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At Jocasta Innes’ House

May 8, 2013
by the gentle author

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 Kitchen.

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.

In the bedroom, the walls are loosely dragged and the tile effect in the fireplace is painted.

“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.

You may also like to read about

Jocasta Innes, Writer, Cook & Paint Specialist

At Anna Maria Garthwaite’s House

24 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeannette permalink
    May 8, 2013

    thank you for showing us her house, the paint effects are so interesting as is the place itself. was she as much of a spitalfields pioneer as it seems? so interesting to see the portrait of her mother, on which her daughter daisy goodwin has a number of things to say, in her book, Silver Road.

  2. Caroline permalink
    May 8, 2013

    Oh, thank you so much for these beautiful photographs.
    Aside from showing the wonderful taste Jocasta had for decoration,and her stunning vision, this is very precious to me, as my great great grandparents lived in this very house in the early 1840s.
    Of all the places my ancestors lived in London, this is the only house still standing.


  3. May 8, 2013

    Such a person! Such a story! Thx for sharing this part of J. Innes with us.

  4. May 8, 2013

    Thanks for this, am wondering if there are any plans to preserve this wonderful house as a monument to someone who did so much to encourage others to get their brushes out and make Paint Magic

  5. Jean Jameson permalink
    May 8, 2013

    Thank you for this, TGA. My husband gave me a copy of ‘The Pauper’s Cookbook’ for my birthday when we were first married and I cried because we had no money and this just rubbed it in. This was in 1971 and over the years, the book became a much-loved friend. In particular, the recipe for toffee shortbread is a family favourite, although so extra ant that I limited it to family birthdays. When our oldest son went away to university, I sent him a parcel with a tub of bubbles, a five pound note and six pieces of toffee shortbread. The bubbles spilled in the post, ruining the biscuits and the money! This year, my copy fel apart and that same son found me another on-line to replace it.

  6. Marina B permalink
    May 8, 2013

    I want to weep when I think of Ms Innes’ special rooms and well-loved corners existing on without her. But I hope her spirit lingers there still. An inspiration!

  7. marianne isaacs permalink
    May 8, 2013

    Thankyou gentle author I enjoyed seeing these beautiful photos . I have her book at home but havent looked at it in a long time . I wonder did Jocaster do what she wanted to do in her house or is this an accurate representation of what might have been in the 18 the century?. Either way its wonderful. I love getting your email deliveries each afternoon (AUstralian time ) and often read them just before I leave to go home from work as a little wind down after a busy day at work. Thankyou again!!

  8. May 8, 2013

    Gosh – what a treat to see and read this blog this morning! GORGEOUS interior – can one visit this house? (I suspect not if it is still occupied). Completely fascinating – thank you TGA. What an original you are yourself that you can pick out so many – and such diverse gems – all in the Spitalfields area – and place them under our noses like Mr Pussy, perhaps, delivering his morsels to you on a less regular basis.


  9. May 8, 2013

    A blue plaque should be placed on the front of Jocasta Innes’ house in Spitalfields so she is forever remembered here. We shouldn’t forget too that this beautiful interior was also a family home, as can be seen in the BBC documentary from 1985: ‘Ours to Keep: Incomers’ (on i-Player) in which the house and her small children also featured. Nice to see now in these photos, the images of their children, her grandchildren, adorning the walls of this wonderful house, which of course was just ‘Grandma’s’.

  10. May 8, 2013

    Really interesting, and stunning decorating. Paint Magic was the first book I owned / referred to when starting out. Standing the test of time.

  11. May 8, 2013

    What a fantastic house! It’s like stepping into a work of art. And what an interesting person she was. Thanks for these lovely photos.

    3000 books! Sigh. (I’m a book-aholic with no room to put that many books.)

  12. John Campbell permalink
    May 8, 2013

    link to the programme x

  13. William permalink
    May 9, 2013

    Thanks for sharing this. What a great home. Her poor dogs must be wondering where she is.

