Me And My Home: Maia Norman
Maia Norman's houseboat has become a showcase for her colourful collection of Mexican and American Indian pieces
Wednesday 29 June 2005
If I didn't work, I wouldn't come to London anymore, but when I do, this is a lovely place to spend my time. I have a studio in Hackney, from where I run my fashion business, Mother of Pearl, with my partner, Sue Foulston.
When I'm working in London, I spend the nights here on the houseboat. When we found the boat, it was in a desperate state. It had to be gutted entirely and was sent to dry dock at Eel Pie Island. Over eight months, it was stripped back to a basic steel structure, and then refitted with all mod cons. The architect we used, Mike Rendell and Associates, hadn't worked on a boat design before, and the project was full of "ins and outs" that nobody could foresee; it was a worrying time, but it worked out beautifully in the end.
In terms of style, I knew that I wanted a cross between a beach hut and a log cabin. The interior is clad throughout in tongue-and-groove and painted. We have incorporated a huge glass runner along the length of the ceiling from bow to stern, and the doors to the little deck are sheet glass, which provides a lovely view from the front door as you enter.
We have a built-in wooden kitchen, painted in creamy white, with walnut surfaces and oak details. The handles on the drawers are long, roughly hewn sticks of oak, rather like driftwood, and were made to order by a woodworking friend of mine; they have worked out just as I had envisaged. The shape of the boat means that the upper floor, which is open plan, is fairly tubular in feel, and the office, kitchen, dining and living areas are continuous. The dining table is an old Olivetti office table, made of dark, compressed, moulded wood, like an upside-down tray from a motorway café on an iron frame. To make the most of the space, there is built-in seating along the walls, with storage underneath.
Downstairs, we have two bathrooms and four bedrooms. The main bathroom is tucked into the bow, with the bath positioned across the room. Behind it, the awkward shape that remains where there was once a hold has been filled by a platform which is level with the top of the bath, with lights sunken into the surface. There is normally a Sarah Lucas sculpture sitting there, but it's on loan to an exhibition at the moment, so the children can sit there and talk to me while I'm in the bath instead.
As the windows on this floor are almost level with the water at high tide, I often see swans gliding past as I bathe, and the occasional kayak. There are cupboards built into every available piece of spare space. I'd thought that there would be plenty of storage, but there's never enough.
I have quite an obsession with American Indians, and I've bought bits and pieces directly from them during visits to Arizona, like the little beaded bag hanging on the wall in my bedroom. It is hung with chewing tobacco tin lids on the end of leather thongs, which clink together in a lovely way. I also collect Mexican blankets. The loveliest are the older ones, woven from very fine wool, in subtler colours than the cheaper variety. They are woven in stripes of graduating colours that produce almost a three-dimensional quality. I pick them up wherever I find them, all over the States, sometimes expensively, sometimes cheaply.
I collect beaded items. One of the most remarkable is a throne that I bought in Cameroon. From the front, it is brightly coloured with abstract patterns, but the back is beaded in subtle browns with bird motifs. I also have a matching, large beaded basket which stands near the throne, with toys inside, and a small collection of incredibly trippy-looking panther heads, beaded in firework patterns, made by a fierce, hallucinogen-taking Mexican tribe, the Huichol. You have to obtain their permission before visiting them, or they can become ferocious.
We have a tiny room with bunk beds, where the children sleep, and a guest bathroom with Moroccan tiles on the floor and walls. At the back of the boat is a spare room with the bed built into the stern. We seem to have people to stay quite frequently, and they all love sleeping here. It must have a good vibe, although I have never figured out quite how I want to dress this room, so it always feels unfinished to me.
One of my favourite designers is Abigail Lane, who works in our studio in Hackney. Her company, Showroom Dummies, produces interior textiles, papers and fabrics, and I have one of her beautiful, soft blankets in the spare room, in shades of grey, with a pattern of huge plump beetles.
Damian and I are building a house in Mexico now, and have had fun visiting artists in Canada to commission them to carve 20ft totem poles to use as supports for the palapas, thatched shelters without walls, that we plan to build. For my birthday, Damian bought me a beautiful miniature version which is in the sitting room and which is covered in fascinating carved faces. We are also having bigger ones made, to decorate the garden out there.
This boat has been a great success, even though it's becoming too small to be comfortable for us when we're all here together, especially now that I'm pregnant with my third child. I would like to replace it with something bigger, and have my eye on the one next door that belongs to my lovely neighbour, Miles. I hope he won't mind, when the time comes.
Current Mother of Pearl stockists include The Cross, in Ladbroke Grove, London W11, and Beth, in Cork
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