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Dropping By: Mark Lebon, the man inside the house that makes people smile

When photographer, filmmaker and producer Mark Lebon – never one to conform to expectations – was looking for a house in the mid-1980s, he bought himself a parking lot instead. In the intervening decades, he’s conjured an extraordinary hand-hewn home and studio for himself, where fluttering flags, spinning cupboards and a rooftop veg garden join work by dear friends and collaborators – a place that, as Mark explains in this poetic (and occasionally profane) film, never fails bring joy to those walking by

Film and photography
Jan Vrhovnik
Words and production
Grace McCloud
Dropping By: Mark Lebon, the man inside the house that makes people smile

Residents of Kensal Rise in north-west London may well know Mark Lebon’s house without realising they do. Crunch, as it’s called, stands in clear contrariness to its perfectly polite, Victorian stock-brick-and-stucco neighbours. Haywire and teetering where they’re rigorously vertical and carbon-copy, it bears its street number – carved in huge numerals overhead – like a badge. Twice. A Jolly Roger flutters above and Tibetan prayer flags quiver among the branches of a mimosa that bursts into scented yellow every spring. Over the top of the gate, held shut with alligator clip wires, you’re more likely to see the front door open than closed, Mark’s tousled blond lurcher, Hank, lazing across the threshold. It’s a house designed, after years of thought, to bring joy. As Mark says in this film, originally produced for The Modern House, “I so often look up [from the kitchen] and there are people smiling as they walk past… It’s really nice to have a building that makes people smile.”

In all its eccentricity, this is an unsurprising place to find a man who’s always broken the mould. In the 1980s, when Mark bought the garage that was to become Crunch, he was busy making a name for himself as a photographer and filmmaker, producing work for The Face and i-D when the magazines were at their blazingly iconoclastic peak, and proving himself invaluable in the establishment of the House of Beauty and Culture (HOBAC), one of London’s foremost post-punk design collectives of the 1980s and 90s. Think of a name associated with the maverick subcultures of those wild and heady days and, chances are, Mark worked with them: Neneh Cherry, Judy Blame, Ray Petri, Christopher Nemeth, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier…

Crunch was central to all of this, with Mark designing it as his studio as well as a place to live (Kate Moss remembers skiving school to come and hang out here). It remains so today. As well as housing Mark’s sprawling, slightly terrifying archive – “I once made the mistake of cutting up all my film transparencies and then never labelled them. It was a fucking nightmare” – Crunch bears witness to his creative collaborators and colluders in its very fabric.

As well as Mark’s own designs – drainpipe-fed rainwater fountains, poured concrete basins, a hosepipe shower – those of others are everywhere: there are ingeniously swivelling wardrobes, as well as suspended wooden beds and carvings – sexy, sacred, profane – by Fritz Solomon, one half of HOBAC furniture-making outfit Frick + Frack. There are prints by Nemeth and treasured pieces by Blame. There are scribbles and scrawls and photographs – by Mark, his friends and his sons, Frank and Tyrone. There is a real sense that this place has been properly lived in and loved by many.

Almost entirely handmade over the course of many years, Crunch is in many ways a deeply personal manifestation of Mark’s mind: singularly idiosyncratic, sharply creative and intrinsically irreverent in both its form and its function. Pitching on the edge of chaos, it’s a place of contradiction – something summed up by the door carved by HOBAC artist Dave Baby, reading: “The good temple for Truth: love, lust, life + lies”. After all, a good life, Mark says, “is all about that balance, really, isn’t it? Between love and lust, order and mess, light and dark.” He pulls out a kitchen drawer, hefty and heavily fingerprinted, and picks up a fine bone-china mug of the sunniest yellow to make a cup of tea, dainty in his big hands. Looking out the kitchen window, he waits for someone to walk by and smile.

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