  14. Cherub permalink
    May 9, 2013

    Love the kitchen here, it’s very warm and welcoming. The portrait of Jocasta’s mother is stunning.

  15. Anne Forster permalink
    May 9, 2013

    I really loved looking through these photos. Love all the paint effects, i used to do some simple ones in the early 80s in the old house where i lived in Worcestershire.

  16. Tufty permalink
    May 13, 2013

    Spent more memorable moments in this house than I can remember and will miss Jocasta for always.

    In many ways this place became the ‘gang’ HQ and boy, what a superb location for a party!

    Although I must admit, she was ‘merely’ my friends’ mother when we met in the 1980’s, I never stopped occasionally popping in to say hello and enjoy the odd tipple long after everyone had flown the nest. Chatting with Richard and Jocasta (or anyone else in the area) til late just seemed the natural thing to do.

    Wonderfully talented, yet also blessed with the warmest of hearts and the gift of genuine hospitality, it truly saddens me to say, “goodbye Jocasta. Thank you for being you.”

    Big love to all the ‘gang’.

    Long live the kitchen table!

    Tufty. – Rio


  17. June 14, 2013

    Her book was my bible when it first came out, I stippled and glazed everything in sight and loved the result. She gave me colour courage! A great lady up a ladder.

  18. August 11, 2013

    Thank you so much for sharing Jocasta Innes house in Spitalfields – she was an inspiration to me. I have Jocasta to thank for influencing my style today in painted furniture – since purchasing ‘Paintability’ in 1986. I love the fact that while everyone was obsessing about Sir Terence Conran and his style in the eighties and early nineties that Jocasta stayed true to herself and her unique sytle (which is so trendy now today). I was luckily enough to attend the London College of Furniture during the late eighties around the corner from Spitalfield and spent many a happy time in that area socialising and doing college projects (made a chair/stool from a vegtable create found in Spitalfields Market). Jocasta has been such a big influence in my life and it was lovely to see inside her house. Thank you.

  19. June 14, 2014

    I linked to this from your Two Houses in Spitalfields blog. Both are filled with the most rich and serene images. I paused at writing a comment but have been haunted ever since, I have no choice.

    You manage to bring life to your blogs, something I can only dream of. I’ve also enjoyed reading the comments that have already been added, and thank you to John Campbell, for leaving the link that I will now follow.

  20. December 4, 2014

    Beautiful pictures and very evocative of a certain period before houses became too “over-decorated”. I certainly remember discovering Jocasta’s books at Liberty’s in the mid 80s. The pigments on the walls are beautiful.

    Reminds me very much of Bloomsbury/Charleston – the same mix of art, craft, the personal and, of course, lots and lots of books.

    Thank you.

  21. stephen jackson permalink
    January 17, 2016

    I feel privileged that I visited this house and it was quite by accident ,i work for Thames Water and was attending to investigate a leak in the courtyard. Sir Richard MacCormac , who was the owner invited me in a showed me around , and explained how he met Jocasta Innes , and how she reclaimed the building and imposed her style on it. I had heard of Jocasta Innes but didn’t know what she was known for. The house I hope will be preserved for posterity,
    steve Jackson.

  22. April 20, 2018

    Having only recently taken time to buy and read the books by this amazing woman I am in awe.

    I wanted to make it known that now retired I spent my working life amidst the architectural fraternity and would not have it any other way.

    Sincerely, Robert Hamon. Alive and well and living in the south of England.

  23. Jean Abela permalink
    January 19, 2021

    I worked for Jocasta in the late 70s I used to do her personal accounts, spent many happy time sitting at her kitchen table at lunchtime chatting with her, lovely memories.

  24. Lorraine permalink
    November 5, 2023

    I had Jocasta’s Living In Style book out on repeated loan from the library when I was in my twenties and broke. I learned to mix paint colours and use paint effects to do up my tatty rented house and hopefully put back some of the love that the previous occupants had deemed Old Fashioned and covered in artex and fake wooden paneling. Some years later I tracked down a second hand copy and was delighted. How lovely to see her home again. I feel I know some of these rooms off by heart.

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