A couple of weeks ago I went over to the warehouse to help Stef paint her bedroom. The warehouse is a huge, bohemian space in Hackney with twelve residents. The landlord is in the music industry; bought the place as a shell and built all the rooms inside. Downstairs is the basement, bike store and recording studio; upstairs is a huge communal open-plan lounge and kitchen space, bordered with mismatched sofas and one wall lined with a long, heavy wooden banquet table. The windows stretch up to the ceiling, eclectic bits of furniture skirt the edges of the room (including leather-upholstered folding chairs of the kind one might expect to find in an early 20th century bus or cinema, a bunch of old-school lockers, odd little chests of drawers and a couple of bookcases) and there are half-finished canvasses propped up all around the walls. The roof is slanted and a high ceiling is measured by wooden beams stretching through the middle of the space.
The bedrooms are tesselated into corners, no floor or ceiling the same height as another. The walls and floors are constructed out of wood and chipboard; metal beams and staircases lend an industrial, futuristic feel. Some of the rooms are enormous, stretching from front to back of the warehouse. There is a communal bathroom downstairs, dark-tiled with a huge tropical plant with rubbery dark green leaves taking up the whole of one corner. The bath is free-standing on four ornate feet; at the first warehouse party I came to it was candlelit and strewn with rosepetals. There's a tiny cabin shower-room upstairs with a perpetually damp floor, and Stef's room is next to this. She travels so much that she needs somewhere with low enough rent that she can afford to keep the room while she's out of the country. Her room is a bed-width space tall enough to stand in, with awkward metal rungs leading up the wall beside the window to a cabin bed built into the very rafters of the building. Bed above, bed-sized space underneath. That's it. There's no furniture except a low shelf/desk space under the window, made out of chipboard resting on car tyres. The walls are covered in paint, mannequins draped with chunky African jewellry, and clothes are bundled everywhere.
She shows me some of her artwork - postcard prints of minutely detailled, decorative art. Figurative studies in the style of henna tattoos, every inch of paper covered with tiny, beautiful decorative designs that shape the contours of body and background. Some are layered with translucent paper bearing subtly different designs, the visible layers combining to create three-dimensional structure. She works in pen and ink, calligraphy ink, acrylic and glass paint. The walls downstairs in her cabin are already sprawling with paint in similar designs. Birds and tiny figures are glimpsed among the endless floriate swirls and spirals. The resulting effect is reminiscent of illustrated manuscripts. She wants to paint the tiny, angular walls above the upstairs bed.
( navigating the space )