An art-filled converted builders' yard

Artist Trevor Burgess used creativity and a bold palette to turn what was once a builders’ yard into a dynamic home. Photographs James Balston

Published: June 13th, 2022 at 8:00 am

As an artist who paints street life and cityscapes, it makes sense that Trevor Burgess lives in a very urban location. His home is an old builders’ yard, sandwiched between a busy London railway line and the backs of Victorian terraces. But behind his rickety garage door lies an intriguing home awash with vivid colours and upcycled furniture.

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The building was derelict when Trevor and his wife, landscape architect Andrea Dates, bought it. ‘It was in a terrible state, stacked with rotten timbers and piles of old pipes,’ he says. Cement had been poured over the area behind the building, which has now been turned into a garden. Trevor and Andrea had the cement broken up and removed, chunk by huge chunk, and then sifted through the decades-old detritus beneath. Some of the prettier spoils – cloudy glass bottles, sections of slate and the odd rusted cog – are now displayed around their home.

Larger-scale reminders of the building’s previous life remain too, from municipal door handles to windows with safety glass criss-crossed with wire. The bathroom was once the office, with a hatch in the wall where workmen queued up to collect their wages. ‘We filled in the gap and it now makes a useful set of shelves,’ says Trevor.


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After clearing out the building, they set about converting the space into a habitable condition. Sheets of ply were used to clad the inside of the pitched ceiling and they used sections of semi-transparent corrugated polycarbonate between the bedroom and kitchen. ‘It’s lightweight, insulates well and is easy to cut,’ explains Trevor, who also made all the wooden shelves and the kitchen units. For an interesting touch, he incorporated a beautifully decorative pair of 1940s drawers into the cabinetry. ‘Originality was forced upon us because of our limited budget,’ says Trevor.

Colour is a big part of the couple’s style, with vibrant paint shades inspired by travels to India and Latin America – Andrea is Argentinian so they frequently visit her family there and have travelled around the continent. The bright yellow of the rubber floor, which replaced dusty grey concrete, was inspired by a trip to Mexico City: ‘We were thrilled with the effect,’ Trevor says.

More colour comes from a pair of vintage chairs that Andrea bought in a junk shop and re-covered in pink velvet. She was also responsible for the subtle gold paint that highlights the carving on a 1930s headboard and chest in the bedroom. ‘The bed was passed on by my nana, along with its original mattress filled with straw. Andrea sanded it back and carefully picked out the carving in gold paint.’


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Trevor’s own colour-saturated paintings are hung all around this single-storey home. Urban life is a mainstay of his work, from anonymous London flats painted from estate agents’ listings, to children playing in the fountains of Granary Square in King’s Cross. Then there are paintings of markets, depicting fruit and vegetable sellers in Dalston and a stall piled high with flip-flops, in Pune, India. ‘Markets are part of why cities exist,’ he says. ‘It’s how they developed as trading centres and, in most cities, markets are still a hub of city life.’

Displayed alongside Trevor’s own artworks are old family photos and two pieces by artist John Kiki, who inspired and helped Trevor when he was starting out. ‘I was a trainee at a Norwich gallery and one of my first jobs was to pick up John’s paintings from his studio, hidden away above a meat-packing warehouse.

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I was just stunned by his work,’ he remembers. Trevor soon went on to help set up a cooperative studio in Norwich, where he and other artists renovated a disused warehouse – skills that were useful when he and Andrea converted this London space many years later. ‘Whether it’s to make a studio or home, most artists are adept at reusing objects and spaces in creative ways,’ he says.

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