In Conversation with Louise Hardy & Nick Barr of Dacres

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Rob – “Hey guys, how are you doing today?”

Nick – “Well, it’s a bit early in the morning (laughter), but no it’s okay, all good over here. I’d like it to be a bit sunnier for your trip, but there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Rob – “Summer just hasn’t arrived has it?” 

Nick – “Yeah exactly, but no all is well, you’re (Louise) busy aren’t you… I’ve got nothing to do today, so it’s an all round great Friday.” 

Rob – “So for our readers, tell me a little bit about yourselves. What do you both do for a living?”

Louise – “Well I wear two hats – I work as a PA to an actor, which I’ve done for 30 years and when I’m not doing that, I’m an artist in which I exhibit regularly. I have a show next month, I had one in June also. I’m also about to start an MA in painting at City and Guilds in Kennington which will last for two years, so yeah it’s all pretty busy. Exciting creative times!”

Nick – “And I’m a freelance viola player. I was in the London Symphony Orchestra and I do film and tv work, but the wheels have sort of come off there due to Covid. I also tour with St Martins, but obviously there’s been none of that. Although, fingers crossed we might be going to Bucharest & Prague early September, but again there’s all sorts of hoops to be jumped through.”

The West End has also started up again, so I’m doing bit’s with Les Mis and Phantom, which is nice – I haven’t played Phantom since the mid 80/90s, however, but it will all come back. When I’m not doing that, which has been quite a lot this past year, I spend a lot of time in the garden. That’s my department and inside is Lou’s – she’s in charge of the soft furnishings and I dig things (laughter)”

Rob – “We’ll definitely touch on that a bit later. So it’s more Orchestral stuff?” 

Nick – “Yeah mainly, but I do studio, pop stuff as well, when there’s strings on like Will Young or…” 

Rob – “Have your worked with anyone I’d know”

Nick – “Yeah I’m on ‘Nothing Breaks Like a Heart’, by Miley Cyrus. But yeah, I do loads of that kind of stuff, been doing it for about 30 years. There are some famous songs I’ve been on, but I can’t remember now. I’ve been on a lot of Will Young, he’s been very good to me over the years.” 

Rob – “A lot of love for Will Young then ahah. So you say you’re an artist, what’s your favourite medium?”

Louise – “Well I work in oils at the moment, which I hadn’t for a long time. It’s only been the past 3 or 4 years that I’ve started using that medium, before that it was anything but; my work was much more water based. So yes, the work in the last ten years has mainly been based on the River Thames, up until about a year ago, when it moved onto great rivers of the world. But it’s mainly been the River Thames because my office is in Limehouse. So I’ve been lucky enough to see Canary Wharf grow from nothing and document it through my work. But that was a long time ago. Since then it’s been aerial cityscapes.”

Rob – “Yeah I was going to say – I’ve had a look at your work and I saw the piece, Ghost City, I was blown away by it. It’s so cool”

Louise – Thank you, so I had a show in June or July and I sold that one – was the first one that went. I actually sold quite a lot at that event.” 

Rob – “So was that more experimental?”

Louise –Yes, experimental indeed! It’s a new artistic avenue and journey. It’s very new and the work I’m currently doing is similar but slightly different; I’m trying lots of new things with that theme.” 

Rob – “Yeah it’s really fascinating, mixing the photo transfer with paint. It really is an amazing way of looking at art!”

Rob – “So I was going to ask what your influences are, but I guess it would be cityscapes or the Thames?

Louise – “Well you know, people ask me that and it changes from week to week. It depends who or what I’m looking at. On this one it varied, there was Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, all those people. I take inspiration from everywhere, I like to take all the best bits.” 

Rob – “Speaking of influences, do you think your backgrounds in music and art have had any influence on the design of your house” 

Louise – “I think so, we do love designing our environment and we do, generally speaking, agree on everything. Even our previous house in Brixton was very designed, not overly designed, but we gave a lot of thought into everything. We’re very interested in different materials aren’t we?” 

Nick – “Yeah definitely, I’ve also got a very good friend who’s an interior designer. He’s been quite successful, so you know we’ve used him as a soundboard; he’s been very good at you know ‘if you want this slate, you have to go here, if you want these tiles…’. He’s pointed us in all the right directions.” 

Louise – “Actually, when we started on the house, I created a book, like a mood board, but a book of places we had seen and been to and wanted this house to have a feel of. So even before we did the kitchen, I gathered together images of places I liked and we just took the best bits and put them together.” 

Rob “The property seems to eb and flow from room to room, did you have a design style in mind beforehand, or did you just take inspiration from places you’ve been and loved.” 

