House tour: artists’ home in Cornwall

When guests visit Helen and John Worton’s home for the first time, they sometimes find themselves left a little bit speechless! This is due to the fact that to all intents and purposes the terraced frontage of this 16th Century Cornish cottage is not at all what it appears from the village square. You might imagine that what lies behind are low-beamed ceilings with a conventional upstairs/downstairs floor plan and a country-style interior in a neutral Farrow & Ball palette.

Instead, what greets you is a home where there is living and gallery space as well as bedrooms both upstairs and down. The size of the house is rather deceptive too as it has been added to over the years and extends deep into the garden at the back. It isn’t the bright white Mediterranean-inspired walls or floor that might surprise you either, nor the fact that the colours of both artwork, furniture and furnishings are joyously bright, but it is perhaps the scene that greets you in the living space as you climb the stairs to the first floor.

Colour co-ordinated books in hallway

The house has evolved over time to meet the needs of family life. What was once the family’s first floor living room with log-burning stove has now given way to John’s gallery. Off this space is an open plan dining/kitchen area (with separate bedroom and bathroom beyond).  The ceiling open to the rafters enables John’s incredible sculptures room to breathe – although he is fast running out of space! Downstairs are more bedrooms, bathroom and sitting room.

Work/life balance

John’s work is dramatic as it is beautiful, and the sculptures – which are almost like prehistoric creatures – contrast with John’s earlier abstract oil paintings and prints.

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John and Helen Worton’s live/work space on The Roseland Peninsula. Photo: Charis White
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Once the family sitting room, now John Worton’s gallery/home office. Photos: Charis White
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John Worton’s sculpture and framed drawings. Photo: Charis White
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John Worton’s sculptures in living room with lime green chimney breast peeping behind. Photo: Charis White
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John Worton’s abstract oil painting and components for sculptures sitting on IKEA white storage cupboards. Photo: Charis White

John, who grew up in Reading and has an MA in Fine Art, bought the house in 1988 as a complete wreck and renovated it himself bit by bit. John opened up walls, mended chimneys, re-roofed and completely renovated the 16th Century cottage. It has been a labour of love which took several years to complete. Since 1994 both Helen and John have also been bringing up John’s younger daughter Maddie who has now flown the nest and recently qualified as a solicitor.

Inspiration for John’s sculptures came from a book he bought in 2000 called ‘Perpetual Motion; an Ancient Mystery Solved?’ by John Collins. This led him to study a poem written with clues by a 17th Century German entrepreneur called Johann Bessler for a self-balancing/self-revolving structure mounted on an axle. John believes Bessler did achieve this. “The reason I have worked on it for 10 years now is because if this structure can be found, it could mean green clean pollution-free energy.”

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John Worton’s white sculpture complete with lead weights and with piano hammer type felt. Photo: Charis White.

John’s artistic approach has meant that each handmade piece is finished to the highest aesthetic and finish. Colours of the sculptures co-ordinate perfectly with art, furnishings and furniture in their home. Some of the arms of the sculptures have beautiful thick felt – the sort you might find on piano hammers.

Kitchen design style tip

Helen and John designed the kitchen using IKEA kitchen cabinets. However, Helen wasn’t happy with the colour options available so she asked their local garage if they could car spray them with this high gloss lime. It was relatively cheap to do and cleverly created the look of a high-end kitchen.

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Helen and John Worton’s IKEA kitchen with car sprayed cupboards. Photo: Charis White
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First floor kitchen with door to bathroom and bedroom beyond. Photo: Charis White

Interior style on a budget

This is ‘the house that John built’ and that they have both filled with their own artistic endeavours, the results of which have created an inspiring and very individual interior. Most of the furniture and flooring came from IKEA. Storage units in all areas of the house have created stylish seamless places to keep all the clutter and stuff of life out of sight.

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IKEA storage and chair in John and Helen Worton’s live/work space on The Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall. Photo: Charis White.

Spare room

Complete with display shelves for art, Helen has continued the theme of white walls, floors and furniture as a blank canvas. The Edwardian dining chair is upholstered in one of Helen’s own woven striped fabric designs.

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One of Helen and John’s spare bedrooms. Photo: Charis White

Helen’s textile designs and John’s painting

Luckily Helen and John are in complete harmony over choice of colour for their work and their home.

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Ground floor sitting room: John’s abstract oil and striped cushion fabric designed by Helen. Photo: Charis White

Ground floor living room looking onto the garden

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London to Cornwall return

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Carne Beach on The Roseland Peninsula. Photo: Charis White

Helen trained as a textile designer at the Central School of Art and has worked for many large UK textile firms putting together their woven fabric collections.

Helen is now the Showroom Manager at the French textile and wallpaper firm Pierre Frey at the London Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour. A job she adores. Like many creatives who leave London to live elsewhere but still need to work in London, Helen manages this with a four-day week commuting to and from Cornwall at the weekends.

(Cushion made from embroidered fabric from the New Chinese inspired Maoming collection at Pierre Frey)

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Cushion made from Maoming collection fabric, Pierre Frey. Photo: Charis White

Helen came across a great website called blablacar.co.uk. It matches people who have cars with passengers looking to go to the same destination. People do generally enjoy chatting and getting to know each other, even if they are complete strangers. This all pays for Helen’s petrol and enables other people to enjoy much cheaper (than train) journeys to and from the capital. Really rather fab.

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Ground floor hall way which leads to the garden and Patricia’s house and shared courtyard. Walls lined with John’s prints. Photo: Charis White

Green fingers

Gardening is a passion for both Helen and John. They have created an L-shaped garden oasis up against the textural old walls of their neighbour’s house  – who also happens to be Helen’s mother Patricia. Helen, her sister Kate and parents lived abroad for many years in various countries from North and South America to the Middle East as well as London but they have all been settled in Cornwall and Hampshire for several years now.

Style queens

Helen and John do a lot of entertaining especially throughout the summer months which they love, and it is a joy for the couple and their friends that Patricia (who is a mean cook – and interiors and fashion style queen herself) is often part of the party. In fact, it is no joke that Patricia has sold at least more than one of her previous homes to some high-profile people who fell in love not just with the house but with her interior decorating style. The last, a house in Islington, was sold to journalist and author Alison Pearson.

(Left: Patricia Saville-Smith and daughter Helen Worton; garden and back of Helen and John’s house)

John’s garden workshop

John’s workshop, where he creates all the components for his sculptures, overlooks a circular lawn edged with blue and white Agapanthus. Helen and John bought the plants on their honeymoon to the Scilly Isles 21 years ago. Rather satisfyingly, the Agapanthus multiply each year.

Helen and John Worton's circular lawn with Agapanthus. Photo and blog: Charis White

Thank you so much Helen and John for sharing your beautiful home with us. For more information on John’s work, please contact: john@factumpoetica.org

Charis White, interior stylist
Charis White – interior stylist/blogger

Thank you for reading!  If you have enjoyed this and would like to receive regular email alerts for future posts then please just sign up to follow by pressing the large blue ‘Follow’ button either at the beginning or end of this post. With many thanks, Charis x

5 thoughts on “House tour: artists’ home in Cornwall

  1. A privilege to have spent time with John & Helen (& lovely Patricia) in such an inspirational place… a proper oasis.. you have captured it well. Thank you for reminding us of the glorious happy times in their beautiful home.

    Liked by 1 person

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