Open House Hostings



I kept them far longer than I should have done.
They speak to me of comfort and they were and are a comfort.
I like the pair of them.
They are a couple of witchy old grannies in wing-chairs with gin-laced cups of tea, and they are laughing girls, and they are coolly clever, and they are generous, and they might have tears stitched into them too, and spilt things, and the stains and stories of the years and perfect imperfections and things unraveled and knit together and bargains and lost things. And they also have space in them, the space regained when a drawer or a cupboard is opened then closed again, and the space cleared by gathering things together,the space for a breath and for a nice sit down. The space to look at things, the room to divide the comfort from the clutter, to lay out the small pieces of loveliness.
And when I look at them each time they are a bit different, and I realise that some bits I had forgotten and some bits I had imagined.
And they are an inspiration for how to make work together, and how to make work because you want to, and how to make something that is kind, and how to be friends.


Monday morning. Epiphany. Grey and cold and wind and rain, and then, sometimes, a slanting spear of low sunshine. Outside are hawthorn berries. Inside, by me as I write, a box of baubles. They came down this morning, first thing; plucked gently, like berries, from a few silvered branches.
I do not know where they came from but I have had them for as long as I remember. I'd like to think they belonged to one of my grandmothers. I'd like to think they were Queenie's, my formidable great grandmother, and hung each year in her ticking parlour. But I have no memory of them there, or in anyone else's house, or that I found or bought them anywhere. They just are.
They just are, every year. Lovely and useless. Or rather their use, their function, is only to be; to hang there and be lovely, glowing with colours that I have no names for, colours that nothing else has; hanging there, dangling there, lovely. They are almost impossible, made of silvered glass so fine it could shatter with a sigh.
And now they sit snug in their box, parted like apples to last until the next time, waiting only for the lid and the long year to pass, and then I will take them out again and hang them on the branches.



Text observation
Reading the book was a gentle, enjoyable experience, evoking what must be the profound satisfaction of the built nest and the deep comfort of having a fire to gather around, with the door stoutly locked against the outside world.
Our personalities are, meanwhile, the filters that allow what lies beyond to seep through in mediated layers. Here we are privy to those selective elements, deliberately carried forward, valuing those who have gone before as represented in objects of subtle, intimate meaning.
There’s a humanity in what’s expressed by both Philippa and Angie, here, a determinedly subjective interpretation of having a home to live in and what we may choose to do with that space. Our society all too often dictates value led by spurious notions of greed, acquisition, profit and ‘ownership’, circling the ‘property ladder’ that for new generations will be a frustrating, divisive dream. The idea of ‘making-over’ – presuming to stamp your personality upon what (and who) has gone before in unsentimental, meaningless ways – infests the media that churns around us, and it is hard to escape the brute message that ‘we (our current generation) know best’.
The dead language of estate agent or property developer is heard justifying itself across the land, unchallenged.
Here there is an alternative; a meditation on themes that run through this loaded topic, but one that respects – and indeed celebrates – the past and those that lived in it, by two creative people who bring to bear the lateral thinking and wit in the making of the artist.
The layered, mixed-media approach of both has created quiet riches that speak of the importance of family, friends and the routine, simple, joyous things. There is also eloquent testimony here to the artist and how they adapt to the parallel streams and demands in their daily lives, shaping the hours and the places of a domestic space to their creative needs while also sharing that space with others.
In this way the book celebrates life as art, and vice versa.

It is a beautiful piece of work.


