Saturday, 4 October 2014

House of Dreams

Behind an unassuming door on a pretty residential street in the heart of upmarket East Dulwich, lies another world. Step inside the House of Dreams...

You find yourself in a house of blazing colour and a riot of plastic. Although it's quite eerie and almost disturbing, there is a vibrant energy and once your eyes have adjusted to the chaos, there is oh, so much to see. Every room is crammed from floor to ceiling with clever sculptures and displays made from everyday objects which have been discarded and re-invented. Limbs from plastic dolls; bottle tops; Christmas cracker contents; freaky eyeballs; joke teeth; pen lids; felt-tip pens; plastic beads. You name it. You'll find it. There is a strong Mexican 'Day of the Dead' vibe as well as a child-like appeal. And an oasis of relative calm in the busy, yet pretty garden.

This residential museum is the 'lovechild' of local artist, Stephen Wright, who takes mosaic-work to a whole new sphere. He started this project in 1998 and it still isn't finished. It will never be finished as every time Stephen stumbles upon another quirky object and finds a space, it becomes an ever-evolving masterpiece. He has lived in the house for over 32 years and had no intention of starting a museum. The House of Dreams just happened organically with his then partner, Donald, who sadly died, so Stephen decided to continue with the project so he could leave a fantastic and unusual legacy. In fact, the House of Dreams has been bequeathed to the National Trust.

Stephen is a gentle and inspirational character and each piece has a meaning and relevance which only he really understands. There is method in his magical madness! Some walls tell his stories written in his unique, erratic handwriting style - he admits to being dyslexic and finds it easier to express himself through colour and creation. He knows where everything is and would definitely notice if anything was missing. Apparently some cheeky individual half-inched a wind-up nose once. Stephen noticed its absence immediately!

Stephen's current partner, Michael is hugely supportive of his work and they make a great duo, hosting the open days together. They kindly invited me for a cuppa and a slice of cake upstairs in the 'other' home which was such a contrast with its minimal beach-house style decor, peaceful white walls, driftwood furnishings and gorgeous crockery. The perfect ying and yang. Some of Stephen's work is for sale at the House of Dreams, but if you have something special in mind, he also takes commissions. You can also admire his mosaic creations at the Blue Mountain Cafe on North Cross Rd, SE22. The next open day at the House of Dreams will be Saturday 25th October. 

House of Dreams
45 Melbourne Grove
London SE22 8RG


Open days are one Saturday a month (check website or email Stephen for dates) 11am - 4pm
Private appointments can also be made. Adults £10 Students £5 Children free
Nearest station: East Dulwich (2 minute walk)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

God's Own Junkyard

Now, here's something that will light up your life.  I haven't been to Walthamstow before. I imagined it was somewhere far out in East London, verging on the Essex cusp with not a lot to report. But how wrong I am, cos E17 is where it's at! God's Own Junkyard has been on my radar for quite a while now, so my friend and I ventured there last week to check it out. It was the best Friday ever!

Full of curiosity and intrigue, we found our way to the industrial estate and entered the world of God's Own Junkyard. Nothing prepares you for the neon hit that engulfs you as you walk through that door. It's one of those real 'Wow!' 'Gasp!' moments. It's totally bonkers, crazy, mesmerising and off-the-wall. All at once. It's like an adult's Santa's Grotto, only waaaay better.

Chris Bracey is the Head Honcho of God's Own Junkyard. He's a neon artist/designer extraordinaire, and there is nothing that this Neon Man and his team can't create with the art of illumination.  He has a cult following in London and LA, and every piece is totally iconic. His family have had a sign-making factory in Walthamstow since the 1950's and Chris himself has been making signs for almost 40 years, including all the original Soho peep-show signs, fairground lighting, movie props and shop fronts. You name it, and Chris and his family probably made it. In fact, they made the original sign for the 'Raymond Revue Bar' in Soho in 1958, which they're currently sprucing up back to its former glory, so keep an eye out for that towards the end of the year. Soho will be shining again!  I met Chris' son, Marcus who runs the place with his brilliant sidekick, John, and they couldn't have been more helpful, friendly and informative.

God's Own Junkyard is a huge warehouse literally stuffed to the brim with every kind of neon creation you can possibly imagine. Lightbulbs (custom-made) in every shape, colour and wattage possible; vintage letters; restored retro signage; valuable kitsch; collectors 'junk'; old shop fronts; custom-made art; original peep show signs; stuffed herons; Jesus in a Shed; a Louis Vuitton & Chanel-clad Virgin Mary; a dog-eating shark; a giant stiletto and a Dr Who Tardis. It is an oasis of exhilarating colour. A neon heaven. Oh, and not forgetting the most enormous glitter balls you ever did see, weighing a hefty 250kg a piece! There's even a terrific little cafe called.. wait for it... 'The Rolling Scones' where you can grab a cuppa or a beer and something nice to eat whilst you sit at one of the tables surrounded by non-stop neon. Or if you want a break from neon, there's a great garden outside, full of more quirky signs and objets d'art.

Now, I have to be honest about the prices, as these iconic pieces don't come cheap and are more targeted for those with money to burn, although I imagine it probably just about covers the Junkyard's scary electricity bill! Not forgetting it is original art, you can expect to see price tags in the high thousands, although there are several pieces in the low hundreds too. And even less if you have a good rummage. But there are other ways to enjoy these illuminating beauties without owning them. As well as admiring them at the Junkyard, all the pieces are available to hire as props for a party or event which is a great idea if you're having a themed bash.  They also take commissions so you can take one of your own random objects from home and have it personalised to your own neon spec.

Once we had finished tripping the light fantastic, we made our way into the abruptly less-colourful real world and wiggled our way around the corner to Orford Street in the heart of Walthamstow Village. Well, that was another lovely unexpected surprise - a pretty village straight out of the 1950's with old street lights donning colourful flower baskets, a cafe with the original Hovis sign above it (I'm sure that'll end up at God's Own Junkyard one day...), a couple of nice-looking pubs, a Sausage Shop (of course), and the pretty excellent Eat 17 where we stopped for a great lunch.

God's Own Junkyard is open to the public on Friday - Sunday, and I can't recommend it enough. Especially on one of those gloomy, dark winter days, this will get your heart and soul aglow in no time! (Probably a good remedy for anyone who suffers from that lack of daylight thingy too).  In Chris' words, 'God's Own Junkyard - where neon never dies'.

God's Own Junkyard
Unit 12 Ravenswood Ind Estate
Shernhall Street
London E17 9HQ

020 8521 8066

Open to the public: Fri, Sat & Sun 11am - 5pm
Nearest stations: Wood Street and Walthamstow Central (approx 10 mins walk)

There is a 'God's Own Junkyard' concession in the basement at Selfridges on Oxford Street
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