Louise – “Well yeah, certainly with the kitchen extension! It’s such a beautiful house, even before we touched it. You know, if you asked someone to draw a house, they’d draw this wouldn’t they, with the double front and door in the middle. So we wanted to build very sensitively, rather than lumping a big box on the back.” 

Nick – “We were pretty nervous because people would come and say, you’re going to wreck this, you’ll ruin the back. It was very ‘English country house’ before, so we were very nervous about ruining it.” 

Louise – “We wanted a very light structure, so as not to ruin it, like a pavilion, a Japanese pavilion.”

Rob – “Yeah I was going to say, it’s definitely got an Asian feel to it.” 

Louise – “We actually never had a design scheme for the rest of the house to be honest, I think we’ve just let it grow organically.” 

Nick – “Yeah it works much better like this. You see, the four rooms upstairs are well sized, the proportions are really good. But down here we had to knock through the two living rooms to create the open-plan structure you see before you. The music room was small, the two living rooms were small, the kitchen was small. It didn’t flow at all, but now it all comes together.” 

Louise – “With the kitchen, it was mainly about bringing the garden into the house. Being able to see out! The only way we were able to see out previously, was if you were washing up, through a tiny window. So this was all about engaging with the garden.”

Rob – “I think a lot of people are trying to bring the outdoors in these days.” 

Rob – “One thing I wanted to touch on, is how impressive and interesting it is, the way you have successfully tied the whole house together, while implementing different styles and elements across the whole space. Was this something you thought of beforehand or something that has developed over the years?”

Nick – ”Maybe it’s the art that ties it all together. I suppose the kitchen is more industrial with the concrete and the stone.” 

Louise – “Well yeah, that was more designed, while the rest has been more free flow and organic. But it has been dictated by the art we have, for sure. Some of which is mine, I won’t tell you which (laughter). I do also buy friends’ art a lot, we have to support each other. So I think that’s actually quite key in terms of the design.”

Nick – “The look of the whole place comes from that really.”

Rob – “Yeah the place feels very eclectic and characterful, for sure.” 

Nick – “I’m amazed that some houses I go into, there’s nothing on the walls. They don’t feel lived in.”

Rob – “I’ve grown up with my mum filling every inch of our house with paintings, photographs and what-not, so it feels bare, empty and almost soulless when there’s nothing there. I completely agree with you.”

Rob – “Were there any important factors that went into the design of the kitchen?”

Nick – “One thing I remember was Lou didn’t want bi-fold doors.” 

Louise – “The glass was quite important, but fundamentally it was very much about creating a social space for us all to meet in. It’s been a revelation and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I mean we did it three years ago; we would never have gotten it done if we had left it any longer with Covid hitting.”

Rob – “I have to say it looks a lot bigger in person. Not that it looks small in pictures, but when I came through earlier I was definitely taken aback by the size of it.” 

Nick – “It could have been bigger you see, we could have squared it out, but it would have been like a football pitch. We wanted it to feel cosy, while having the space. We wanted something where we weren’t getting our 10,000 steps in while whipping up the risotto.” 

Rob – “So was this your first design?”

Nick – “No, not exactly. We did bits in our old place in Brixton. We went into the loft there, but this was definitely our first major build.”

Rob – “Do you have any advice for anyone looking to do a renovation?”

Nick – “Take the price you’ve been thinking of and double it.” 

Louise – “We actually had such a great experience! We had this amazing architect that I knew before and the most amazing builders we had used before, when we first moved in here. It was an absolute joy, but that’s certainly not everyone’s experience.

If I was to give advice however, I’d probably say go with recommended builders, rather than a company you don’t know. It wasn’t quite to budget, but that was because we kept adding things and we made a few mistakes with things like lights, but they were very happy to move them. I really enjoy choosing materials and elements. We went to this veneer factory out in Beckton, where they have different veneers from different trees from all around the world; we got to choose our oak veneers by hand. I guess for some people they just want it put in and that’s it, but that sort of thing makes me very excited.” 

Nick – “We also picked out the stone as well” 

Louise – “We went for Belgian Blue in the end. The concrete was also done locally, which we were really happy about. Love all that kind of stuff.” 

Rob – “Were you trying to get an industrial feel to it?” 

Nick – “To an extent, but not over the top. No steel piping and such. You have to be careful with concrete, you can’t go overboard with it.” 

Louise – “We do love all the industrial style materials though, stone, slate, concrete etc. I loved the idea of the wood with the stone and concrete. It was exactly how I imagined it. I had tens of photographs of different designs; I spent a lot of time looking at kitchens aha.

We had never actually put in our own kitchen before. We had put in different elements, but had never actually designed a kitchen from scratch. I came across a drawing I had done years ago, I think when we initially bought this place, dreaming of this kitchen and it wasn’t far off you know.” 

