You could draw a line down the middle of our studio this week and label the two halves ‘flowery chaos’ and ‘construction site’ respectively, one piled high with branches, flowers, plants and vessels, the other a scene of power tools and building blocks and cement that miraculously become walls overnight (thanks to our brilliant Jamaican brick-layer Gary who has the stamina of an ox). Last weekend was the first wedding of summer, and the first wedding in our new digs, which already feel like home despite the temporary mayhem. It is far too much of a building site at the moment to be representative of what it will become but we are advancing fast and furious - a new partition that will be the bathroom has gone up and today the frame to hold a mezzanine floor is being installed, and so I am staying well clear, and snatching the chance to write.
So much is happening lately, and so it follows that there is no time to document it all. I feel sorry about that in a way, a need to pause and appreciate everything before it rushes by. I miss writing and having the time to keep a journal; it seems ironic that the most exciting phase of our business and the culmination of all our creative endeavours so far coincides with having not a minute to reflect upon it. But that is the way it is; you steal the time when you can. By the end of next week the studio will have a new floor which is being ‘floated in’ over the old rubbly one and at some point thereafter glass panels to the front and back to let the light in. Beyond that is the garden, which we hope to transform into a leafy courtyard complete with greenhouse for seedling propagation, but that will have to wait a while yet.
When you occupy a new space it takes a while to get the hang of it, you have no history there, no way of interpreting its character beyond the first impressions during pressured agent viewings. (Jess and I both inexplicably had a strong gut feeling that this was ‘the one’, despite at the time all apparent evidence to the contrary.) When you finally take over there follows a period of mentally mapping the variations in light and temperature, delineating one area from another, finding the rhythm of the building and its surroundings. Somewhat unexpectedly, both morning and evening the light there is magic, a slanting sidelight under which everything is golden in its hazy slipstream.
Our studio is comprised of a former Victorian railway arch opening on the east side of a brick-built viaduct, a strip of which runs between the Victorian terraced houses along Macfarlane Road and Frithville Gardens on the line that continues open air between Hammersmith and Paddington. Above is the extended platform of Shepherd’s Bush Market, one of 29 stops on the pink-coloured Hammersmith & City line.
I love the history of places and, despite being an unlikely railway enthusiast, I’ve been doing snippets of homework on the line and its arches, and finding it all surprisingly interesting. The Hammersmith & City line, formed in 1864, was originally a steam train and carriage use underground, running between Paddington and Farringdon. In the 1870s the line was extended to Hammersmith and was reported to be the first underground train line in the world, its gas-lit wooden carriages creaking through the fields beyond the line of spreading suburbia. There are amazing old images of the open arches during the Victorian era and the sites of bombed viaducts during the Blitz. Shepherd’s Bush Green, moments south from us, was originally a grazing pasture for shepherds on their way to Smithfield Market in the City, and Hammersmith Park, at the north end of Frithville Gardens, was once part of the Japanese Garden in the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition, a large public fair given to celebrate the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France, which attracted 8 million visitors from around the country and abroad.
Today the arches are neighboured by the monolithic Westfield shopping centre, and directly behind stands Television Centre, the infamous home of the BBC from 1961 to 2013, currently being converted in an £8 billion redevelopment to form a new community of luxury apartments, studios, bars and cafes, along with a Soho House hotel (more on this here). In its shadow, and no doubt under the gaze of future pool-side roof-terrace loungers, curves the viaduct and its arches, some dormant storage facilities, some mechanics' and carpenters' workshops, several comprising a large recording studio, one opening soon as a gym, and then there’s us, incongruously spilling flowers onto our forecourt in the middle.
Building works aside, wedding season is now underway and the show must go on regardless. We bring up buckets of branches and flowers from the cutting garden, take in deliveries, a scaffolding tower fills with soft colours and the achingly summery scent of sweetpeas. Between prep and bouquet-making we acclimatise, grow used to the sounds of the underground, the starling nest in the rafters above, the Italian who spontaneously breaks into song behind the garden fence, the odd cat visitor, the jasmine gushing over our neighbour’s wall and the sweet smell in the warm afternoon air mingled with the smoky scent of burning charcoal on Shepherd’s Bush Market. To occasional bursts of vehement drilling the most delicate, intricate flowers of early summer are layered together, vases filled, ribbons unspooled and knotted.
In Kent, L & N are married in a little Norman church between large arching urns of hedgerow flowers - wild rose briars and hawthorn branches heavy with blossom, crescents of Solomon’s seal, curving spires of foxgloves, sweet rocket, peonies and trailing vines of clematis. The bride arrives in a London cab wearing a Victorian-inspired gown of ivory Guipure lace by LA designer Claire Pettibone. She reminds me of Ariel from The Little Mermaid with her long mane of flaming red hair and green eyes. Jess made her a divine bouquet, a ruffled fluttering globe of cream, blush, grey and oxblood - garden roses, peonies, ranunculus, colombine and sweet peas. It was deliciously scented, cascading with a myriad of slim, pale silk ribbons. The dinner tables were scattered with vessels of the loveliest flowers of the season in a 17th century tithe barn, the reception spilling out into gardens overlooking the ancient oast houses and verdant valley beyond. There is nowhere more enchantingly beautiful than the English countryside at this time, especially in Kent, the 'Garden of England'.
So here’s to summer, and to a season ahead of long days, armfuls of roses, and pretty women in love.