Best of British: Artists' residences

Anna Walker

Get up close and personal with the inspiring places Britain's most vibrant artists called home

Charleston House, Sussex

The notorious Bloomsbury Set found fame in the first half of the 20th century for their experimental writing, art and attitude towards free (and sometimes somewhat incestuous) love. As the writer Dorothy Parker famously quipped, “Bloomsbury paints in circles, lives in squares and loves in triangles.”

Charleston House was the meeting place for the group as well as the home of artists Vanessa Bell (sister of the modernist writer Virginia Woolf) and Duncan Grant, and many of the famous group’s portraits still hang proudly on its stately walls.

Bell and Grant painted everything they could reach in Charleston—canvases, chairs, walls, tables—with such vigour that the house takes on something of a living, breathing air. It’s not difficult to still feel the spirit of this lively, liberated set as you move between the rooms today.

 

The Mackintosh House, Glasgow

Housed in the Hunterian—Scotland’s oldest museum—the spectacular Mackintosh House is located on the site of the former home of legendary architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.

Featuring immaculately reconstructed interiors of the couple’s home, Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum offers a rare insight into their private lives, through their distinct, iconic aesthetic.

Furnished with the couple’s own furniture, everything has been considered in order to recreate the original interior as faithfully as possible—even the lighting design reflects that of the home once owned by Mackintosh.

Our favourite detail is the intricate beaten lead vanity mirror, hung in the front hallway.

 

Red House, London

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Before Marie Kondo took Netflix by storm, there was William Morris, and nothing better exemplifies the commitment of this creative genius of interiors to beauty than his striking home in London's Bexleyheath.

From intricate mosaics on the doors, to the groomed gardens and signature sumptuous prints, the Red House is a palace for fans of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Morris designed and created almost everything inside as well as the property itself, in collaboration with architect Phillip Webb. The pair were deeply influenced by medieval styles and the neo-gothic movement.

The design of the building reveals a great deal about Morris’s personal and political sensibilities—the servant’s quarters, for example, are far larger than those of most contemporary properties, hinting at the beginnings of his socialist sensibilities.

 

Gainsborough’s House, Suffolk

The famed portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough—the ninth child and fifth son in his family—was born into this 16th century home in 1727.

As well as being the home of his youth, where his artistic seeds were first sown, Sudbury also acted as a refuge for Gainsborough, who moved back into the family house after the death of his father and controversial marriage to the illegitimate Margaret Burr. He made a small living in Sudbury selling his landscapes, which were heavily inspired by the Suffolk landscape, before moving on to bigger cities, where he would build his international reputation.

The house exhibits a surprisingly large number of Gainsborough’s work—as well as pieces by other notable artists of the day, such as John Constable—including artworks that span his entire career, from early portraits painted in Suffolk through to later works from his Bath and London periods.

 

Sandycombe Lodge, Twickenham

There’s something uniquely fascinating about finding yourself in the midst of a landscape where one of history’s most iconic landscapers chose to hang his hat.

Twickenham was the chosen settlement for JMW Turner, close to the steady flow of the river Thames. A trip to the neat, brick home of Sandycombe Lodge—which was extensively restored in the summer of 2017—is a trip into Turner’s mind, and the architecture of this beautiful quirky building mirrors the style of his own designs.

 

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, Cornwall

Though she hailed from Yorkshire, British sculptor Barbara Hepworth moved to Cornwall after the outbreak of the Second World War and stayed there for the rest of her life. She claimed that there was a quality of inspiration to be drawn from the Cornish skyline and sea-scape—which reminded her of the Mediterranean—that she simply couldn’t glean from the city.

Now managed by the Tate St Ives, it was Hepworth’s wish that her home be turned into a museum of her work, and most of the bronzes are still in the position that the artist herself first placed them.

Hepworth described the home she shared with her family with great joy: "Finding Trewyn Studio was sort of magic. Here was a studio, a yard, and garden where I could work in open air and space." Visitors to the house and magnificent sculpture garden are privy to an unprecedented insight into the artist's life and inspirations.

 

Henry Moore Foundation, Hertfordshire

Friend of Barbara Hepworth, sculptor Henry Moore created many of his most famous works in the beautiful Hertfordshire hamlet of Perry Green. Visitors can enjoy every aspect of Moore’s vision, from the busy studio spaces where he created his masterpieces, through to the calming, leafy surroundings in which he intended to showcase them.

Unlike traditional galleries, visitors can get up and close with these impressive structures. Access to Moore’s home, Hoglands, is through guided tour only, but with guides as passionate and knowledgeable as these, it only adds to the experience, offering fascinating glimpses into Moore’s processes and collections.

Visit on a sunny day, take a picnic, and take in the idyllic hamlet through the eyes of a sculptor.

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