At Jocasta Innes’ House
The first house I ever visited in Spitalfields was Jocasta Innes’. A quarter of a century ago I came here, one bitterly cold winter morning, with my friend Joshua Compston to visit Brick Lane Market, and it was an unforgettable adventure to step through the gate in the wall into the tiny courtyard and enter her secret enclave.
After all these years, the old house is unchanged but now Jocasta is gone – making it a poignant experience to return and photograph her home, recording the paint effects that became her speciality. Yet I was blessed with bright May sunshine and a welcome from Jocasta’s partner, the architect Sir Richard MacCormac, who graciously took me on a tour, revealing a few of the memories that this house contains for him.
“I remember when I first came to visit Jocasta after she moved in, in 1979. Only the top floor was habitable then and she was sitting upstairs typing her bestseller by the heat of a two-bar electric fire. That was ‘Paint Magic.’
Her decoration of the drawing room is inspired by Roman wall painting, She was incredibly well-read, she won an exhibition to Girton College Cambridge and she was imbued with the rigour of scholarship, that came from her mother who ran a little school and taught her daughters herself. There are three and a half thousand books in this house, including a great many cookbooks, and Jocasta had read all of them. When she wrote her ‘Country Kitchen’ the level of research was extraordinary, she learnt to make a smokehouse for curing herrings, how to make sausages and bake bread, but – with Jocasta – this knowledge was always presented with a jaunty attitude and a lightness of touch.
The pub next door was called The Romford Arms when Jocasta first came here and that’s where we met. In those days, the old residents of Spitalfields all wanted to get to Romford as soon as they could. It took a while for Spitalfields to recover. In ‘Ian Nairne’s London,’ he described it as ‘poor tottering Spitalfields.’ It was yet to be a cause for conservation and the Church Commssion were deliberating about demolishing Christ Church.
I bought part of the brewery next to the pub and another architect, Theo Crosby, had bought the other half, and Jocasta’s house was in the middle. She was sitting in the pub and I knew she detested architects, yet she pretended she didn’t know I was an architect. When I asked her what she was reading, she said ’1001 Ways to do Without an Architect’ … and we lived together ever since.
She thought all architects were colour blind and to some extent she was right. We collaborated on the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University. She had read more Ruskin than I did, she appreciated his sonorous prose, whereas I had absorbed the idea that architecture could be imbued with a sense of time and memory. The interior of the library was lime-rendered in an ochre, and the archive itself was a big glass box coming up out of the floor, finished in polished red Venetian plaster. And that started off our collaboration. After that, we designed the exhibition ‘Ruskin, Turner & The Pre-Raphaelities’ at Tate Britain, using colour in a symbolic sequence throughout, and also “Surrealism, Desire Unbound’ at the same gallery in 2001.
In the days when Jocasta was restoring her house, my office was in Covent Garden and my supervising architect said, ‘You’ve got to come over to Spitalfields and see this. There’s this woman in a black and silver body suit up a step ladder with a blow torch, ordering men around!’ That was Jocasta. She was so brave, so dauntless.”
The exterior is lime wash on top of the brickwork using earth pigments.
The Drawing Room
In the Drawing Room, the walls are colour washed with a stencilled border and simple graining upon the door frame.
Jocasta’s dog Bella.
In the hallway and stairwell, trompe l’oeil Roman stone blocks above a splattered paint effect to evoke granite, with a checkerboard painted floor.
A mahogany wood-grained door on the right and concealed door to the left.
“There are three and a half thousand books in this house, including a great many cookbooks, and Jocasta had read all of them.”
Painted in Shanghai in the nineteen-twenties, a portrait of Jocasta’s mother who was of an Argentinian/Irish family.
Jocasta’s dog Bruno.
My thanks to Decorative Artist, Ian Harper, for specifying the paint effects.
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