Tucked away off Royal Hill in Greenwich, a former hayloft-turned-artist’s studio is providing a charming bolthole for visitors from around the globe
Words: Nikki Spencer
Step out into the sunny courtyard garden of Roger Nelson and his partner’s ‘eco-retreat’ and very faint writing on the exterior wall tells of the building’s former history: ‘SJ Perren and son, corn and coal merchants, hay, straw and clover, wholesale and retail’ it reads.
‘It dates back to the time when Greenwich was still part of Kent and life was much more rustic,’ explains Nelson, ‘although in other respects it was also quite urban. Back in the 1840s there were businesses or small shops in every other house around here,’ he adds.
The building was used for the feed and coal merchant’s delivery horses and carts, with a hayloft above. Nearly 180 years on, with its exposed ceiling timbers, tiled floor and collection of blue and white striped Cornishware crockery, the delightful one-bedroom, open-plan holiday apartment at the back of the couple’s Georgian terraced home still has a country feel.
‘I grew up in Norfolk and I think that has certainly influenced me,’ says Nelson, who designed and project managed the building’s transformation. The couple bought the rather rundown property four years ago after having lived in a small cottage nearby for over a decade.
‘We used to walk past and always felt that it needed a little TLC so when it came on the market we jumped at it. We weren’t sure what we were going to do with the stables at first. Originally I thought about making it into a home office, but then we came up with the idea of creating a self-contained apartment that we could rent out to help fund doing up the rest of the house.’
They got planning permission to operate it as a holiday let last year and rent the studio out via Airbnb as well as with the new curated holiday rental service, The Plum Guide, and gay friendly accommodation site, Further Afield.
The house was previously home to portrait painter and sculptor Hans Schwarz, whose work is on display in the National Portrait Gallery
The house was previously home to portrait painter and sculptor Hans Schwarz, whose work is on display in the National Portrait Gallery and in numerous collections including the National Maritime Museum. The artist bricked up the former stable doors and used the building as his studio although it was a pretty basic set up. ‘There was a concrete floor, a plug-in heater and a sink but that was about it,’ recalls Nelson.
‘Hans used a rather precarious ladder to get up to the hayloft where he worked, although you can see why he liked it so much,’ he adds as he leads the way up to the mezzanine double bedroom where light streams in from windows on all sides and there are gorgeous views across the rooftops and gardens.
Schwarz’s legacy remains with a shabby chic paint-splattered side table, whilst back downstairs there’s a self portrait of him as a younger man and a wooden sculpture of his wife, Lena, alongside numerous books featuring his work.
For the conversion, Nelson and his partner enlisted the help of Blackheath-based builders Geo Contracts, who had done some work on their previous home and who have a track record in historic property restoration. ‘We worked hard to keep the character of the place, but also to make it very environmentally friendly and cosy with triple glazing and under-floor heating,’ Nelson explains.
They put on a new roof, installed new floors, windows and doors, and used reclaimed timber and recycled as much a possible. ‘I like to keep to eco principles and reuse things that people no longer want,’ he says.
‘We bought a new fridge, boiler and microwave, but that’s it. The Stoves cooker, the white ceramic sink and the late 50s blue and cream kitchen units all came from eBay. I have also collected lots of things like the Cornishware over the years. The enamel bread and cake tin was something my mum gave me ages ago and is perfect in here.’
We worked hard to keep the character of the place, but also to make it very environmentally friendly and cosy with triple glazing and under-floor heating
The oak wardrobe came from The Junk Shop in Greenwich and the Ernest Race metal chairs came from Manchester Central Library in the 90s. ‘I was working there at the time and they were chucking them out. They cost me 50p each!’
It’s not only made for a wonderfully homely place to stay, but also resulted in a career change for Nelson. He’s enjoyed the experience so much that he has now switched from working in the arts to designing and managing other building projects locally, alongside hosting their visitors, who are certainly well catered for with breakfast delivered to their doorstep every morning.
‘We are so lucky to have such great shops nearby so I decided to make the most of it and go to Buenos Aires café on Royal Hill where I buy fresh bread and pastries, which I leave in a basket for them,’ says Nelson. ‘People really seem to appreciate it and we have had lots of great feedback and reviews. The other day someone said that staying here is “very calming”, which is exactly how I want it to be,’ he smiles.