WHEN comedian Jenny Eclair’s new build Camberwell home won a prestigious architectural prize, the Manser Medal, in 2005, it came as a surprise. ‘It’s a little black wooden shed,’ she says, modestly, but points out that architectural prizes are more often won by vast properties that cost many millions.
By contrast, her home is on a busy London street and was previously a 1950s redbrick two-up, two-down. ‘It didn’t have any redeeming features. It was all a bit rickety. I think it was apprentice-built where they get the trainees to build the house so it didn’t take much to knock it down.’
Her husband, Geof, had just been made redundant from his job as an art director at a magazine and decided to put his redundancy money into a building project. ‘It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,’ she says. ‘At first his idea was to give it a complete makeover, but then we got planning permission to demolish the house and do something a lot more modern.’
Geof employed the services of architect Robert Dye. ‘It divided the neighbours,’ says Jenny of her dark wood and glass five-bedroom house. ‘There was a little bit of contention. There were people in the area who would have preferred a fake Georgian new build to modern architecture.’
The house is built around a central staircase — with the ground floor consisting of a large open plan kitchen/living/dining room with floor-to-ceiling doors leading out on to the back garden.
It’s all neutrally decorated, with clean lines and dark flooring made of the same substance used on the floor of Tube trains.
When the project was complete, they moved from their previous home, a Georgian house nearby, but found the minimalist new build a bit of an adjustment.
‘The house demands a bit of discipline, it doesn’t suit untidiness,’ Jenny says. She relocated some of her belongings to a storage unit. ‘We’ve got a lock-up of shame. I’d call it an Aladdin’s cave but it’s full of sh**. I can’t remember what’s in there.
‘I can be a bit trinket and knick-knack, which Geof neutralises. I find myself going to shops, looking at floral things. I love florals, but I share a space with someone else and it means a lot to him to live like this.
‘So I wear bright lipstick and leopard print coats. I need to explore that side of myself. I put the stuff on me rather than on the walls. I sometimes think about painting one of the walls orange, but it wouldn’t work here.’
Has her change of surroundings made her work differently at all? ‘No, I’ve always worked in the same way. I had a small study in the Georgian house, I’ve got a slightly bigger one here, but I’ve always worked facing a wall.
I don’t even look out of the window. I don’t want any distractions. The most important thing is to have a comfortable chair.’
There have been some changes in the home over the years. It’s less minimalist than it was originally. There are now lots of art works on the walls. Geof is an enthusiast of mid-20th century artists and the theme is reflected in the furniture.
The living room features original Eames chairs, a B&B Italia corner sofa (‘I wouldn’t let anyone else sit on that when I first got it,’ says Jenny) and a mid-century wooden side unit, with a cute ceramic pig sitting on top.
The house now also includes curtains. ‘There weren’t any at first,’ says Jenny. ‘Then I said: ‘‘Geof, I’m finding it a bit hard to sleep.’’
‘He said, ‘‘I’ve got a great idea,’’ and came home one night with those eye masks you get on planes. I eventually bullied him into putting curtains up…’
And the place isn’t entirely knick-knack free anymore. There’s a shelving unit on the first floor featuring several interesting items — architectural ceramics, animal skulls, a sculpture and a painting of an apple Jenny did herself. Right next to it is an enormous painting of a shoe done by their daughter.
Building the house was a huge project and has had some long-lasting consequences. Geof was so inspired by working with the architect he now designs extensions for people himself. There’s a model of one of his current projects out on the table when we visit.
‘Working with Robert was brilliant,’ he says. ‘And I use some of the ideas from the house with my clients now.’
Jenny is equally pleased they made the move. ‘When the house is lit up at night it’s like a little space ship.
‘When I come back from a gig I’m delighted to be home. I still get a huge thrill from putting my key in the door.’
Jenny is touring the UK with Grumpy Old Women: To The Rescue nationwide from March 28, with Dillie Keane and Lizzie Roper, grumpyoldwomenlive.com
‘It doesn’t suit untidiness, so we have a lock-up of shame. I’d call it an Aladdin’s cave but it’s full of sh**’