A picture of domesticity

Emma Whiting at her home
Emma Whiting at her home
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Artist Emma Whiting’s paintings are a main feature of her beautiful family home in York. Sharon Dale reports

Artists’ studios are messy, exciting places and many, like Emma Whiting’s, have a dual purpose.

Hers doubles as the utility room and so she paints and contemplates to the gentle hum of the washing machine, which is quite soothing until it reaches a fast spin cycle.

“I don’t mind. The utility room is right at the back of the house and although it’s cold, it’s really quiet and peaceful,” she says

She spends three days a week and some evenings in there creating her sought-after still life pictures, which often follow a theme.

“I did a series of chairs and now I’m featuring a lot of birds nests, but to be honest my painting style is very eclectic, though I try and have a theme for a body of work and I try to create a narrative,” she says.

The paintings feature in almost every room of the beautiful period house in York that she shares with husband Jonathan, a civil servant, their three children Molly, 16, Ned, 14, and Grace, 11, and dog Hubert.

The family bought the terraced property four years ago and, like most visitors, they were astounded at its size. It had seven bedrooms and, most importantly, the garden that was top of their wish list. Emma and Jonathan have reconfigured some of the space, using two bedrooms to create a large master suite with bathroom. They also revamped the first floor sitting room and laid seagrass flooring.

The kitchen had a complete makeover with units from Howdens. They replaced the old wall cupboards with vintage shelves that give crucial storage but make the room feel more open and spacious. It is also full of natural light thanks to adding a new set of French doors that lead out into the garden.

“The kitchen seemed tiny before but the doors and the new units have made a huge difference. The room looks so much bigger,” says Emma, who has tackled the draughts and cold from the original sash windows downstairs with a new wood burning stove and some ingenious curtains. She bought the silk drapes from eBay and lined them with an old wool blanket topped with a layer of white cotton. They were a little short so she added a sari, bought by friends in Delhi, to the bottom.

Furniture is a mix of items they have collected over years from antique shops, charity shops and eBay alongside some family pieces, like the oak settle in the hall from Jonathan’s parents.

The enormous pine dining table and chapel chairs were from an antiques shop and are perfect for the Friday morning art class that Emma runs.

In the spirit of creativity, the children were allowed to decorate their own rooms with surprising results. Grace has a rural mural, while Molly opted for bright orange walls, which took five coats to get right. The walls elsewhere in the house are a little more muted, soft blues and greys and the emulsion is Farrow and Ball “for its quality and chalky texture”. The hall is home to a collection of round and oval mirrors picked up from antique and charity shops, while above one door is a retro typewriter.

“That was Jonathan’s idea. I found it in a charity shop though he loves eBay and so there are always a mystery parcels being delivered. Fortunately we have similar tastes,” says Emma, whose latest creative endeavour is a series of rag rugs that hang in the dining room.

“I really enjoy it and it’s a way of recycling the kids ’old clothes. It’s my evening activity. I like to switch my brain off but I can’t keep my hands still so rag rugging is perfect. It’s easy and I can do it while watching telly. They are extremely time consuming and take hours to make, so they’ve become a family joke.”

Her paintings often mirror their subject as she works in a classical way from observation. So the picture of the white wicker chair is hung above the seat itself and the painting of an old Singer is above the sewing machine in the study.

She got it from her mother, an art teacher. “Art was always a hobby for me but when I was 24 I did an art foundation course. I couldn’t resist it any longer,” says Emma, who had studied English at Oxford University, where she met Jonathan.

Visitors to the York Open Studios event will be able to see her paintings, which are in a variety of oil, pastels, emulsion and mixed media. Emma’s is just one of more than 50 artists and makers who are opening their doors to the public for two weekends in April.

“I really enjoy it. It’s great to get feedback,” says Emma “It’s also a good reason to tidy up a bit.”

For more details on Emma’s 
paintings and her oil painting class visit www.emmawhiting. co.uk


Discover the work of more than 50 artists, craftspeople and designers at this year’s York Open Studios.

Artists throughout York will be inviting you to visit their studio spaces. They include illustrators such as Emily Sutton, contemporary ceramicist Loretta Braganza, as well as painters Emma Whiting and Paul Bramley and jeweller Ellie Crosby.

York Open Studios provides the perfect combination of discovering creative talent and enjoying the experience of wandering around the medieval streets. Visitors can plan their route with the help of a free event guide and map.

The event is free and runs over two weekends April 12-14 and 20-21.

For more info email info@yorkopenstudios.co.uk, tel: 01904 704485, www.yorkopenstudios.co.uk