Artist Helen Wells and her Victorian home in Hastings
PUBLISHED: 16:18 18 April 2016 | UPDATED: 16:19 18 April 2016
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036 01825 841157
Artist Helen Wells and her husband Mark moved to Hastings from London just eight months ago. They have certainly put their stamp on their five-storey Victorian home, finds Nione Meakin
Against a grey Hastings day, Helen Wells stands out like a buoy on the ocean as she greets me from the doorstep of her West Hill home. Her hair is red, her coat is orange, and her shoes, like her lipstick, are pink. I doubt she has toyed with a tin of magnolia emulsion in her life, a suspicion that’s confirmed as we step inside.
Colour is everywhere, from the yellow velvet armchairs in the sitting room to the rows of cookbooks arranged in rainbow order in the kitchen. Coffee arrives in an ornate, multi-coloured cup, accompanied by Tunnock’s teacakes chosen mainly for their glorious silver and red foil wrapping. On the sideboard, vases of cheerful tulips and daffodils defy the wintry wind whipping around the house. It’s obvious this is a house that belongs to someone creative before one even reaches the attic studios where Helen, 40, paints her dreamy, colour-saturated abstract watercolours.
She and her husband Mark, 43, an online drum retailer, moved into the five-storey Victorian terrace just eight months ago after being wowed by its size and the panoramic views afforded by its hillside location. Helen points out the deliberate lack of curtains on any of the windows: “After living most of our lives in London, we can’t get enough of seeing the sky and stars.”
They moved to Hastings on a whim initially, attracted by the lifestyle and space they would never have had in the capital. As the couple both work from home, they wanted room for offices; “Now we have a whole floor each,” laughs Helen, who gets the morning light in her studio at the front of the house and decamps to the adjacent room to make the most of the afternoon rays. Her studio was one of the first areas plotted out when they moved in: “I wanted it to be cosy but simple, without too many distractions.” Her desks are both vintage finds, while a glass-fronted cabinet and stylish padded swivel chair were picked up from Gumtree: “I’m a bit of a collector – another reason I love Hastings. I can’t count the number of bargains I’ve discovered in antique and junk shops here.” Swathes of her paintings are fanned across a floor, on their way to buyers who have come across her work online and in restaurants and galleries. “The move to the seaside has had a noticeable impact on my work, I think. I often start the day walking on the beach looking for interesting patterns, textures and lines and to me, that’s really coming out in my painting.”
A row of zebra ornaments marches across a shelf, one of several collections dotted throughout the house. Metal elephants on a landing window ledge were picked up on trips to Rajasthan, northern India, a row of framed and pinned paper butterflies nod to the house’s 19th century heritage and in the sitting room, shelves flanking the fireplace are filled with arrangements of mottled glaze ceramics in delicate hues. Sussex Life’s photographer comments on the vast array of vintage mirrors on the walls – Helen last counted 25 but she admits she can’t resist when she spots another find in a local junk shop. “Victorian houses can be rather dingy and they’re brilliant for bouncing light everywhere,” she explains. “I promise it’s about the effect they give rather than extreme vanity!”
The couple were fortunate in not needing to make any structural changes to the property when they moved in, although several Artex ceilings had to be stripped out and every room and corridor repainted. Despite initial impressions, it transpires that Helen is not a complete stranger to magnolia. In fact there are off-white walls in almost every room (the third floor loo is painted a deep indigo), which only serve to highlight the vivid furnishings. “The combination of shocking pink and saffron yellow makes me really happy,” smiles Helen when I comment on what appears to be a motif throughout her home. “I think it comes from my trips to Rajasthan. I was so enchanted by the colour in India. It inspired me to use colour more in my work and at home.”
Although there is still some work to be done – she fancies painting the living room floorboards a deep shiny blue – it’s striking how quickly the couple have made a home in Hastings. “It was the best move we ever made,” says Helen. “This feels so much the place we were meant to be. Walks on the beach, live music, friendly people…it’s got it all. There’s no way we’ll ever return to London.”
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