Azadeh Ghotbi On Living With Work
Artist Azadeh Ghotbi’s apartment in Clerkenwell looks more like a contemporary art gallery than your typical London home. After all, his self-developed living space is also his showroom: art collectors visit regularly to see his work hanging on concrete walls and living between the collection of modernist furniture and time-worn objects carefully produced by Azadeh. A Charlotte Perriand lounge chair; a 1900 railway carriage transformed into a coffee table; a giant Thai water buffalo skull; a handmade wooden stool with visible imperfections: it is this intriguing contrast of materials, the mixture of old and contemporary, that makes Azadeh vibrate.
It was in 2017 when Azadeh and her husband bought the apartment. While it seemed very different from the modern living and working space it is today, they saw the potential and immediately fell in love with the courtyard, the heart of their home. After months of painstaking research, they renovated the space, creating a spacious double-height ceiling and revealing the bones of the building-concrete masses with character spots. An appropriate backdrop, therefore, to demonstrate Azadeh’s own paintings, which are inspired by the flaws and scars of life. Here, she discusses sharing her home with her art, her beloved outdoor space, and why she admires the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
Azadeh: “The art of my house belongs only to me. It is important for me to be surrounded by my work, because it helps me to understand it better, to see how the pieces fit together and how they change throughout the day with different lights. I work flat on the floor, so the first perspective I have is different from what a collector would see, and I think it’s important to see both.
“I sometimes take clients to the studio itself, which is upstairs-this place is a three-bedroom apartment, and the second is my studio; the third is my art storage-but there are more than 20 works of art hanging on the walls in the living room. Collectors usually visit large studios in very remote areas of London – this is unusual because it is not only a studio and a showroom, but it is someone’s house. They can see the work of art in a habitable environment and, architecturally and design-wise, they can see a very unique space.
“We bought our house four years ago. I was looking for a Loft warehouse renovation and something quite atypical. I did not want a beautiful Georgian apartment, to which I could not add value – I did not want something already exquisite, which I could not do personally.
“When we first arrived here, it was extremely uninteresting architecturally. The building dates back to the 90s, when exposed concrete was not fashionable. Although the construction was made of concrete, everything was covered with plaster. There was inexpensive wood on the doors and on the floor, there was shiny chrome from the 1980s on the stairwell of the railing and the ceiling height was really low.
“We tore the place to shreds, finished every millimeter of it and exposed all the concrete. It was a complete renovation of the intestine. You should have seen the photos – it seemed that the Third World debate was taking place here. But the more the concrete was exposed, the more interesting the bones of the building became.
“We hired an architect only to submit architectural drawings and get permission to make the changes, but I did the rest myself with the help of an excellent contractor. That’s really my vision, my plan. I had a very detailed picture in my head of what space could become. It took months of preliminary research with mood boards before the work began.
“I like natural and textured items that are rough, but in a very soft way. I love Tadao Ando-when he pours concrete, he pours it with the utmost perfection in mind, because he knows that it will be exposed from the very beginning. When we exposed the concrete, it had many imperfections. We polished it so that it looks like a natural stone. It is very smooth, but everything has small grains that make it so interesting.
“My style is not about gloss and bling. I like to mix natural materials that are in harmony with each other and materials that speak of their age and are proud of their heritage. Over time, my aesthetic has evolved. It comes from decades of seeing, thinking, appreciating and training my eye. I don’t have the eyes I had in my twenties.
“The structure is quite unique. Unlike most traditional apartments in London, which always face the streets, our faces inside, in the garden. It is a cocoon of a place where your only view is from the heart of the house – the outdoor patio. I immediately saw the potential of the garden, which, when we first moved in, was not landscaped at all.
“Having an outdoor space in the middle of London is an incredible luxury – it’s like having an oasis. I believe in biophilia, that is, when green has a calming effect and can make you a happier person, so we added a lot of mature plants and vines. It is absolutely essential that it looks lush, green and interesting. My pride and joy is the jasmine wall. The smell is awesome and right now it is at its peak.
“The space I use the most is at the head of the dining table, where I can see the garden and my water buffalo is looking at me. When I’m working on the computer, I sit here, and that makes me very happy.
“I have always worked from home. I often go to other artists’ studios, and sometimes I envy the large spaces they have, but there is something I appreciate about being close to my work and my life. The fact that you can work at any time of the day or night – you don’t have to take the time to travel.
“I like the environment, Clerkenwell. I am an artist, so for me the soul of a place is very important. Clerkenwell is known for its craftsmanship, for people who work with their hands. There are engravers, architects and goldsmiths who have been there for a hundred years.
“Clerkenwell has more architectural firms and design showrooms per square meter than any other place in the world. From Zaha Hadid to name just a few, they are all just a few blocks away. When we renovated the space, the trend was to do everything locally, and in a way, everything in this apartment is local. Although much of it comes from the Netherlands, for example, it still comes from a showroom two blocks away. So, everything is there – the soul of Clerkenwell. It’s real and fair.”