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 Using their loaf

 An artist couple have revitalised this former Hackney bakery turned live-work space and gallery

 Close enough to London Fields to smell the summer barbecues hanging clause? Not sure. Fix later, the Old Bakery occupies a corner plot towards the end of a street in which new Hackney rubs shoulders with those who landed here in the 1970s never imagining they were buying shares in a gold mine. Artist and print maker Willett Pearson and interior designer and artist-sculptor Chloë Bryan-Greene may represent new Hackney – they bought the Old Bakery three years ago – but they maintain their values match those of their long-established neighbours. When the street is closed to traffic on play days, their children, Ivor (six) and Ermine (four), play out just as Pearson and Bryan-Greene used to do when they were children. ‘As soon as we moved in, we felt so at home,’ says Bryan-Greene. The couple met at Central St Saint Martins in the late 90s and were married on a beach in California in the early noughties. Pearson had come down to London from the Midlands, while Bryan-Greene, a Bristolian by birth, had moved with her family to south London as a teenager.

‘We originally conceived of it as a live-work space,’ says Pearson, ‘but then the children got a bit bigger and, well…’

The couple bought a cottage in Deal, Kent, last year.
‘We became DFLs,’ says Bryan-Greene, with a roll of her eyes.
‘Down From London,’ Pearson explains. DFL? FFS

They also bought a little flat around the corner from the Old Bakery, and the latter now functions as a workspace for a new collaborative venture, brandXX, and as an occasional rental space for weddings, fashion shoots and AirBnB, and semi-public gallery where the couple can display their own work. A series of Bryan-Greene’s framed photographs of loaves and pastries fills the kitchen wall. ‘Those were taken in artisan bakers all over London,’ she says. Of course they were ‘I always carry two cameras, because I work in both digital and film. I shoot everything twice, once with each camera, then, later, I take digital shots of the photographs taken on film, while with my film camera I take pictures of prints of the digital photographs. Then I hang the results side by side.’ Of course you fucking do

The seating area, separated off from the kitchen by a mid-century modern G Plan teak room-dividing shelving unit that Pearson found on eBay (‘I’m not telling you how much I paid for it’ Oh please tell us), features a refurbished sofa salvaged from a skip and covered in a Designers Guild blue velvet, and a pink flock-covered armchair that Pearson advises is actually one of Bryan-Greene’s sculptural pieces. ‘But do sit down,’ he says.

Bryan-Greene adds: ‘It’s absolutely for sitting on. I just like the tension between the chair as a chair and the chair as a work of art. In that sense it’s a conceptual piece as well as a piece of sculpture.’ Sigh

‘And an armchair,’ adds Pearson. Heh heh

The seating area, which also includes another eBay find, in the form of a 1960s red-and-black leather chequerboard footstool, attests to the couple’s love of colour in spite of the white walls throughout. ‘We wanted to honour the building’s original purpose, at least on the ground floor, where it all happened,’ says Pearson. ‘Plus, it’s kinda like a gallery.’ kinda? Oh Willett, I was just beginning to think you weren’t that bad

On the first floor are two bedrooms painted in Dulux Heritage colours Copenhagen Blue and Green Oxide, but each room is dominated by huge framed prints from Pearson’s Strong Women series of photographs of single mothers on Hackney estates. Uh-huh? These also hang on the walls of the landing, which extends into a corridor that leads the eye to a second landing area at the back of the building. From here a window looks out over a triangular-shaped triangular-shaped? What’s wrong with plain old triangular? Would you say square-shaped? Would you? Well why say triangular-shaped? The copy for these things gets worse garden in which a life-size gingerbread man sculpture by Bryan-Greene stands over a small table with inlaid Moroccan mosaic tiles.

‘We had that shipped back from Marrakesh,’ says Bryan-Greene, ‘and ever since, on our travels, we’ve been keeping our eyes open for just the right chairs to go with it.’ Yeah, god forbid you pop down to Ikea

An old-style shool school desk sits under the window, flooded with light, with a kneeling chair pushed snugly underneath it.

