With a little ingenuity, a small space needn't be a small and poky one. Artist Zoe Hope has worked magic with neutral colours, natural light and fanatical tidiness.
SIZE IS everything if you're looking for accommodation in London. We all know about the two-up, two-downs in Chelsea costing more than a lottery win, and most of us have rented rooms, at some stage during a mis-spent youth, where you couldn't swing a cyber-pet, let alone a cat.
Zoe Hope, a 26-year-old textiles artist, has been luckier than most. Eighteen months ago she moved into an unfurnished studio flat in central London, which was small, but perfectly formed. Now it looks more like a spacious des-res because she's followed a few simple rules: keep the colour scheme simple, don't block out light, organise your storage space and get the proportions right.
The first thing that hits you about Zoe's flat is the natural light. None of the windows have curtains (she's three storeys up and the flat faces offices) and the walls are painted white. The furniture is either calico-coloured or made from paler woods so that very little absorbs the light. "I don't mind living somewhere small," she says, "but I couldn't live in a place that was small and poky."
She's stuck to earthy, woody tones and added dashes of colour that tone with tiny panes of blue and red stained glass in the large front room windows. Even Elsie, her one-year-old wire-haired fox terrier, blends in."I like the calm of neutral colours," says Zoe, "but the touches of blue and red throughout the flat are not a conscious decision, it's just the way it's developed."
Zoe's flat is made up of a large room and a smaller kitchen, separated by fold-back dividing doors. She decided to use the large room as a bedroom as well as a living space, but the Muji futon that runs the length of one wall gives no sign that its alter-ego is a bed. "I'm really, really good," Zoe says, "I always put my bed up every morning, because I like to come home and think that I'm in a living area and not in a bedroom. Also, I shut the dividing doors at night, so I can make it cosy.
"I'm actually getting a friend to build me a cupboard in the corner of the room for my bedding," she says, with great relief, "that's going to make life easier." At present, she keeps her clothes, shoes and bedding under a metal clothes rail hidden under a sheet in her hallway. And anything that isn't needed to hand is stored in a roomy cupboard in the bathroom.
Zoe admits that she has to be ruthless in what she buys for the flat. "Basically, you don't need that much," she explains. "You need somewhere to eat, a comfy place for people to sit, and your nice things around you. I must admit that I'm naturally a tidy person, I'm quite organised and I keep all my work stuff in my studio, which helps."
The first things Zoe bought were a couple of small, buff-coloured armchairs from Habitat and a low chest of drawers for pounds 500 from Castle Gibson, a second-hand shop in North London. "Castle Gibson specialises in restoring old office and shop furniture," she says, "I also bought a couple of Singer sewing machine chairs and a glass-drawered draper's cupboard, which I keep in my studio. Whenever I bought things I always thought about the size of the flat," she recalls, "and I had to picture mentally where it would go because there isn't that much space. I had to think where I could put furniture and where I could sit people when they came over."
The solution to people-sitting came from a Michael Marriott table with matching chairs. The table is made from wood and has a glass top, so that although it's one of the biggest things in the flat it's almost unobtrusive. "I got this because I liked the baseball-bat legs," says Zoe, "and then I realised how well glass works in here, because it can almost look invisible."
It could all be in such teeth-achingly good taste, if it weren't for a healthy dose of humour. A "bottle" light from Dutch designers Droog hangs directly above the table, like a crate of milk bottles suspended in mid-air, and there are a few healthy nods to Fifties kitsch, with dog motifs and inspired dashes of colour.
In the kitchen, one corner is completely given over to blue and red, with glass vases, a table cloth and a Fifties chair all co-ordinating without a hint of effort. "The chair is from a little shop called Rennie's," says Zoe. "It's full of old Fifties things, and I just loved the shape of the chair."
Zoe loves collecting things, and she has mixed old, found objects with pieces by her favourite contemporary designers and makers. "My work is about collecting things," Zoe explains. "I make collages of different objects. This is my own personal collection of things I have bought in markets, or collected from contemporary people whose work I really like".
A blue stool by Sam Milne sits in a kitchen corner - a soft, upholstered thing beside a metal tea-trolley (which doubles up as storage space) and an old Fifties anglepoise lamp. In the living room, a black vinyl bean bag looks completely at home next to an old wooden plane used to smooth surfaces - "one of those aesthetically pleasing objects," remarks Zoe.
On the middle of the cupboard stands a superb figurative ceramic statue by Claire Curneen from Contemporary Applied Arts. The picture on the left wall is by her friend Natasha Kerr, and hangs above a framed brooch from her friend Grinne Morton. A floor lamp comes from British design team Mog, and the cushions on the sofa are by Georgina Von Etzdorf. "I do fall in love with things," says Zoe. "They are my treats when I've been working really hard. It's nice to get things from people who are working in the same way as I am. You know how hard they've worked to produce it."
Because of the lack of space, it's lucky that the things that she loves are usually quite small. "I like little knick-knacks to make the place interesting," she explains. She even has tiny casts of Barbie's shoes that she bought in New York, miniature porcelain doll's heads from Spain, button boxes from Lisbon and old wooden tailoring rulers picked up at markets over the years."I suppose I have a lot of dress-making, dolly sort of things," she says, as if thinking about it for the first time. "How odd."
Castle Gibson, 106a Upper Street, London N1, 0171 704 0927. Rennie's at French's Dairy, 13 Rugby Street, London WC1, 0171 405 0220. Contemporary Applied Arts, 2 Percy St, London W1, 0171 436 2344
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