A Home with a History: metalwork magic in the Cox London founders’ Edwardian house
Chris and Nicola Cox bought this generously proportioned house in Winchmore Hill, north London, in 2011 and have worked on it piecemeal ever since. But it took the lull of the pandemic to help them push it firmly over the line, hanging on to its historical character while exploring the endless possibilities of their own-design metalwork and nature-inspired motifs
- Kate Jacobs
- Courtesy of Cox London
Chris and Nicola Cox are busying around their dining table. But they’re not laying it for lunch, rather they’re hopping, magpie-like, from book to book. This particular dining table – a great tranche of pippy oak resting improbably on two rows of gently bending reeds (made, in fact, of hand-forged iron) – nurtures the mind more regularly than it does the body. “We use it as a home workshop more than we host dinner here,” admits Chris, “It’s where the creativity starts.” Nicola agrees. “It’s good to have this quiet space for thinking, researching or coming up with inspiration.”
For Chris, it was ever thus. His childhood in Lincolnshire was steeped in beautiful antique furniture and ancient objects. His father and grandfather, Robin and Ralph Cox respectively, were both antique dealers, while his mother, Pearl Bugg, is an artist. When Chris’s father returned from trundling around northern England, his spoils would be placed on the Elizabethan dining table for the family to delightedly inspect. “My dad always bought interesting things, never anything ordinary – the older the better.”
Nicola’s childhood was, in a literal sense, half a world away. Hailing from New Zealand, she grew up against the “dark and mysterious” backdrop of the bush. Her father was English, while her Kiwi mother had travelled around the world by sea in the 1950s. “She had an amazing collection of slides from her trip and on Sunday evenings we’d get the projector out and have pancakes and a slide show. I remember the colours, the architecture, the palaces. It created a huge sense of intrigue for me about travelling to Europe and experiencing all the riches it had to offer.”
The pair crossed paths in 1993, studying sculpture at Wimbledon School of Art. Both went on to work in metal, Nicky in bronze foundries in the UK and New Zealand and Chris doing restoration work in London’s East End. “I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it,” he recalls. They married in 2005 and formalised their business as Cox London in the same year, as designers and makers of sculptural furniture, lighting and objects. “We’re capable of many styles but there’s always an organic feel about what we do,” explains Nicola, with Chris adding that “the hand of the maker is important in everything we produce. Often modern furniture tries to hide that hand and be pristine; we celebrate the imperfections.” At the start they did everything by themselves, from accounts to sourcing, but now the team is 80 strong, with a studio in Tottenham Hale and a showroom on Pimlico Road.
There’s a naturalistic thread running through Cox London’s body of work too, with table legs informed by water reeds, rainforest groves and even snakes, and lighting that references olive branches and scallop shells. Their aesthetic encompasses delicately ethereal magnolia flowers and chunkily brutalist burr wood, cast in bronze. In part, this is down to Chris and Nicola’s shared affinity with nature, but it’s also down to Nicola’s yearning for the New Zealand bush. “I’m always trying to bring that in at home,” she says, “with lots of ferns and hanging plants.”
Their previous house, a two-up, two-down Victorian dwelling with a garage studio in Tottenham began to feel a little small with the arrival of their daughter Olivia in 2010, so the couple went looking for more green space, settling on this elegantly proportioned Edwardian end-of-terrace, with its huge 90ft garden. Around 20 minutes from the studio, it’s next to Grovelands Park, which started out as the Humphrey Repton-landscaped grounds of a John Nash-designed house. “I love to think I’m walking the dog in a Repton garden,” says Chris.
Chris and Nicola were charmed by the craftsmanship of their new house. “The builders really seemed to have cared about the individuality of these homes. Each house has different detailing and stained glass. There is a sense that it was among the last properly handmade houses,” says Nicola.
So far, so delightful. But on the downside, the house had long been neglected, with a bedsit in every room. “I think we had rose-tinted glasses, because we were so eager to make the move to a much bigger house.” The plumbing and heating had been turned off and when Chris switched them back on, it was immediately obvious why they had been shut down, as water began to cascade out through leaky pipes all over the house.
Progress since then has been steady and organic, with the extra time imposed by the Covid lockdowns enabling Chris and Nicola to work on the kitchen (“we didn’t want a modern extension, we wanted to the house to feel old”) and to create a bedroom suite for themselves at loft level. This was a serious undertaking, as it required the house to be underpinned, not least because of the weight of the antique scallop-edge marble sink, now in the couple’s bathroom, which came from a grand Italian country house. “It’s a moment of flamboyance in an otherwise clean-lined modernist space,” says Nicola. It could be argued that the set of Chinese screens that hang above the bed bring another extravagant touch. “These have followed us round from studio to studio but we have finally found the right place for them.” Their friend Dan, of The Plaster Collective, created earthy-green plaster finish up here, with lighter shades on the two floors below.
In the kitchen, the couple settled on waxed-oak cabinets, making their own ball-peen-hammered steel countertop, which they welded together on site and which now makes a pleasing foil for the grey terracotta tiles they found in a Danish salvage yard. Eschewing more conventional splashbacks, the couple carefully pressed a year’s worth of plant finds – from kelp washed up on a Dorset beach, and weeds from a local industrial estate to fig leaves and jasmine from their own back garden – before arranging them on parchment paper behind brass-framed glass. “It was a tricky job, as it had to fit to the millimetre. Those sorts of things only happen because we have our own metal workshop,” says Nicola.
As with their business, metalwork is a thread running through their home. Nicola tries to pin down the appeal of this robust yet alchemical material. “It’s about how it reacts to heat, and the forces you use to manipulate it. It can be hammered, forged, folded, cast. It has durability, strength, endurance and endless possibilities.” Chris agrees, “Even before it has come to us in raw ingot form or a bar, it’s a wonder because it has come from the ground. We take it and we add our artistry and vibrations and soul.”
Nicola and Chris hope to add a library here one day, uniting the books currently scattered across their studio and showroom. It might even free up some space on that dining table… As Chris explains, “Even if we don’t have time to pore over a book every day, the feeling is that the house must always be ready for that moment.”
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