“I used to be really scared of this area,” says the artist Francis Upritchard of London’s Hackney district, where she and the furniture designer Martino Gamper share a charmingly quirky three-story apartment in a public housing project — what the British call a council flat. “When I went with the estate agent, there were eight students living there and it was filthy,” she recalls of the flat, which she bought six years ago. “The living room was two different rooms.”
Like the neighborhood, which has recently blossomed with hip hangouts like Broadway Market and London Fields, the house transformed slowly. With the help of her brother Rob and her sister Hannah, Upritchard ripped out everything that was possible to rip out. Two years later, when Gamper, then her boyfriend, moved in (the couple married in 2009), things really started to take shape. “Before Martino moved in, the flat just had furniture from the street,” Upritchard says, “so it was quite a relief to have help in that department.”
Today, the house is the couple’s best collaborative work to date, a happy medium between each artist’s aesthetic. A palette of warm browns, natural greens, Prussian blue and bright yellow, as well as a preponderance of textiles and pottery, come from Upritchard’s sculptures: fantastical, fairylike clay creatures that she sometimes displays on Gamper-designed tables and chairs. Brightly colored carpets from Morocco cover the floors, and textiles by Lynne Mackay, a weaver from Upritchard’s native New Zealand, lie across beds and couches.
Gamper is known for work like his remixed Gio Ponti furniture and the project 100 Chairs in 100 Days, a sort of design performance piece in which he reconfigured 100 discarded chairs that he had collected over two years. In the apartment, his sensibility is evident in pieces like the table he made from off-cut wood and dotted with butterfly-shaped bandages, giving it the feel of a tableau from a Japanese scroll. There is also a Gamper-Ponti table, bed and dresser; a wooden stool from “Profusion,” a group exhibition at the Calke Abbey in the summer of 2010; and a stunning skewed dresser in the couple’s “clothes room,” which he made with a group of carpenters from the Dolomites in northern Italy, where he grew up. Gamper even cut down Upritchard’s dining table into an oversize coffee table. The couple like to eat there when they make Japanese food.
The apartment is also an amalgamation of wedding gifts from the couple’s crafty friends and family, from the Franco Albini Tre Pezzi armchair that they received from Nina Yashar, the owner of the Nilufar Gallery in Milan, to the ash and oak floor on the ground level. “I had a project in Croatia, and I was taken to a parquet manufacturer,” Gamper says. “They use this as an under-flooring for real parquet. But I like it because it has all these knots in it and actually has a lot of character.” Friends chipped in not only to buy but also to install the floor. “It probably took about 40 times longer than it would normally to lay,” says Upritchard, laughing, explaining that in the end she and Gamper did quite a bit of the work themselves. But the gesture is there, along with their friends’ names, which are carved into the puzzlelike squares.
Domestic harmony is not just a result of the spaces they share, but also the ones they don’t share. Upritchard and Gamper keep separate studios, albeit in the same building, in Hackney, less than 10 minutes by bicycle from their home. Upritchard has a new show opening this month at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati; another, atSalon 94 Bowery in New York, opens in the fall. Her work is also part of a group show, “Lilliput,” on the High Line.
After long days in the studio, the two meet back at home to make dinner for themselves and the rotating cast of family and friends who always seem to be staying with them. “All of the sudden there are six people around the dinner table,” says Gamper of the constant motion in their household. Says Upritchard, “That’s how we get on so well.”
- Tags: Interiors