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Marianna Kennedy, Designer

November 5, 2012
by the gentle author

Come and see Marianna Kennedy’s lamps and mirrors at The Artists of Spitalfields Life opening at Ben Pentreath Ltd on Wednesday 7th November.

Behind this enigmatic facade – lettered W&A Jones – at 3 Fournier St, directly across from Christ Church Spitalfields is the showroom, workshop and home of designer Marianna Kennedy. You can even see Nicholas Hawksmoor’s spire reflected in the crown glass panes of her shopfront.

For years, I have walked past this place and wondered what goes on here, so I was very excited to go inside and meet Marianna in person. Entering through the door on the right, I found myself in a bare eighteenth century hallway, where I was greeted by a woman dressed in elegant charcoal tones who spoke with a soft Canadian accent. Marianna invited me upstairs and I followed in her footsteps until we arrived in her beautifully proportioned panelled living room. As I craned in wonder at the window, looking down onto Fournier St and raising my eyes to the steeple towering overhead, Marianna busied herself screwing up newspaper with professional aplomb. She was lighting a fire in my honour, so we could enjoy a fireside chat.

Observing my curiosity, Marianna offered me a tour of the house and then, with a playful levity, she was off again, vanishing from the room like the White Rabbit. I followed her up more stairs, round and round, with each storey offering a new perspective backwards into all the secret gardens and yards that comprise the spaces between these ancient houses in the shadow of the church. There are so many of these wonderfully irregular old staircases in Spitalfields, each with their own creaking language and each leading to surprises. At the top of this one, we turned sharply and ascended a final narrow flight, barely two feet wide, to pass through a door and arrive on the roof where, hidden behind the parapet, Marianna has created an astounding secret garden with a wildflower meadow. The rooftop is on a level with the bell tower of the steeple across the road, and Marianna stood patiently in the frosty meadow with all the mysterious poise of a heroine in a Wilkie Collins novel – while I gazed across the rooftops of Spitalfields, admiring the ramshackle irregularity of the old tiled roofs and chimney pots.

Once we were back by the fireside, Marianna settled into a wing chair illuminated by the morning sunshine and became eloquent in her affection for the architecture of the old houses here. She explained that she first came to stay in Fournier St twenty-five years ago while a student at the Slade. Marianna and her husband renovated 42 Brushfield St (the house with the sign “A. Gold, French Milliners”) before taking on the current property in a derelict state, prior to their repairs, ten years ago. Working with the Spitalfields Trust over all this time, Marianna has developed a sympathetic instinct for the decor of these wonderful spaces through the subtle use of traditional paint colours for panelling and old floors. “It is all about lack of ego, restraint and humanity,” she admitted to me. “You can make something look so natural, like it has always been there,” she explained, before adding significantly “- that is a very hard thing to do.” Certainly, Marianna’s home confirms this aesthetic, a working house with elegant functional spaces which serves as the ideal showplace for her furniture designs.

Above the fireplace in her living room is a huge bronze foliate mirror with tinted mercury glass to Marianna’s design, here in a corner is a lacquerwork table with cast bronze legs, hanging against the stairwell window is a dazzling collection of colourful transparent resin casts of plasterwork details and in each room there are the lamps of traditional design, also cast in brightly coloured resin – these are her signature pieces. All these artefacts are unmistakeably contemporary and yet, because they are made by craftsmen using techniques that have been around for centuries, they compliment the interior of the old house.

As we made our way down to the shop to say goodbye, I congratulated Marianna on recreating such a beautiful house. “It still has its magic,” she said with understatement, and, after my experience that day, I can happily confirm her assertion.

Marianna Kennedy

Portrait copyright © Lucinda Douglas Menzies

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