Rob – “That’s amazing! Did you guys face any setbacks or challenges when designing?” 

Louise – “Not really, it was quite seamless actually. We were actually able to move out. The guy I work for has a house on the river so we were able to camp there for the duration. 

We drove over everyday to check up on things, and obviously, because the studio is at the back of the garden, I was still working here. It allowed us to make sure everything was going okay.”

Rob – “I suppose the answer is going to be the kitchen, but what’s your favourite element or area of the house?” 

Nick – “It has to be the kitchen. I mean looking out onto the garden is amazing. I remember when it was finished, coming down, looking out and just going ‘wow’! I still do sometimes to be honest.” 

Louise – “I think we felt a bit like an intruder in our own home when it was first finished. I don’t think you could ever tire of coming down, sitting at that table and just looking out onto the garden.” 

Rob – “That actually brings me quite nicely onto my next question – can you tell me a little bit about the garden and any influences you might have had?” 

Nick – “Well the previous owners had been here 15 years I think and they certainly weren’t gardeners. They had made a little bit of a mess of it. However, the owners before them apparently had two gardeners working on it. So they were very keen and everything was very meticulous and particular. But when the previous owners bought the place, they let it go, which actually turned it into a sort of secret garden. It actually made it quite magical – all these gardens have orchards along the back you see. We have around 18 fruit trees, which is great, but now it’s coming up to September and what the hell do you do with all this fruit?”

Louise – “We actually now take our apples to a brewery in Bermondsey. Urban Orchard, they make Hawkes Cider. We take trugs and trugs to them and in return they give us cider. We’ve got apricots coming through now, we also have medlar, which is this amazing ancient fruit, goes back as far as the bible. We also have raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, loganberries, blackberries and plums.” 

Nick – “Going back to the garden specifically, there are these four lime trees, which were obviously here when we moved in and had been twisted together to make this arch. I actually bring a gardener in to work on them, he comes around once a year and goes up there with cable ties to make sure they bind together. You can actually walk across the top of it, it’s like a whale’s back, he said. It’s like basketery all weaved together, absolutely amazing. 

There’s also two ponds, the one on the right was here when we arrived, which is like a natural pond full of frogs, and we built one to the left of it with a pump and cleaner water.” 

Louise – “The back of the garden was actually like a junkyard when we arrived, so the first thing we did was build the studio. It was a must and something that probably never would have been done if we had waited. I wanted the studio to be across the whole of the back of the garden, but we kept the potting shed next to it, which actually adds a lot of character.” 

Rob – “Do you use the garden for inspiration at all?” 

Louise – “I don’t directly because my work’s not really about the garden, but I do find it very cathartic. My walk to the studio is almost meditative, which definitely has an impact on my work. You know, I am so lucky to have the studio at the back, most people have to go elsewhere for their studios. I always said that my dream would be to work from home. It’s my own little escape area that’s far enough away to disassociate from home, but close enough to put the dryer on if needed.” 

Rob – “So moving on to becoming a shoot location, how did you guys find out about us and come to the realisation that you wanted to do it?”

Nick – “Well we spent an absolute fortune on this place so wanted to recoup some money (laughter).” 

Louise – “Well no, to be honest, a friend of mine has been doing it for a while now, so she and I chatted about it. My daughter also had some friends, who were doing film up in Leeds; they shot a music video here, which was slightly chaotic, but it ended up looking really cool. So they shot through the whole house and the garden for around a week. 

Following that, through a friend, we had a short film shot here for four nights. Since they both went well and looked great on screen, we thought why not give it a go. We might have a film in November but that’s still up in the air. We are newbies to it, but hopefully once we get one shoot, it will take off.”

Rob – “Was it quite surreal seeing your house in a film?”

Nick – “So it was this film about a bunch of girls who get together the night before the funeral of one of their friends. There’s all these girls sitting around my table drinking and dancing. It was quite bizarre to see, but yeah it looked amazing. They’re shooting from outside looking in and it looked awesome all lit up. Apparently there will be a premier of sorts, which we will be invited to. All very cool aha.” 

Rob – “Just before we wrap this up  – for our clients and readers out there, what can you offer to anyone thinking of using Dacres for a shoot? Any Amenities or special features they might not be able to find elsewhere?

Nick – “I suppose there’s a lot of free parking which is key for large production crews. There’s free parking on the road and room for three cars on the drive. The open-plan nature of the house is also great for production teams. We also have a very long side return, which is perfect for crews to get their kit from the front drive through the house. Other unique features – well a massive garden, in respect to London standards, so if anyone needs a large and magical garden, come to us.”