Interiors: Hive of creativity

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Artist David Campbell’s live/work home looks set to be one of the highlights of the York Open Studios Tour. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Pushing the budget paid off when David and Anita Campbell bought their large Victorian house in the heart of York.

Artist David Campbell's York home.

Artist David Campbell's York home.

The seven-bedroom home has proved perfect for every phase of family life and it’s also provided studio and office space for the creative couple. David is an artist and Anita has recently returned to ceramics after a successful career as a milliner.

“It was more than we wanted to spend but we loved it and the quality of the original workmanship is amazing. We have done it up slowly and taken our time,” says David.

He and Anita moved to York 12 years ago from a two-bedroom apartment in Camden, London, with their two children. Jordan and Mimi are now grown up and that has prompted another use for the multi-functional property, which stretches over five floors.

The lower ground floor, which was David’s studio, has been transformed into a luxury apartment aimed at holiday makers or those who want a short-term let. It has a similar aesthetic to the rest of the house. It is pared down, carefully edited and furnished with a combination of vintage finds, interesting objects and new investment pieces. It’s so good that it is the only holiday home in York listed in Alastair Sawday’s special places to stay guide.

Artist David Campbell's York home.

Artist David Campbell's York home.

The open plan space has been cleverly divided using the ultimate “French doors” from an 18th century chateau.

“We asked Stephen Hazell at The French House in York to keep an eye out for some for us. He called back soon after because a dealer had just offered him some. We were really lucky. We painted them and had the top panels taken out and glazed to let light through,” says David, who did much of the work himself.

The front half of the space is a wet 
room plus a bedroom with an antique 
bed. They splashed out on lights by BTC from The Home store in Salts Mill, while the bedside shelves are thought to be 
from a chapel and were bought via 
eBay. The wardrobe was built into an alcove by David and is fronted with 
French doors.

The living area has an antique Chesterfield sofa with a loose cover made from vintage French linen sheets. There’s an Alvar Aaalto dining table and chairs and the kitchenette worktop was fashioned from an old snooker table.

Artist David Campbell's York home.

Artist David Campbell's York home.

David is adept at DIY and making things thanks to his sculpture, joinery and set-design skills. He studied sculpture in Edinburgh before winning a place at the Royal College of Art in London. He has always painted, but has also worked as a furniture designer, mural artist and as an art director on pop videos for bands including Simply Red and Dead or Alive.

As well as showcasing his skills, the apartment features his paintings and various creations such as lamps made from glass jars he found at his allotment. He filled them shells and old lead toy figures and topped them with shades made from part of an paraffin heater.

Every room in the house has something he has made and his new studio on the ground floor is fascinating. His pictures, usual inspired by plants, are loved by collectors, not least because of the colour, texture and depth achieved by an unusual mix of materials that he creates himself. They range from gesso and conventional paints to wood ash, sand, bitumen, coal dust, sand, salt and rust. Bits of lead quartz add sparkle, while beeswax topping gives translucence.

At the moment he’s working in large scale on old American army tarpaulin stretched over frames. He’s also very excited about using indigo crystals that a friend brought him from Mali.

His shelves are full of National Geographic magazines from the 1930s onwards that often inform his botanical-based work. His latest paintings of flag irises are in the kitchen, which was fashioned from parts of biology laboratory that came out of Camden School for Girls.

“We spotted it in a skip and asked if we could have it. We had it in storage for three years knowing it would be useful one day,” says David, who points out one of the more legible bits of graffiti on the table that reads “Jean’s last biology lesson 1974”.

On the staircase, there is a sculpture of driftwood found when he and Anita were out running by the river. He painted the branches with gesso and strung them together.

The main sitting room on the second floor features his chandelier “built out of bits and pieces” and more finds, including a sofa from Wombles auction, which was upholstered by Anita. The paintings are by David and his family and feature a Swiss landscape by his great-grandfather, Eugene Burnand.

Like most of their house, the walls are bare plaster. It’s a surprise for new visitors, who assume the place has been stripped back ready for the decorators.

After taking off the woodchip paper, David and Anita, decided they loved the colour, patina and character of the original lime plaster.

Family and friends have grown used to it and to the regular re-purposing of rooms as the house changes to suit its owners’ needs.

“It has been a slow, organic transformation and we are really enjoying the new apartment,” says David. “We like to share the house and we get to meet lots of interesting people.”

David Campbell’s studio at 22 St Mary’s is part of the York Open Studios Tour, which runs over two weekends from April 4-April 6 and April 12 and 13.

It features over 80 artists and makers. Visit

The apartment is available to rent through