'I sit and write there every night,’ says Pearson. ‘Well, kneel. I’m writing a novel. The trick is to write every day. I do an hour after the kids have gone to bed. The kneeling chair is great for concentration. Back pain is a thing of the past.’ thing of the past? With any luck you’ll soon be a thing of the past

A trompe l’oeil door leads back into the green bedroom, where a simple Ikea wardrobe yeah right stands facing Bryan-Greene’s photographs over a single bed.

The eclecticism of the interior design might amount to a confection, but it’s hard-nosed business decisions that earn the couple their daily bread. ‘We had a fashion shoot in here at the beginning of the year that paid the rent on the flat for three months,’ says Pearson. Meanwhile, brandXX is expanding its portfolio week by week, and the couple are considering opening a pop-up shop.

Selling what?

      ‘Bread, of course,’ says Bryan-Greene with a big smile, ‘from the nearest artisan bakery. Broadway Market, right? Why so coy? Don’t want to give your location away? Any more than we already have It’s just an idea at the moment, but if it would benefit the community, then it’s definitely on the table.’ benefit the community. Benefit you and Willett and Ivor and Ermine more like.

      Anyway. Captions.

Daily bread: Chloë Bryan-Greene and Willett Pearson in the kitchen. Facing page: salvaged sofa and artchair.

Strong women: Pearson’s photographs of single mothers hang on the upstairs walls.

OK, so when does this have to go? Let’s have a look. Ah, not for ages. If I send it I’ll just have to do some other shit. So, Willett, you’re writing a novel? Of course you are. And I wish you luck with it. I think you need it, because it doesn’t sound to me like you’re all that lucky. You know what I mean? The flat around the corner, the cottage in Deal, not to mention the Old Bakery – kinda like a gallery. I wonder how much your ‘pieces’ are. And your wife’s ‘pieces’, her photographs of photographs, her artchair. I bet you wish you’d thought of that, don’t you? Artchair. There’s more talent in my little finger than – well never mind. I suppose when you’ve finished your novel you’ll send it to a friend of yours who works for Curtis Brown and he’ll read it right away – no slush pile for you – and he’ll send it out to half a dozen editors telling them he’s very excited about this, it’s the best thing he’s read in years, literally years, it’s why he’s in the business he’s in, and they’ve got two weeks to read it and then there’ll be an auction and if they’re not in they’re out, and three of them will bid and he’ll tell you all about it and between you you’ll decide not to go for the highest bid, because it’s not all about the money, it’s about matching the right author with the right book with the right editor, and hopefully it’s the start of a relationship, although the only relationship that really needs to last is the one between author and agent blah blah blah. Unless it’s really shit, I mean unsalvageably shit, in which case the agent will let you down gently, you’re mates after all, and he’ll casually mention crowdfunding, even though he knows it’s not good enough for crowdfunding, since lots of perfectly good stuff struggles to make 100 per cent, but he’ll correctly intuit you’re not ready to think about self-publishing, because I doubt you would be. That’s for other people, isn’t it, people like, I don’t know, journalists, sub-editors, say. Yeah, subs. That’s who it’s good for. Someone who slaves all day long making someone else’s copy readable. Someone who writes headlines and standfirsts and captions and cuts copy to fit, rewriting it if necessary, like if someone writes triangular-shaped instead of triangular. Someone who’s written a novel but doesn’t have a mate who works for Curtis Brown and so’s been turned by down not only by them but by all the other agencies as well. And the small presses, the half-decent ones anyway.      

You know what, Willett? I know where you live. Or where you write. Anyone knows where the Old Bakery is. I’m going to pay you a visit. I’m going to pay you a visit tonight. Then tomorrow morning I’ll strip all this out and send it and maybe it’ll be in the paper on Sunday or maybe it won’t.

© Nicholas Royle 2020  

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