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A Private View: life through a colourful lens, with photographer Jamie Hawkesworth

The celebrated snapper is known for the beauty, warmth and grace of his work – attributes that could just as easily be applied to his home in north London, now on the market

Ollie Tomlinson
A Private View: life through a colourful lens, with photographer Jamie Hawkesworth

We’re talking to Jamie Hawkesworth about his flat near Clapton – not that we’re in the flat itself… Instead we’re on the phone, having snatched a call with the photographer between flights. This is hardly a surprise: Jamie rarely stays in one place for long. When he’s not on fashion shoots, he’s travelling the world, documenting the different ways other people live.

Our first visit to his home, found within a Victorian block named Grove Mansions, took place a few weeks previously on a day with frequent and torrential downpours that rendered umbrellas useless. But grey skies couldn’t dampen the riot of colour that suffuses Jamie’s flat like colours bleed across a Polaroid. So if the sun does shine… Well. You can imagine. When, on more springlike days, the light pours through the windows, it’s easy to understand Jamie’s approach to interiors: “I have taken the spirit of my photography and brought it into my home.” Given that he’s renowned for his quiet, documentary-style approach, it seems fitting that this flat is something of an essay on the ways colour dictates our perception of space, considered but never contrived.

Yet the apartment wasn’t always like this. In fact, when Jamie first moved in, he had what he terms a “mini meltdown”. “Seeing the empty rooms made me realise just how much work needed to be done to make it my own.” Together with his girlfriend, Cecilia Byrne, also a photographer, the transformation of this place has been a trial of confidence and a lesson in not being afraid to go bold in one way, while respecting the minutiae in another. Here, as it comes on the market, he reflects on how “the devil really is in the detail” – not least when it comes to picking paint colours.

“This flat had been owned by the same person for 10 years before I bought it – and he was quite particular about who he would sell to. For my offer to be accepted, I had to first meet him and then follow up with a letter stating my reasons for buying. It was a little like a job interview, when you’re trying to make yourself into the best candidate by any means you can… When I visited, I couldn’t help but notice some photography books dotted here and there and it struck me that that was what was going to help me fight my corner. In my application letter, I wrote about the way the magnificent tree that grows outside the building reminded me of one of my favourite shots by Nigel Shafran. A few days later, the flat was mine – and that same photograph is now in my kitchen.

“The apartment itself needed a lot of work, but I knew it was worth the effort, not least because of the incredible street Grove Mansions is on. The first time I walked down that road, it felt like stepping into another universe: it’s so tranquil and the buildings are very elegant, their façades full of interesting details. It’s the same with my building, with its beautiful portico and original mosaic in the porch.

“Throughout the renovation, I focused on working out ways to restore the spaces while retaining the original historical details that remained. First up was the bathroom, then I moved on to the kitchen, which is made of reclaimed Irish wood. It was designed for me by Cecilia’s family, who run a café in County Louth called Strandfield. We took a lot of inspiration from there – and even went so far as persuading the carpenter to come over from Ireland to build it for us. Now it’s our favourite room; it’s probably where we spend most of our time. It’s a real oasis.

“Colour also plays an important part in this kitchen. It was the first room we painted. I chose a striking shade of green – the same as my studio at the time. Painting the ceiling felt like a natural step – I have always loved the simplicity of using one beautiful colour and the tonality it creates when light plays across it in different ways. I do this in my work too, building sets that allow me to experiment with colour in this way.

“While I was tempted to paint the sitting room in the same colour, in the end I chose a rich umber that complements the kitchen. I could have happily stuck with that wonderful green, but I didn’t want to treat this flat too carefully. You can be too precious when it comes to decoration; I’m more interested in seeing what works and what doesn’t. I like to play around and make mistakes – maybe it will lead to something beautiful.”

Further reading

Jamie Hawkesworth

Jamie Hawkesworth on Instagram

Grove Mansions, London N16

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