Jess Murphy, Walthamstow, London
Images by Charlie McKay
Jess Murphy purchased a sunny apartment in north east London with her husband Charlie just over three years ago. In that time they’ve slowly and thoughtfully made the space their own. A truly modular design, the apartment is at once a home, a workplace, and a studio for the creative couple. We caught up with Jess to chat about working with set designer Shona Heath, the path to her own practice and learning more about clay during isolation.
“I live in an open plan loft apartment in East London with my husband Charlie, on the first floor of what was once a mechanics garage. The building was converted to apartments sometime in the 90s, so along with some beautiful industrial features, there are also some not so nice bits – it’s a bit of an in-between.”
“We have two walls of windows that open onto a little roof terrace with high walls which allows a sense of privacy uncommon in London. It sounds strange but being able to see out, and no-one seeing in makes it feel like a little oasis! All we can see is trees and sky.
It sounds strange but being able to see out, and no-one seeing in makes it feel like a little oasis!
“I also really like the nice high ceilings, and exposed metal ceiling beams. The roof is made from metal roofing panels and when it rains, it has to be one of the best sounds! After a stressful day on set, listening to the rain on the roof in the bath is a really nice way to relax.”
“We don’t have a bedroom as such, our bed sits in a section of an open plan space and doesn’t really have a permanent position. Because we are often moving things around if we are shooting at home, we kinda keep to the basics in this area – bed and nice sheets! I made the ceramic oil burner which sits next to the bed, and have been enjoying trying out different oil blends. During isolation I also made the bedside table, casting broken pieces of marble that had been sitting unused in my props cupboard in a composite resin.”
We don’t have a bedroom as such, our bed sits in a section of an open plan space and doesn’t really have a permanent position.
“We have a lot of ceramics and a lot of plants! Some of the ceramics are pieces we brought with us from New Zealand, so those are pretty special, and others we’ve collected on our travels, or bought from ceramicists here in London. Charlie is also a really talented potter, and some of the most beautiful pieces were made by him.”
“As we don’t have a garden, we’ve surrounded ourselves with house plants. During isolation we have been catching up on making some really big ceramic pots, as so many of our plants are quickly outgrowing theirs! Usually if we need something for the house, we’ll have a go and try and make it ourselves.”
“We live on the southernmost boundary of a suburb called Walthamstow. Our immediate neighbourhood is very quiet, but we are lucky to be very close to Hackney Marsh – a sprawling, wild green space – so we often have picnics there. If we want to go out for dinner we’ll head to Hackney, which is the next borough over from us. We like to try out new places more often than not, but our friend Luca's restaurant Hill & Szrok on Broadway Market is somewhere we always go back to.”
“Shortly after moving to London, I started working for the set designer Shona Heath. Shona makes these incredibly surreal, baroque sets for the fashion world, often collaborating with the fashion photographer Tim Walker. I worked in her studio in Hackney for the first four years in London, making props, sets and costumes for clients like Dior, Hermes, Missoni, I.D Magazine, LOVE and Vogue. The days were incredibly long, but it was such a great start having just moved to London.”
“While working for Shona we designed the fashion show sets for Marni for a few years, and these were always my favourite projects. We would often start with an unusual industrial texture, like sprayed rubber astroturf, or carpet underlay, and try and do something beautiful with it. The show was always held in the same building in Milan, so to completely reinvent the space each season was a good challenge.”
We would often start with an unusual industrial texture, like sprayed rubber astroturf, or carpet underlay, and try and do something beautiful with it.
“Now working for myself, I am interested in creating more permanent spaces and objects. I like to use unusual, or even ugly, textures in my work, often combining texture with shape and colour in unexpected ways.”
“We painted the whole apartment white when we moved in – as it doubles as a workspace we needed to find a balance between a comfortable home, and a functional, adaptive place to work. We are both very used to moving things around, and more and more of our furniture has ended up on castor wheels! If I have a big project on, I can lay some floor protection and work in the living space. Charlie is very understanding of my collections of things. Boxes of stones, rocks and shells, and big rolls of rubber and industrial felt – luckily these types of things don't seem to bother him too much!”
“Unless I’m on set, I start each day with coffee and emails, listening to music or a podcast. I’m a morning person, so my best output happens before lunch. I am really excited by materials and new ways of making things, and this research often leads my creative process. On smaller projects I make any sets and props myself, but on large-scale things I work with specialist fabricators or set builders. The line between life and work can easily blur when working from a home studio, so unless I’m working to a tight deadline, I make a conscious effort to stop work at 6pm.”
“[Outside of the studio] Charlie is a member of a small ceramics collective in Hackney, and we have both been using the shared pottery studio a lot during isolation. It’s been really nice learning more about clay; all the different clay bodies and glazes and ways of firing. I have been hand building some large sculptural pieces, but have some ideas for furniture that I’m hoping to begin work on in the coming weeks. We also have an allotment garden 5 minutes walk from home, and spend a lot of time gardening. This spring we’ve been planting radishes, fennel, courgettes, tomatoes, tomatillos, beans and lots of herbs and sunflowers.”