In my decades of life in rented accommodation a coral of material has accrued around me. There are the layers of familiar domesticity in objects, utensils, electrical goods, and those that form the skin I wear outside, my clothes. Most tellingly, perhaps, there are the things that collect via the magnetism of imagination. In my case this accounts for thousands and thousands of comic books, compact disks, digital video disks and, in particular, endless iterations of the traditional book form.
We need very little prompting to weave our metaphorical comfort blankets, after all, and I confess to being a willing slave to covetous desire, driven by obscure, deep-seated tides of thought and need.
Moving out and on from a family home into our adult lives, these needs express the version of ourselves we create. What we place around our living space is a mirror of how we position ourselves, plucking cultural markers and signifiers from what we see and what fires our thinking.
We refine our sense of taste.
Indeed, we are what we eat, watch, read, listen to, wear, laugh at, run towards, embrace and acquire. While we gather and gain unspoken comfort from things, we also make a gentle, firm statement of who we are not in the things that we reject.
Yet, as society shifts from the physical to the virtual, I have realized my relationship with the – literal – baggage with which I have surrounded myself has also begun to alter.
Will I really ever read that book again?
I used to collect books avidly, read them carefully and place them in sections of like content upon my shelves. Knowing that they were there, that I had created another marker of my self, gave me great pleasure.
Now I am as likely to give them away once read.
A given shelf can only accommodate so much, and similarly there is only so much time left to us.
The point at which physical objects reach a critical mass in a finite space approaches.
I suspect that one day I may reject this life of things, objects, collections. It is a thought that fills me alternately with excitement and a vague foreboding.
Yet I do dream of waking in an empty white room, lit gently through opaque windows against which there is a soothing patter of unseen rain.
With age – if you are fortunate to feel a greater understanding of who you are – there is less need to express personality through things and superficial layers. If our objects of desire state to others who we are, then they have also – probably more so – existed to reassure ourselves who we wanted to be. The young expend a lot of energy running to keep up with tides of fashion and the trinkets of cultural currency. There are better uses for that energy when you have, theoretically, less of it left.
My gathered things mean less to me now, and a stone picked up during a companionable walk along the endless beaches of Jutland speaks just as clearly of what I value as a creaking bookshelf.
Who we are lies inside our head and heart. There’s comfort in that, but how we wish to communicate our self to others and connect to the outside world remains to be seen.
Artists at least have the advantage that their work is there to help them do it.

© 2013 Mike Nicholson

I have many collections; crime fiction, comedy writing/biography/histories/memoirs, pop culture bubblegum cards, items of corduroy clothing, a smattering of jolly 1960s crockery.
However, the collection that scatters outwards the most, across media and decades and unspooling narrative, is perhaps closest to my imagination.
It is about the telling of a story that started on November 23rd, 1963 and is being told still. It is about the value of thought, compassion and knowledge, allied against the negativity of force, violence and dogma.
There’s a man in a strange blue box, you see, and – with many faces – he can go anywhere – has gone, will go – anywhere, anytime.
Of course, given the comments above, the irony isn’t lost on me; while the box in the stories is bigger on the inside than the outside, the one in which I live feels very much the opposite of that.
© 2013 Mike Nicholson




Leaving home?

Whilst hosting Open House I have been thinking about moving from the tree green and chalk flint of southern England to the open skies, peat and rock in the far north of Shetland. My house has been home for many, many years. So this has become a very thought provoking experience uncovering feelings, thoughts, fears, ideas, plans. Thinking about what I’d take and what I’d leave behind led to an attempt to define the essence of home. This is happening alongside facing up to a sense of leaving home; perhaps I’ll get cold feet and stay put? 


In looking at the two books which make up Open House it became difficult to decide a way to respond without addressing inheritance. Of course the family photographs would have to go with me, many given to me by my father when I was just seventeen. I used one of him as a little boy drawing at a table in his 1920s home when I was on a Foundation course in art and design. In retrospect it was the starting point for a series of watercolour paintings. This collection also includes photographs of grandparents, my own parents, brother, sisters, friends and strangers perhaps they are the ones who emigrated to Canada. I do not want to do family history and am happy to keep them safe ready to pass on to my niece, but think I should check that she wants to be the keeper of this photographic record. 

Another part of this inheritance is about the material stuff of textiles. All sorts of textile items have surfaced during hosting. From my mother’s cross stitch tapestry of John Constable’s “Hay Wain” one of several I chose to keep after she died, there is also a fine lace jumper she knitted, some handkerchiefs belonging to my father, to the ongoing acquisition of blankets and the beautiful Shetland cushion secured from the Old Haa on Yell. Not being a total convert to the duvet the blankets possibly represent a sense of warmth and security from childhood. My sister and I recently together remembered the blanket from childhood holidays used for picnics in fields and on the beach. The blankets have become a little collection, some are decorative all are practical, most are wool. 

These material attachments are the subject of a favourite book entitled “The comfort of things” by Daniel Miller. Surprisingly it is an academic book but written in a poetic way. It comprises a number of biographies resulting from his visits to a group of houses in a London street. The author set out to research people and their things, including those with few or no things. It’s a domestic field study.

