Published in The Times 30.12.17
Lisa Grainger Simon Ledson and Jane Peck could, if they cared to, probably count on two hands the number of new items in their house. That is not because they dislike shopping; if there’s a boot fair, skip or antiques shop nearby, they will be irresistibly drawn to it. Rather, it’s because they have a particular aversionto what Ledson calls “bland, boxy, beigey stuff” and both share a love of the graphic shapes and bright colours that were popular in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. As a result, the 18th-century bones of their home, Godney Arts House in the Somerset Levels, is filled with characterful old finds that they’ve accumulated over decades. When Peck bought the tumbledown cottage beside the narrow River Sheppey 34 years ago, it was so infested with dry rot that every bit of wood had to be ripped out and demolished, leaving behind just the flagstone floors and the stone walls.
Slowly, she said, she made it habitable – “or at least a state of more beautiful decay than it was”. When Ledson moved in 13 years ago, he brought to the partnership some different – and useful – skills. Not only is the peripatetic surfer a painter, whose landscapes and graphic paintings adorn the walls, and a carpenter who makes handsome wooden surfboards, but Ledson is also a metalworker and all-round creative handyman. Between them, while working and parenting (Peck has grown-up children), the couple have slowly reconfigured the spaces and renovated the rooms, taking down walls, putting in bathrooms, and even inserting a porthole into a bedroom wall “for fun”, says Ledson. “We’d found it and wanted to put it somewhere.” Once the big building work was over, Ledson set to work on creations that made good use of every bit of space. Fireplaces in the bedrooms and kitchen were boarded over with rustic wooden panelling and turned into wardrobes and storage areas to keep the rooms free of clutter (the space that once was the kitchen fireplace now has a fridge, microwave and wine rack built into it). Floorboards were painted with shiny black paint (“Brilliant as it doesn’t show the dirt,” Peck says), given a second coat of cream and then rubbed down, to give a contemporary marbled look. Bathrooms were floored in black rubber from a horse livery company that is both hardy and waterproof. And the entire house was replumbed, and its copper piping exposed – “Why would you hide gorgeous, expensive copper pipes when you can show them?” Ledson says. While reconfiguring the house, the couple decided to be as eco-friendly as they could, using new technology. Today, electricity and heating are generated by solar panels and a wood-burning stove. Waste water is filtered by a biodigester before being fed into the river. And just about everything in the house has been pre-cherished by someone else. “I just love the idea that the chairs round the dining room table might have come from a bandstand in Paris and perhaps survived a war,” Ledson says. “Or the bedside tables might have come from a hospital, or the sitting room cabinet from a garage. It’s all been witness to other lives, other countries, other times. And it’s not being thrown away or wasted. The soft furnishings, too, have had other existences. Before Peck moved to Somerset, she dealt in exotic textiles from all over the world – hence the range of beautiful fabrics that are scattered throughout the house.
Fifties-style graphic cushions adorn sofas and Indian blankets from Gujurat cover beds. Bedheads are upholstered in pieces found in charity shops. Even the rough linen curtains are lined with rescued fleece and old velvet. Treasures from junkyards and car-boot sales from all over the world are displayed throughout the house. Ledson has collected yo-yos since he was a child, and a bedroom cabinet contains dozens of them, with another case nearby full of alarm clocks. Shelves are decorated with glass cake stands, domes, plates and bowls (some filled with such unconventional decorative objects as skulls and a gilt pig’s ear). There are chairs in graphic shapes and bold colours from all over Europe; red soda fountains and retro cocktail shakers; a surface wallpapered in Penguin book covers. And of course, art by Ledson himself – which is all for sale. Just this month, they’ve started to host regular pop-up Godney Arts House dinners and poetry and music evenings. So while it is a home, Peck says, “It’s also a gallery, a venue for parties, a place where musicians come to stay during Glastonbury. It’s a place to have fun in.”