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Case Study

Varden Street

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Case Study

Varden Street

Pedro da Costa Felgueiras, expert in colour, paint and historic craft techniques, established Lacquer Studios nearly 25 years ago. Adopting centuries-old traditional techniques, Pedro’s studio creates and restores antique pigmented painted surfaces and lacquer. He offers specialist services in colour consultancy, interior design and unique bespoke pieces. His house on Varden Street, East London, has been lovingly restored by Pedro himself and is as much a work of art as it is an exquisite home to live in. We spoke with Pedro to understand more about his work, what moves him, and what ‘home’ means to him.

What is your favourite room in the house, and why?

My favourite room in the house is the back room on the lower ground floor. In the winter we all gather around the fire and the food is a few feet away. In the summer, it gives direct access to the garden. And on a hot sunny day, the garden is really my favourite room in the whole of London.

How did you decide what colours to use in each room?

I am very instinctive with colours. I very often walk into a house and I know exactly what colours at least one or two rooms are going to be. Perhaps it is something to do with my work and the fact that I have worked in so many of the great historic houses throughout Britain, where colours are chosen for a reason – because they meant something – and where colour combinations have been well tested for the last few centuries. Contrary to popular belief, very grand houses were actually very colourful. For example, in the 18th century, due to the limited technology and materials, bright colours were difficult and expensive to produce and therefore a status symbol. A bright, lively green was very difficult to achieve, but around the 1750s, it become very popular in Europe at the time of the chinoiserie craze. So, it became associated with exoticism and, above all, China. Around this time, Copper Verdigris Glaze (green) that had been used mostly in medieval manuscripts, finds its way into fashionable nobleman interiors. It was used extensively at the Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens, one of my most recent projects. The Great Pagoda, is going to be again, green and white,like porcelain, with green dragons that have not been seen since the end of the 18th century.

All the above failing, when deciding on colours, I look at paintings for inspiration, especially Mark Rothko’s work.

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What is your favourite colour in the house?

The Blue Verditer applied onto handmade sheets of paper from Griffin Mill in Ireland. The same colour I used in the Blue Bedchamber at Strawberry Hill House (this wall was a test piece before doing the real thing) Also very happy with the yellow ochre and the Caput mortuum colour combination on the lower ground floor level.

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How does the house change throughout different times of the day and year?

Probably like most houses, we have a much cosier life in the winter. We cook and sit around the fire and I personally like spending time in bed in the winter watching a movie or two. I think bed is a much better place to do so, rather than on a sofa. In the summer the garden comes alive and we gain an extra outdoor room. I personally love gardening and very often if you visit, you will find me up an antique stepladder pruning the espalier apple and pear trees. The kitchen, although in a basement, is very light and sunny as the Georgian ‘piano nobile’ arrangement (with the ground floor being slightly raised) provides a south-facing window at street level, allowing the sunshine to pour in. The house is in fact very light due to its geographic position (facing south).

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What made you decide to move from a Modernist building to a Georgian one and what was that transition like?

I just like good quality design, I do not differentiate between a brutalist building (Keeling House by Denis Lasdun was my old flat) or a good quality Georgian Building. In spite of the end result being quite different, I like that you can also see the different ways that generations thought and behaved and therefore how they built their houses. Both periods were periods of intellectual expansion – the age of illuminism in the 18th century and the 1950s and 60s with their exploration of space.  Although, I had to wait a lot longer to be able to afford to buy a Georgian house…

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Who or what were your main inspirations when renovating and decorating the house?

The work in this house was a distillation of my work and from visiting other Georgian houses throughout the country. Bearing in mind that this house was originally a modest Georgian one, I used to visit St Fagans in Wales a lot. My main concern was that I would do justice to the building, to make sure that I could return it back to its original state and ethos. For example, I only used cement where it was absolutely necessary, structurally. Otherwise, all the mortar in the house is made with lime and sand. The plaster on the walls is lime plaster with horse hair. And of course, I mixed all the paints myself. By doing the house this way, it led to me working with Gilbert & George, Strawberry Hill House and Hampton Court Palace. I was very aware that I wanted the property to be quintessentially British and Georgian, once that was achieved, I could fill it up with Portuguese items.

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Who do you admire for their sense of aesthetics?

Georgian furniture designers, Bauhaus, Eileen Grey, Armand-Albert Rateau,Jean Dunand, El Greco, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Paula Rego, Peter Zumthor, Piet Oudolf, Dimore Studio, Dan Pearson.

What does ‘home’ mean to you?

A peaceful place, filled to the brim with your favourite things collected over the years… a beautiful, happy and cosy place.

Pedro's Studio (Lacquer Studios)
How should people approach the use of colour in their own home?

Do not do the usual thing… white and grey… Be bold. Use the colours you love. You can just paint them over again if it does not work out. Use colours that actually mean something to you. White is just for limewash in kitchens, work buildings or outdoors.

 

If the house had a ‘care label’, what would it say?

Use it! Thoughtfully…

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