There’s a certain type of house hunter who likes a wreck and, says artist Blue Curry with a laugh, ‘what attracted me to this place was that it really looked like hell’. A once-grand house that had fallen on hard times, the property’s fortunes have been linked to the ebb and flow of British history.
Overlooking the east London oasis of Victoria Park, it was built for wealthy Victorian industrialists at a time when Britain was the workshop of the world. But, during World War II, it was sold at a rock-bottom price, remaining in the same hands until Blue spotted it in 2012. Untouched and unloved, it had gaping bomb damage, cracks and dodgy extension cables snaking from the floors. For Blue, cash-poor and vision-rich, it was irresistible.
As someone who creates installation pieces and sculptural assemblages, Blue is fascinated by objects with a past, and so was passionate about preserving everything in the house. ‘I labelled and stored each piece, from coat hooks to old timber,’ he says. ‘My work explores exoticism and there’s a sort of temporal exoticism in a house so full of history.’
The artist might have ended up living in a time capsule, though, had he not drafted in help from architect friends Lara Rettondini and Oscar Brito of Studio X. They gently urged a more balanced approach, celebrating the quirks of the original house while adding bold, modern elements to reinvigorate the space. The top-floor bedroom was extended into the loft, and a ramshackle lean-to was replaced with a new light-filled extension containing a kitchen-dining space. ‘I need lots of light. I think it’s a Caribbean thing,’ says Blue, who was born and raised in the Bahamas before coming to London 20 years ago.
Copious sunshine is also essential for his plant collection – another link to his roots. ‘I think I’m trying to recreate a sense of the lush greenery I grew up with,’ he explains. When it comes to furniture and accessories, there’s a magpie-like eye at play here. ‘In most Bahamian homes, you see a melange of styles, with 1950s and 80s pieces sitting happily side by side. In this house, anything goes, but it’s not a free for all – a lot of thought goes into what gets chosen and how it is displayed.’
Today, the house is a reflection of modern Britain. The past is cherished but the space has been reawakened by the Italian-Venezuelan architects and filled with globally sourced curios. ‘I think the idea of the mash-up is a positive one here,’ says Blue. ‘So many things have come together to co-exist that there’s a real rhythm about them.’ bluecurry.com; studiox.ws
This feature appeared in ELLE Decoration October 2019.
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