Of course there is a home library too collected since I was that young art student. I sometimes think they are now an extravagance, perhaps a fetish. To me it is natural to want to live in a material Library. I look forward to my new house being part of a natural setting, the landscape, as a Shetland friend said recently “I feel like I’m living in a painting”.


Open House redirected my sight toward the mysterious essentials tucked into any home: those objects that await our refocused gaze to again emerge into a presence and a shared history. Each individual or family’s narrative is unique, but as evidence of our domestic archeology, our home objects also emit a resonance of shared life experience that every reader recognizes as she lifts her eyes from this glowing screen to peer around at her own kitchen or garden.

I have chosen to share my souvenir of Concepciòn. I brought her home years ago from a shop in Santa Fe, enchanted by her direct, roughhewn modeling, painted fabric gown, and silver earrings. The shop’s owner couldn’t relate her provenance, and in fact his reticence suggested that Concepciòn might have been fashioned recently by a local artisan. Her name, as much as I assumed it related to the Virgin Mary, is not one that is commonly used, so who knows what the shop owner meant, but since that is what I heard, that is who she became to me. Even though I wanted Concepciòn to carry a history with her, I decided that whether she had comforted earlier supplicants wasn’t the point. Her distinctive eyes were somehow looking deep into me, and in that moment of bonding, I knew I had to carry her home.

She has stood ever since, quietly contemplative, on my bedroom dresser. In the last few years I have been beset with challenges, and have often stood before her and joined my palms while gazing at her off-kilter eyes. Such quietude she exudes, such solace she offers! Concepciòn carries her wisdom within her, and I am thankful to have excavated her years ago from that dusty New Mexico shop.

IMI MAUFE (Souvenir)

The cabin is our retreat. It was built in the 1940s, a shed really, with black cladding and white trim, a flagpole in the garden, on one side there is a small lake and on the other, a path runs down to the bay. In 1970 my partners grandparents bought the place and we, since 2010, are the third generation of caretakers. There is a lot of woodworm and the inside is covered with ornaments wall to ceiling, with some faded pictures, old candle holders and even a Pharaoh's head in plaster. But also some delights.

Whilst out gardening I got sidetracked by a bottle sticking out of the grass, and proceeded to dig. An old lemonade bottle appeared uncovering enough plastic curtains to fill a bin bag, fishing reels, a deck of cards, an old book translated from English to danish, red lino flooring, more bottles and jam jars – still with lids, some with contents, and when I got as far as the edge of an old wood stove I stopped. This was, like the rest, just below the surface in an area 2m2. That why the grass has always been boggy there.

This is part of our inheritance, not only do we have the cabin to cherish, we also have a garden full of someone else's rubbish, but due to the delight of discovery it has become treasure. A souvenir of the past. One ugly broken vase I will return to the shelves in the cabin. Taking it in full cycle.
I stopped digging because I wanted to save some for later.


I have spent a lot of time with the books, while working from my studio at home. They have been a sort of companion, while the rest of the world rushes by.
I am thankful for the thoughts that have been stirred while hosting too. I have thought a lot about Inheritance in particular – the emotional connection I have to so many objects in my space, and why that might be. It occurred to me, while lovingly examining your homes through the books, that each of the 12 words could have become the starting point for a whole novel in my mind. 
The project is all the more poignant for me at the moment, as I am slowly saying goodbye to objects that I get such definition from as my partner and I are packing up our worlds and moving to Japan in the Autumn.


She once told me, that she (Mary) was taught by her (Muriel).
Muriel was a superb maker of things. She embroidered, flower arranged, knitted and baked. She (Mary) held her (Muriel) in high regard, admired her eye for colour and her effortless elegance. She knew how to put an outfit together, knew about detail, textures, tones. She taught fine crafts within adult education.
She (Mary) tried once, to make a lampshade, under Muriel's expert guidance.

It is frayed, inconsistently pleated, tatty and a rotten illuminator of light. It is a post-war green chiffon with mustard fringing, never quite sitting square atop its wooden base. It topples easily, the wires exposed, but is a constant fixture in all my moving. It reminds me who I am.

It's all I took from her house when she died. My inheritance. My souvenir. Made by my mum's mum (Mary), an unrivalled warmer of souls in a tender effort to emulate my dad's mums (Muriel)natural talent for making.

She (Mary) taught me, not how to make lampshades, but how to keep my heart lit when it was all very dark.

