Blue Curry has pulled off quite a balancing act in his Victorian terrace, treading a confident path between clutter and calm, colour and neutrals, old and new. Curry found this place in 2012. After 12 years in a one-bedroom flat, the artist felt the need for more space: “I really wanted a garden and enough room to unbox my many collections.” Flat-hunting, he saw a lot of “badly tarted-up two-bedroom flats.” Then, in the same price bracket, he found this place – an imposing four-floor house overlooking east London’s Victoria Park.
The catch? “It was an absolute wreck, with windows falling out, no heating and not much in the way of plumbing or electrics – just extension cables snaking between the bedsit rooms.” Most alarming was a huge crack running the height of the house, “big enough to put your hand in”, recalls Curry with grim relish. “But there was so much potential, so much history. I decided to dive in.”
It helped that Curry knew a great pair of architects, old friends from his Goldsmiths College days, Lara Rettondini and Oscar Brito of Studio X Design Group. “They had their own brilliant ideas but they incorporated many of mine, too.” The crack turned out to be Second World War bomb damage, and easily sorted. It transpired that his whole row of houses experienced similar effects when a bomb destroyed St Mark’s church at the end of the road. This grand terrace was built overlooking the park to create homes for wealthy industrialists who wanted to live close to their Hackney Wick factories. Following the Blitz, they quit the area in droves and it became more run down.
Curry creates installation pieces and sculptural assemblages and has a fascination for the stories behind objects. He was keen to preserve the house; to hold on to every floorboard and old nail. He convinced his architects to leave the plaster walls unpainted, their flaws exposed. It helped that the builders had left many naive doodles on the walls, presuming that they would be hidden under wallpaper forever. The house might have become a museum piece, were it not for Studio X. “In the end, Oscar called me out by asking, ‘Are you a Victorian?’ He convinced me that we could preserve a sense of history while making the house workable for my own way of living.”
Curry was born and raised in the Bahamas. To him that meant intense light and tropical greenery. “I wanted to squeeze as much light as I could into this place, even on grey winter days,” he says. Studio X achieved this by opening up the back of the house with a floating staircase and large picture window. There’s also a glass box extension to the basement kitchen which looks on to Curry’s garden, reclaimed from a tangle of brambles.
They took the same approach on the top floor, once two poky bedrooms, now an open-plan main bedroom-cum-bathroom. The low ceiling was opened up into the V-shaped butterfly roof, with skylights fitted. The star attraction here is the amazing Victorian porcelain bathtub, which Curry spotted when his builders took him to see another project. “I got there just in time – they were waiting for a sledgehammer to smash it up.” The bath is fringed with plants for subtle screening and Bahamian lushness. The loo is concealed in a wall of built-in cabinets.
Curry finally has the space to enjoy his collections. They are displayed in moderation in every room; a seemingly disparate group of objects on the living room mantelpiece is united by their column-like forms. In the back living room, a former chimney void is used to display some of his vintage cameras.
In the second-floor library, Curry had a wall of birch ply shelves made by Philipp Weltzien Furniture. He comes here “to be inspired, or get distracted” by his books on art and anthropology and his esoteric groupings of souvenirs, shells and toys, all in glass cabinets to avoid dust. His artist’s eye guides the collections. “I’m fascinated to see multiple variations of a type of object,’ he says, “whether that’s alarm clocks or teapots.”
Curry’s approach to furnishing draws on his heritage, and the Caribbean idea of “mashup”. “In the Bahamas, people make do. There’s less stuff available so people live with inherited pieces and, if they go to a store, there might be one rug instead of 20 to choose from, so people live with a real mix of styles. It’s about bringing many different things together and finding their rhythm.”