An old malthouse filled with salvaged furniture
An old malthouse filled with art and salvaged furniture has become a homely space that reflects a love for the work of artisan makers. Photographs James Balston
'Wirksworth has always been a place where people make things,’ says Esther Patterson. The Derbyshire market town is where Richard Arkwright opened the world’s first water-powered cotton mill in 1771 and where, during the 19th century, mills in the area churned out the red tape beloved of bureaucrats in Whitehall to bind legal documents. Today, factory workers have been replaced by craftspeople, the mills converted into studios for the ceramicists, metalworkers and designers like Esther, who give Wirksworth its bohemian edge.
‘This is a friendly place too,’ says Esther, whose business, Curiousa & Curiousa, specialises in colourful contemporary lighting made by hand in town. ‘It can take me 20 minutes to walk down our street because there’s always someone to chat to.’ Esther’s home, which she shares with her husband, Paul Carr, and two grown-up children, feels equally sociable. The red-brick building was a malthouse in the 1700s, and the first floor they dwell in would have been used to dry grain for brewing. The couple have preserved its industrial, open-plan architecture, adding rugs, art and colourful wallpapers, so it’s a cross between an urban loft and a country house.
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‘We moved here from a townhouse with a small sitting room and we wanted to have a large communal space where the family could meet up,’ says Paul, a graphic designer. They divided the long rectangular space simply, with glazed screens at either end to provide separate bedrooms. The kitchen, bright with hanging plants, takes up the centre, opening onto the sitting room on one side and the dining area on the other, where new doors lead to a terrace.
‘Both of us love making things, so it was important that our home reflected that,’ says Esther. In the kitchen, framed by a canopy of oak beams, they covered one wall in Venetian plaster to contrast with the gleaming cooker hood, made by layering copper leaf over an inexpensive extractor. The shelving came from an old mill, while the cabinetry was salvaged from a school science lab, with metalwork forged by a local blacksmith.
Bare brick walls are the setting for art by friends: ceramics by Anna Collette Hunt, and paintings by Pat Shenstone, Isabel Pugh Cordero and Ian Groom. ‘We’ll do swaps for my lighting – it’s a very symbiotic arrangement,’ says Esther. The striking mural in the dining room is by Esther’s son, Gabriel, its brightness offset by the monochromatic painting by Ben Lowe. An unusual organic chair is by Full Grown, a company that trains trees into the shape of furniture, while fellow Derbyshire designers Blackpop produced the painterly fabrics on the mid-century seating.
In the bedroom, Esther painted the emerald chinoiserie wallpaper. ‘My mother is a painter and I had a creative upbringing. I enjoy trying out different things.’ Her glass lights, which cascade from beams like otherworldly planets, are handblown so that no two shapes are alike. ‘Designs pop into my head and I’ll sketch them in my notebook. Going for a walk, photographing leaves or flowers can be the start of a new piece. I’ll often design something for myself and it’ll become part of the collection.’ For her latest pieces, Esther drew inspiration from her garden to create the silk lanterns that add an exotic touch to the sitting room.
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She made her first pieces when she was studying decorative arts at Nottingham Trent University. ‘I went as a mature student in 2006. It was a brilliant three years experimenting with woodwork, ceramics and printing.’ A chance encounter inspired her to start Curiousa & Curiousa. ‘I’d been making lamps out of slipcast bone china. One day, a glassblower visited the college. I asked him to blow one of my lamps. It took him an afternoon – mine had taken six months. That was a eureka moment.’
Graduating with a first, Esther shoehorned her furniture and wallpaper designs into a stand at the London Design Fair, where her trailblazing lights scooped an Elle Decoration award. ‘No one was doing contemporary coloured lights, so we stood out.’ Liberty placed an order. Harvey Nichols, The Royal Albert Hall and Jamie Oliver (who has the lights in his kitchen) followed suit.
From a workshop in a caravan, the business has grown to a staff of nine with a showroom in London. A new range of waterproof lights has introduced colour to bathrooms and Esther hopes to put her hand-painted wallpapers into production. The glass is blown in Derbyshire, the lights assembled in the factory that once made red tape. ‘I can’t imagine making our pieces anywhere else. I’d feel as if I’d lost a bit of my soul.’
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