Living by numbers: from factory to designer home

Living by numbers: from factory to designer home

Television’s painting expert Pascal Anson shows Tamsin Blanchard around his converted factory home by the sea

Powered by article titled “Living by numbers: from factory to designer home” was written by Tamsin Blanchard, for The Observer on Sunday 9th April 2017 05.00 UTC

The sun is streaming through Pascal Anson’s window. The converted factory where he lives and works is a short walk from Shoreham beach on a street on a spit of land behind the harbour. In the 1950s, when his home was built, fir trees from Norway would be unloaded in the harbour and dipped into a tar pit at the back of his building to be used as telegraph poles. This bit of coast is still pretty functional.

He welcomes me through the art deco pink door into the main living area. Anson moved here 10 years ago after his London flat burned down and he was rehoused in a new apartment. The neatness and perfection was too much for him and he decided he needed a space he could make his own. He scraped together the money to buy the Shoreham home and furnished it on a shoestring.

It’s a messy, creative space, the floor made from mismatched boards salvaged from an old gym, and it’s dotted with Anson’s work. Though he is a designer, you might have seen him on BBC1’s Big Painting Challenge in one of his trademark boilersuits (something he collects – he has 80 of them) as he’s a mentor to the amateur painters on the show. You can see his mini tutorials on perspective, still life, landscape and portraiture on his YouTube channel. “Drawing is the basis of every creative practice whether you are a fashion designer, an architect or a painter,” he says.

A view of Pascal Anson's living room with a balancing chair.
Off kilter: a view of his living room with a balancing chair. Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Observer

He is also the author of Ordinary Made Extraordinary – 24 Things to Make Using Everyday Stuff, and a lot of the things mentioned in the book feature in his home, like the mismatched chairs around the dining table he’s painted with a cartoony wood grain. “The kitchen chairs are a way of re-unifying things,” he says, “and a result of not having enough money to buy lots of Arne Jacobsen Ant chairs.”

But he stresses this is not about making do. He just prefers to use resourcefulness to “make a kind of alternative route to consumer happiness”. His home is the engine that drives him. You can’t imagine him living anywhere else but in his studio. He says he is messy, but there’s an almost tidal cycle of making a mess and then clearing up. “I like things looking nice. Having somewhere that’s flexible and you’ve got some storage so you can put stuff away is ideal.”

Take his kitchen. It’s made using basic Ikea cabinets with a series of mismatched doors he found on sale. They ranged in price from £1 to £6. He bought 14 of them and simply painted them all the same shade of industrial grey. So, too, the orphaned cutlery with handles dipped in bright yellow Plasti Dip so they look like a set he might have bought at Selfridges. This idea came when he was at the Royal College of Art doing a design products MA. He dipped the handles of all his tools in red paint so they wouldn’t disappear into other students’ toolboxes. His cutlery and other misfit repatriated objects went on show at the Design Museum in 2005 and ended up being part of the Great Brits exhibition.

I’m struck by a chair in the middle of the floor that appears to be balancing on just one leg. This is going to be part of Hull’s City of Culture exhibition this summer. “It’s the most basic, boring chair and I’ve done the weirdest thing I can with it, which is to make it balance,” he says. He’s simply sawn off the bottom of one leg at an angle and somehow found equilibrium. The final installation will be a room with seven of them in there, all balancing. “The intervention is tiny,” says Anson. “I’m trying to take something really ordinary and do the most extraordinary thing I can.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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