Home is where the art is

The Tuscan farmhouse of an artistic couple is full of sculptural and decorative delights - even the loo is rich and exotic

The first thing that strikes you as you enter Maro Gorky and Matthew Spender's Tuscan farmhouse is the spread-eagled bust of a woman suspended on chains of crystal beads. Out behind her, like wings, she sports a pair of antlers, while her outstretched arms and head support a trio of candles.

The first thing that strikes you as you enter Maro Gorky and Matthew Spender's Tuscan farmhouse is the spread-eagled bust of a woman suspended on chains of crystal beads. Out behind her, like wings, she sports a pair of antlers, while her outstretched arms and head support a trio of candles.

This bizarre chandelier immediately gives some indication of the delights that are to be found in the Gorky/Spender household. "We have seven deer in our woods," explains Gorky. "We would love to put them in the pot because they eat our trees, but it's illegal to hunt them. They drop their horns in our garden, and so I had Matthew make me this amazing Germanic thing."

Spender, son of the poet Stephen Spender, is a sculptor. The courtyard that you pass through to enter the house by a door in the central tower of the farmhouse, is filled with large, carved female figures standing solemnly like sentinels. The porch is stacked with kindling for the huge fire-place in the main downstairs room where the chandelier hangs: poplar chips from Spender's latest carvings for an exhibition in Verona, old rosemary bushes ripped out of the garden and great wizened pieces of olive trees, the remnants from a frost 15 years ago that destroyed the whole olive stock.

Gorky and Spender came to live at the farmhouse in San Sano in 1968. "When Matthew and I got married, my mother popped us into this house which she had found," says Gorky. "We then spent 15 years fixing it up." The traditional structure is little changed save for the addition of a second external staircase. Originally, livestock would have been kept downstairs, creating warmth for the people above.

In Spender's charming recollection of his life in the area Within Tuscany, he remembers how bad a state the house was in. "The sun came through gap-toothed holes in the roof and floors, right down to the stables below. So we latticed them with chestnut rafters, re-tiled and made good, largely with our own hands."

As Gorky herself suggests, the feel of the house is not unlike Charleston, the home of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and haunt of the Bloomsbury group. "Matthew has made most of the furniture, and I have painted everything." Though Charleston was not a direct influence, there is a strong link with Bloomsbury. David Garnett, a great friend of Gorky's mother, has been to stay on several occasions. "He taught Matthew all about bees and helped us to seed the lawn." Francis Partridge has also been a visitor. "She said about me 'Maro is very thoughtless, and says the first thing that comes into her head, but I think she means well.' "

The Gorky/Spender house, however, is much more rich and exotic in its decoration than the famous Sussex abode. Gorky, after all, is not English. Her father was the brilliant Armenian abstract expressionist painter Arshile Gorky, and her mother is American. Gorky's paintings are bold and abstract, with strong and vibrant colours. They are found everywhere about the house, stacked in huge quantities in the large airy studio. "I work in layers like my father, so I do several paintings at the same time." A particularly striking large "triffid painting" is found in her daughter Cosima's bedroom - "her favourite landscape". Gorky finds inspiration in plant shapes: "the weirder they are the more I like them."

There is also a portrait of Cosima in her room, tawny tresses cascading down her shoulders, and around her startling hazel eyes. A pair of Matthew's brightly painted wooden female figures flank the wardrobe. He also made the bed and an amazing mirror with a frame of silhouetted heads and plant shapes. This is tiered with little shelves hung with a large collection of beaded necklaces, bangles and other treasures.

The pattern in each of the bedrooms is similar; it's a clear case of Spender the carpenter, Gorky the embellisher - wardrobes, bed-heads and doors all enlivened by her treatment. There are terracotta tiles or stone flags on the floors, richly coloured rugs, exotic fabrics; embroidered, tasselled and striped. Everywhere there are wonderful, wacky lamps and chandeliers made of beads and crystal. "They came from a man in Sienna, but unfortunately he's retired now."

The bathroom was my favourite room - a very splendid creation. "The loo we call the papal throne of Gaeta." It is raised as if on a stage, and encased in a wide bench tiled in terracotta. In the centre of the room, a magnificent porcelain roll-topped bath juts out from the wall. The walls are dotted with an eclectic selection of pictures. Paintings of Saskia (Gorky's elder daughter) as a toddler, and of Cosima as a baby, studded with shells. "When I had all those female hormones raging around inside me I couldn't make any abstractions, my brain didn't formalise very well." There is also a photograph of Gorky aged six, shortly after the death of her father, among the ruins of Pompeii. Sunken-eyed and wrapped in a dark cloak, she looks like "a haunted little Armenian waif". Alongside, in direct contrast, hangs a society portrait photograph of her wealthy American grandmother.

Downstairs in the dining room there is another fine portrait of the beguiling, sunken-eyed Gorky, but this time it is a mosaic, surrounded by plates and bowls decorated by Gorky. "We have a kiln in the garden set up for us by the American potter Betty Woodman, a great friend." One of Woodman's vases, decorated with bright circles of colour stands in the main room next door.

Gorky had an itinerant childhood, by the time she was 15 she had already lived in America, Italy, Spain, France and Britain. "I wanted to create here the stable and happy home that I never had as a child." In the process, she and Spender have also made a thing of beauty.

Matthew Spender and Maro Gorky can be contacted at this e-mail address: spender@chiantinet.it

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'