Spheres of influence

War documentary maker Alex Lindsay invites Cheryl Markosky into his London loft
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The Independent Online

The first time I saw this studio apartment it was in a magazine in 1984. It was love at first sight. Close to Tower Bridge in Bermondsey, it was designed by the architect Michael Baumgarten at a time when the whole idea of loft living was new to London. He was transforming an old tannery, but unlike more recent conversions, he had kept the space open rather than chopping it up. I made him an offer straight away. Before he accepted, I looked at 100 other properties, but this was the only one I ever wanted.

"As a photographer and film maker, I travel a great deal. In 1984, I made what was to be the first of 12 trips to Afghanistan over a period of five years. My films went out here on the BBC and Channel 4, and in the US. So I moved in at about the same time I was going to be away a lot. This place became a refreshing and quite amazing haven that I could return to in between filming with both the mujahidin and the Russian forces.

"Before moving here, I stayed in a few SoHo lofts in New York, so I knew what to expect. The studio is huge, about 60ft by 45ft, and at its apex is 20ft high. I have changed very little, because to interrupt the flow of space would ruin it. Too much clutter would destroy the whole minimalist essence.

"There is the most beautiful birds-eye maple wood floor throughout the whole studio. The two substantial 'towers' are a major statement. Behind is my kitchen: quite simple, finished in the same maple as the floor. The open staircase leads up to one bedroom and bathroom, which is finished in lacquered wood like a ship's cabin.

"To make more individual living spaces, I created the partitioned rooms at the other end of the studio. There is my study, a darkroom, second bedroom and bathroom on the lower floor. Up the stairs there is a further mezzanine bedroom or viewing gallery with a huge glass window overlooking the studio. Thirty-six large windows, each with aluminium Venetian blinds, illuminate the main area - it really is an incredibly light studio. Because we're up on the third floor and this was a working mill, there's a big electric hoist outside on the wall that we still use to get heavy loads up and down. Large barn doors add to the industrial feel of the place. There is a small terrace outside.

"I have kept the decoration to a minimum. The main features are seven circular, Perspex, red hanging discs, the largest nearly two metres wide. I first saw them in an architect's window down the road and bugged him until he sold them to me. Together with muslin sheets that hang vertically down from the beams and carefully positioned spotlights, I can close the space down at night round the seating area - too much space could freak you out at times.

"It is a real lifestyle studio. Shapes and light can change the whole feel of the space - it's in a constant state of metamorphosis. It is fully wired for broadband and satellite TV.

"Original Victorian radiators keep the place warm, along with ceiling fans to circulate the air. My 1949 Matchless motorbike is permanently parked up here. I bought it in Pakistan and rode it everywhere over there. When I shipped it back, it took two years to arrive.

"The railway line into London Bridge runs at about our level just 40 yards or so away. Luckily, it's electric, so it's very quiet, but it is quite a feature of the place watching the trains slide by. Especially at night, with the sparks flying, they give a sort of kinetic energy.

"Because of the light and open space, the studio is always being used for film, commercial and photo shoots, some of which have attracted a good deal of interest from passing trains. Playboy magazine shoots here sometimes, and after a good look the driver has been known to give us a hoot of appreciation.

"On one occasion, a Playboy model was delicately perched on my Matchless in the middle of a complex and doubtless extremely tasteful photo shoot. A leather-clad dispatch rider arrived, complete with screeching radio, and obviously captivated by the mise-en-scène, advanced towards model and bike. He then politely asked Miss February to dismount so that he could examine in more detail the magnificent antique machine she had been straddling.

"I spent several years on various Titanic projects, filming the ship two-and-a-half miles under the ocean and working with the film's director James Cameron and Jean-Michel Cousteau, the eldest son of Jacques Cousteau. My latest project is installation film. Moving imagery on flat screen televisions could replace traditional paintings. In a filmic living environment, you could completely change the feel of your space with specific video art. It's a very exciting new concept.

"Bermondsey is an interesting area to live in. In just the last two years, great bars and restaurants have started appearing on Bermondsey Street, and of course there is a fantastic antique market here as well.

"Being so large and open, this studio is an amazing party space. It's like a giant playroom. I am going to live in Scotland for two or three years doing up a house there, which is why I will be letting out the studio. I don't think I could ever sell it. I quite like the furniture the way it is, but it's a very flexible space and I'm quite happy to negotiate with anyone who wants to change things round."

Studio 5, Neckinger Mills, Abbey Street, London SE1 is being let for £1,100 a week via Hamptons International (020-7407 3172, www.studio-5.co.uk)

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