In an 18th-century Huguenot silk-weaver’s house in Spitalfields, you’ll find the studio and home of decorative artist and designer Marianna Kennedy and her partner and collaborator, Charles Gledhill. The four-floor Georgian space is a study in contrasts: muted walls are juxtaposed with the brilliant hues of the artist’s lacquered tables (price on request) and resin lamps (from £400), and the stained-glass windows and swirling sconces. What was once the derelict home of a banana trader has been lovingly transformed into a magical workshop.
Here, a group of artisans – Kennedy herself plus assorted carvers, glass blowers, gilders and lampshade makers – work together “like a couture fashion team might, with a focus on quality and craftsmanship”. And out of this creative hubbub comes an array of bespoke possibilities – from lights (from £400) and decorative accessories, as well as pieces from Kennedy’s yearly collections, which are designed “to hold their own beside pieces of art”. The exquisite blown glass in shades of green, purple and murky white (price on request), as well as the tinted mirrors on display, can all be taken off the sitting-room floor and away with you. Her Noir Mirror (£20,000) features a stunning pairing of black glass and black gesso that was, explains Kennedy, “inspired by Yves Saint Laurent, the work of Jeff Koons and mid-century French designer, Eileen Grey”.
As well as looking to antiques and tradition for inspiration, Kennedy also has a fondness for the quirky. “My work has a whimsical, poetic quality,” she explains. “It is rooted in the past but is resolutely modern.” Any commission should begin with a visit to her Fournier Street studio, which teems with ideas and inspiration.
Among the most striking pieces in Kennedy’s home are the series of blinds and lampshades that have been inspired by Gledhill’s bookbinding work (he also has a workshop in the house) and are made of folio cloth. They can be commissioned in a variety of colours and sizes (from £300), and each casts a mellow glow. Lighting in general is a strong suit and standing Cawdor floor lamps (second picture, £12,500), made of resin, are available in a spectrum of deep hues, including brilliant green, turquoise and crystal clear. Elegant horsehair lampshades (from £250) complete the look, and are truly sculptural works of art. Smaller resin lamps (first picture, £280) with antique book-cloth shades (£110) complement Kennedy’s grander, custom-made pieces. Rounding off the artist’s exquisite-yet-functional offerings are “lighter-than-air” wall sconces that appear to twirl about the room and cast a subtle light.
With the help of a lacquerist, a restorer and a metalwork designer, Kennedy also creates contemporary tables (price on request) using a combination of new techniques and both traditional and modern materials. Those that are painted and lacquered with bronze patina bases make for stunning centrepieces and are also available to commission.
None of Kennedy’s creations comes together overnight and commissions generally take between three and four months to complete. But, after seeing and appreciating the incredible craftsmanship of this east-London design collective, you’ll understand why the spectacular decorative objects are more than worth the wait.