Sunbeam Mix Maker.
Muriel baked bread. I fell in love with a baker. She gave me her blue 'Sunbeam' to encourage my baking. I gave it to him. He bakes bread weekly for me just like she used to.

Blue Butterfly.
I keep the huge iridescent butterfly pinned to cork, in a frame, hanging on the wall to tell the story of John – the free-spirited bongo-playing artist, who later became dad.


The Open House books created as a result of this project offer fascinating glimpses of the visual and domestic philosophies of the inhabitants of No.18 and No.42. The pages communicate through a rich visual language of texture, pattern, objects and words in visual form, mirrored in the epistolary nature of the blog the two artists have shared. Complex layers of meaning reveal time passing and time passed through the ornate sediment of evidence, where transient elements of the visual history of the occupants are communicated through the objects of their domestic spaces. The works are generous in offering a 'privacy' shared in visual form.

The Open House project has introduced me to the term 'domestic archaeology' and I have reflected on this poetic notion, considering with renewed attention the environment and objects myself and my family have gathered around us, over time in our home. Sifting beneath my immediate, surface surroundings in pursuit of 'domestic archaeology' has unearthed fragments of long forgotten resonance.

The 'relic' I have chosen to share is this soup spoon.
It isn't beautiful. I don't believe it is especially well designed.  It isn't very old or otherwise physically all that interesting. If it belonged to anyone else I wouldn't bother to look at it for long.

My spoon came from a very large collection of cutlery in my mother's guest house on the North Yorkshire coast, all were of this patterned design. Throughout the 70s and 80s the noisy, busy, ever-changing household of the guest house used these spoons; visitors, extended family, neighbours, myself and my brothers and sister. Now we are all far away from that house and that time and each other. The spoons and knives and forks with their familiar pattern, left with us in ones and twos as we set up home elsewhere.and this is the last one I have left in my odds and ends utensil drawer.

DR EMMA POWELL (Table setting)

Comment: It is great to be involved with this project. A celebration of ordinary objects imbued with personal meanings. Upstairs/downstairs. Inside/outside. Private/public.

The places we inhabit are often taken for granted and we regularly pass through them on automatic pilot whilst carrying out our daily tasks. If we stop and ponder we can experience an emotional response to the objects around us. Secrets can be revealed, memories rekindled and feelings of loss, sadness or happiness can bubble to the surface.

As a designer-maker I am surrounded by accidental and intentional collections, souvenirs and inherited objects - often displayed loosely as 'cabinets of curiosity'. Some objects are in the public rooms of the house but most are in the more private areas.

As I type, upstairs in my studio, I can see five jars of marbles, mostly collected during my childhood. One jar is special. For a start it is a more unusual shape and the marbles inside are large with a plain greenish hue. These were my maternal grandmother's marbles, kept in her cold front room next to two low, purple, soft chairs and a mosaic-topped coffee table. This was her room 'for best' and if 'us kids' behaved we were granted access. It was a land of hidden gems - a world to get lost in. I would stare at the marbles for ages imagining creatures in the flaws - there were definitely Chinese dragons in there! Her art books and journals were carefully arranged on the table. Unfortunately she died before I headed in a similar artistic direction (she was an art teacher). I even, accidentally, ended up working where she had and where she met her husband. I only found this out after I got the job! I think we would have got on.

Moving downstairs there is an odd collection on the dining table. This is a space normally reserved as a temporary 'office' for my partner (even though he has his own, chilly, space at the top of the house), for eating or for video-chatting with our daughter who is at University.

Today it has become an impromptu seed planting area. The compost has frozen in the greenhouse so it is warming up by the radiator. I have brought all the pots inside and am filling them as the soil thaws. Sun is streaming through the old, draughty patio doors. They are the reason we fell in love with the house. They frame the garden like the sections in an old type drawer. The view is small compartments of greenery - all in a particular order. This (false) sense of control is then continued with raised beds of vegetables. Around this chaos abounds. The rest of the garden is unchecked, and it supports an abundance of wildlife.

The garden, the house and the objects in it are representative of my life - there is a semblance or order but in fact chaos reigns! 


The "Open House Hosting Invitation" (below) will be sent out shortly to our selected book hosts: their feedback, comments and stories of the domestic will appear on this page over the coming months, as the sun sets over the back gardens of our houses, and our project.

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