between in and out. We will enlarge the section overhanging the small courtyard and make it into a living room. We plan to put in a new kitchen too.
"We live in a lovely little enclave. Originally, these were all shops. Houses in London are ridiculous prices, but we managed to pay under half a million for our home which was quite a good deal. How much will we spend on doing it up? Well, how long is a piece of string? The kitchen will most likely come from MFI, as I would rather spend the money on some nice tiles. It is bloody scary seeing how people can easily spend £50,000-plus on something just so they can say, 'Ooh, look at my kitchen.'
"We had a list of criteria when looking for our house. It had to be near shops - walking distance to Selfridges, preferably - and bars. I liked the idea of nipping down the road for a glass of champagne. Outdoor space was important for me, and my partner had to have a study. This place fits the criteria and we could afford it.
"I think every house should have one of those weird flukes of design. This was once a little shop with a dairy and cows out back. I love the courtyard, which is very planted and very green - an oasis with beautiful sculptures, but also quite urban. The neighbours can overlook the garden.
"My partner is a lighting designer, so we have furious rows about design. He is into minimalism, with loads of steel and glass. I like frills and real roses. We compromise with something modern, but with lots of colour. I think we have a good idea of colour. I spend ages painting squares on walls and getting the right shade of pink. My partner does the lighting, so we tend to have very expensive lights and sit on cardboard chairs. As soon as we arrived here, he said, 'Oh God, the lighting has to be changed', whereas I was more worried about the furniture. Now at least our horrible, clapped-out old furniture has good lighting on it.
"I really like the kitchen/eating area to be the centre of the house. It should be a good place to be in. I also like loads of flowers. I aspire to live in an uncluttered well-designed space, but live in lots of clutter with colour and cushions. I am longing to be John Pawson, but I never will. It is almost impossible to live and be so minimalist, unless you are very anally retentive or incredibly neat.
"Mostly the two of us ramble round here, but our three grandchildren aged two, five and six appear occasionally. I was going to say they are gorgeous for 48 hours, but they are gorgeous for longer than that.
"I suppose working in property means I have more access to ideas about design and designers. I do not force my ideas on other people. I like to do things the other way around. I am building houses for others, not for me. I think people like homes to look comfortable, but also a bit opulent. You like to think you could curl up and watch TV with friends.
"I like that aspect of design - seeing how spaces work. When it comes to actually living somewhere, the aesthetic doesn't always lend itself to personal touches. The room might be a nice space, but it looks idiotic if you put up a wedding photo or a picture the kids did. Most of us resort to having a great bathroom and then end up reverting back to clutter. I am a great believer in storage to house the clutter, however. I am annoyed that there often isn't enough of it in new developments. The problem in this country is that agents think that something will sell better as a two-bedder rather than for its overall size. We then end up with smaller spaces that don't quite work.
"I really like my street. This is the first time I have lived in London where I know other people in my street. In a chatty kind of way, people tell jokes in the road. I love being in the heart of London, being able to go to the theatre and to meetings and then walk home. There is wonderful architecture here and a huge number of parks. Marylebone is a little bit middle-class and poncy, but the upside is you get terrific cheese and wine shops, Waitrose and a farmer's market. There are millions of pubs - not that I go to them, mind. It is a nice place to live, whatever your age. I can imagine retiring here, going to great evening classes, markets and walking the dog I haven't got yet."
Sylvie Pierce's new development is The Arthouse in Shoreditch, east London. For more details call 020-7510 8888
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