Katerina Zherebtsova interviews Alix for the Huffington Post. May 2014
Transcript from an interview with Alix by Lisa Levis (nee Stickley) for her Betty and Walter blog, 2014:
Alix Bateman, Q&A
Where did you train and what did you study?
A BA (Hons) Degree in Philosophy, English and Art at Lancaster University, one of the few institutions in the U.K. at the time that allowed you to combine practical art studies with academic subjects. I loved playing around with words, and I loved playing around with materials; I still do!
I went back in later years to The City and Guilds of London Art School, after time spent dealing antiques, and did a Diploma in Decorative Arts. It’s a fantastic craft based college teaching traditional decorative, conservation and restoration techniques, such as gilding and carving.
What inspires your work?
Objects of real age inspire me every day. Great craftsmanship. Building facades. The patina on a piece of antique furniture. Modern design that uses materials in unexpected ways. Designers taking inspiration from the past and twisting it to create something fresh and exciting. I am a flea market and antique market addict. I will be standing in rain at 6 am queuing to get in with all the mad old men in macs. I am an interiors addict; I clock every room I enter and subconsciously start tweaking it on a little mental mood board. I can spend all day (actually I can’t as I never have time to) walking around any city on earth taking in the architecture.
How long have you lived in Glebe House and what did you do to it to make it what it is today?
I moved in nearly nine years ago having bought it from the church next door. It had been in their possession since the mid 19th century when the builder bequeathed it to them (Glebe means land donated to the church). In fact there was a covenant on it that stipulated the original builder’s ancestors could buy it back for £500 if ever the church sold it on. My Dad noticed it in the paperwork though my lawyer hadn’t which created a mini panic early on (We’re now insured against said ancestors rocking up). It’s a really atmospheric building, a Georgian Grade II listed former coach house. The living room was a carriageway through which the horse and coaches once drove through to the stable yard beyond. The vicarage now sits on the land where the stables once stood, and Rev Deb’s shed is all that‘s left of them.
The church wasn’t able to spend too much on its upkeep over the years, so its restoration was a big undertaking. It was done in a very thoughtful manner however and therefore took an age. As areas were uncovered, I sometimes chose to leave them in their distressed state; the patina of some of the peeling paint was just too good to cover up. We were lucky enough to have a front room of Georgian paneling and original shutters which is now my workshop /office. Areas that were not original to the house were removed and more sympathetic materials reinstated, such as the stone slabs to replace a concrete floor and an area of pine floor boards, and I sourced a cast iron range from a rectory in St Leonard’s on Sea to install in the kitchen fireplace. I’d no interest in creating a complete Georgian pastiche however, and have included striking contemporary lighting and slightly idiosyncratic and unexpected groupings of objects or furniture that keeps it current.
We converted the covered courtyard to form the current living room, and the former living room now serves as my workspace from which I create bespoke gilded glass panels to commission and embellish the odd item of furniture from the antique market with a touch of gilding or hand painting.
The exterior is quite unusual and arouses people’s curiosity, so I get a lot of folks tapping on the window mouthing, “What is this place? In recent years I’ve begun to take advantage of this by hosting mini one off pop up events such as the sample sales. Its been listed with Alastair Sawdays for a few years now, and I run it as a little boutique B & B for guests now and then when I’m not overrun with other projects meaning the kitchen table is strewn with lacquer and gold leaf! Aside from being a very special place to bring up my son (he’s got the best room in the house), it’s also been remarkable as a showcase of the interior work that I love doing and opened up so may doors for me professionally, and it continues to do so. I feel very lucky to have found such a special building and really privileged that I could give it this new lease of life.
You work on a variety of different projects regularly, how do you balance these and which do you enjoy the most?
I do work on a variety of projects, but I guess the common theme is always interiors. I style interiors for photo shoots, and I write homes features for magazines; fiddling about with words and noseying at people’s houses couldn’t be a more ideal occupation for me. I occasionally get to design an entire interior (or the odd room), and I get quite a few house doctoring requests that I enjoy (getting a place looking good to sell). Having trained as a gilder and decorative artist, I do still undertake gilding and hand painted work and specialize in gilding on glass. Once in a while I’ll find myself up scaffolding painting chinoiserie on a stairwell.
I like the interconnectivity of it all. If I’ve gilded a ceiling, I might return to create a feature for a mag about the home. And I’ve had B & B guests whose homes I’ve ended up writing a feature on or with whom I’ve gone on to collaborate, such as Hilary Lowe of Damson and Slate who will be taking part in our latest sample sale with her gorgeous Welsh blankets and textiles.
The variety suits me. If sanding a bit of furniture is feeling a bit too much like hard work one day, then I can hop on the Mac and do some writing. If the words aren’t flowing, I grab the duffle coat and the dog and head for a market.
How do you approach styling an interior from scratch?
It will very much depend on whether I’m being given free reign or whether or not there is a client with existing furnishings and ideas that need consideration. If there is a client, I will want to sit with them and flip through a pile of mags or cruise pinterest or other online sources to get a good idea of their likes and dislikes. I’ll also need to know any restrictions I have to work with. I’ll then present them with my ideas either in the form of a physical mood board or one online, and we’ll go from there. If I have completely free reign, then the world’s my oyster, and I’ll want to spend some quiet time in the space getting a feel for what might work. I’m quite an intuitive designer; it’s often tough to say why I know something would work; it’s more a gut feeling, but I am getting better at verbalizing it as of course clients want an explanation!
It could be a colour or a large piece of furniture or the lighting that will set me off, and ideas will flow from that starting point.
If I’m styling an interior for a magazine feature, as is often the case, then it will definitely be a case of working with what I’ve got, but I do arrive with a stash of props just in case.
How has your style and taste changed over time?
I’m really not sure that it has. Maybe I’ve just become a lot more confident in my taste, and I suppose it must have inevitably become a bit more grown up, given my great age!
You source some amazing pieces of furniture and fantastic vintage finds, where do you find these?
I travel to Belgium where the flea markets are out of this world. I also trawl British antique markets and auction houses and occasionally have a peek at Ebay.
In the past I would do a lot of driving up and down in big old trucks, but thankfully the internet has made that less vital.
Do you have an absolute favourite piece of furniture you have sourced?
My favourite is probably an entire 1950’s kitchen I found on Gumtree!
If you could choose any type of property to style, what would it be?
I like a challenge as it’s what gets my creative juices flowing, so I actually enjoy properties that aren’t necessarily outstanding. The fun is in making them outstanding!
I love, love, love regular, run of the mill, common or garden Victorian terraced houses as it’s just a real thrill to be able to make them unique.
My idea of heaven would be a street of terraced houses and a brief to overhaul the whole row, including their outward appearance. Or, even better, a small estate of new builds. My buzz comes from working with not a lot, the challenge of turning the ordinary into something beautiful. If house doctoring, I use wherever possible the homeowners’ existing furniture and accessories. The thrill is in making the small tweaks that can turn around the whole look of a place.
That said, I wouldn’t say no to a Scottish hunting lodge!