Chapter 1 - The Brief;
It was just another email among many, that first day in August 2017, but I was immediately intrigued “would I be able to help refresh a private swimming pool, looking a little the worse for wear after twelve years of combat with chlorine.”
The accompanying images suggested something magical could happen with that much overlooked space, the ceiling, since comprising acoustic tiles in aluminium frames, such as might be seen as an institutional suspended ceiling, in a bank, hospital or office.
The client posed a pellucid brief, “Lets use the theme of Ancient Greece”, certainly the pool perimeter featured four Doric columns of reconstituted stone. But that ceiling… It had to go!
But an equally emphatic “no!” met that proposal, because the ceiling tiles gave access to power and extraction systems, freighted with a frightening matrix of cables and pipes.
The Ancient Landscape of Greece by Pierre Henri de Valenciennes
Chapter 2 - The Ceiling;
There was serious scepticism about my alternative plan for the ceiling - to install a membrane, stretched over the existing acoustic tiles and printed to evoke an azure sky, with drifting delicate clouds and images of the Greek mythological heroes and heroines, in their heavenly environment.
This part of my proposals was accepted, once the costs and procedures were identified, as a “leap of faith”. No pressure there then!
This is an impression of how the up-stands of the lantern would be decorated in this case, with Diana, the Huntress in full pursuit.
Chapter 3 - Wall Decorations;
On my initial site visit, I took along a fine artist colleague of mine, with a portfolio of landscape paintings to support my proposal to decorate the plain painted walls with frescoes and murals featuring Greek architecture, landscape and gymnastic events.
But an equally firm no was the clients response to my proposition. The series of painted images would take the greater part of the year ahead to complete. Plan B for the walls was developed while I spent three weeks in my imaginary life in the landscape of Ancient Greece, seen through the works of the old masters*
This comprehensive extension to my art education also inspired the superimposition of the heroic figures portrayed in the upstand of the ceiling membrane within the glazed lantern area.
The ‘murals’ themselves, would be achieved by licensing one off prints, digitally reproduced, as wallpaper to be mounted on moisture resistant board material, the series of wallpaper drops, building up to the complete painting, of generally 2 - 2.4m wide to 1.2-1.8m in height. Installed in suitably broad carved/ moulded frames in a bleached stone effect finish, ‘the paintings’ were sealed with coats of varnish and silicone, front and back.
The backdrop to the paintings and the remainder of the wall surface area, were finished with an Ashlar block wallpaper, suggesting hewn limestone. My artist colleague was awarded an assignment… She rendered the columns in a faux marble finish. A task she completed in the early September sunshine and in a state of almost total undress, owning to the heat and humidity of the space. Undress, that is until she saw through the French doors the gardener approaching.
*List of Old Masters - Francois Boucher - Claude Lorrain - Anton Rafael Mengs - William Adolphe Boughereau - Pierre Henri de Valenciennes - Edward Joseph Danton.
Chapter 4 - The Furniture;
My shopping list comprised a dining table, chairs for ten, lounging furniture for six, a couple of stools and a series of low tables for drinks and books, mostly, inevitably to be bespoke if we were to authenticate the brief.
Early Greek pieces have certainly influenced classical furniture design, down through the centuries, but today we prioritise above all, comfort. When I showed the client an image of the ancient Klismos chair, derived from the 400BC tomb Stele of Hegeso, there was a full acknowledgement of the graceful curves of the design but a lingering suspicion of degree of comfort offered was unlikely to find favour with the family.
The dining chair we selected however did offer supreme comfort and bore more than a passing resembling to the Klismos. We covered the chairs in a robust outdoor weave.
For the table, I knew I could source convincing reproduction Corinthian columns in resin and at dining table height. A given the beauty of these pedestals should remain visible. Hence, glass had to be the material for the table top. But, this departure from the authentic had to be related to the theme we were pursuing.
My thoughts turned to the concept of the labyrinth, but weren’t they invariably round? Well, not always, and since our table was to be oval, I would harness the power of the computer to stretch my chosen labyrinth design accurately to fit the table top.
I imagined the family conducting post prandial competitions to plot their powers of perception. I entrusted the task of gilding the design of the labyrinth of the underside of the table top to a specialist glass company I had earlier used to laminate images of a bathroom wallpaper within a shower screen, so I knew the project was in good hands.
The design of the loungers, is again traceable to that Klismos but, I think, enhanced by their wave like volute form. The frames were constructed in cross layered and laminated sections of hardwood to resist the pool humidity and finally, as were the dining chairs, coated in a metallic bronze finish.
The upholstery fabrics, a mixture of weaves and prints were likewise selected from an indoor, outdoor collection. Two bench stools were adapted from my lounger design, and downscaled versions of the dining table pedestals were deployed as occasional tables with a verdigris finish.
Chapter 5 - The Lighting;
Whilst we were able to retain all the practical, task lighting in the form of low voltage downlighters already fitted to the ceiling, cutting the membrane around them, there was a need for accent and subtle lighting. Existing lighting points within the roof lantern above the pool had become dysfunctional owing to corrosion. To protect these, I commissioned shields in the form of Conch shells, again rendered in translucent resin and coloured in off white, shading to coral, a combination I observed in the magnificent display of natural shells held in the Norfolk Shell Museum many years earlier.
For wall lighting, my associate Kevin Beales, of Tempus Stet came up with a bespoke fitting in the form of Winged Lions, lanterns to be finished in our chosen verdigris colour.
Chapter 6 - The Colonnade;
Access from the clients home to the pool was via an imposing but featureless corridor, save for the view of the terrace and parterre through a series of arched windows and a French door to one side.
Here, instead of a blue ceiling, we chose blue walls as a highly relevant background for the uniquely classical, hand-printed wallpaper panels from historic french wallpaper manufacturer Zuber. We selected “Decor de quatre saisons” featuring trompe oeil statuary to be placed on the second, third, fifth and sixth piers, while for the central pier we chose “Les Trois Graces” as a centre piece. Each panel had to be cut from its background paper, with painstaking care, by my most experienced seamstress, and rolled and wrapped for protection before being posed on the blue background with equal care and precision by the decorators I had engaged for the entire project. They varnished the entire wall area of the colonnade and of the pool room itself with a series of coats, including the paintings.
Chapter 7 - The Bar;
This was to prove the ultimate challenge of the project. Wasn’t the entire concept of a bar an oxymoron in the context of our Greek landscape? Well, surely I could incorporate more Corinthian columns and - a Greek key frieze? So far, so good, but the fascia of the cabinetry, which the clients and I agreed should be curved, though counter - curved to the pool, needed some form of germane ornamentation.
After a couple for false starts, a flirtation with the idea of three dimensional printed images of the galloping horses of the Parthenon proved an unbelievably expensive option, as did sandblasting the images onto a curved and toughened glass panel.
Inspiration in the end came in a chance discovery, in the rural Norfolk workshop of Kevin Beales, referenced elsewhere in this text. In a dusty corner adjoining the exit door, I was about to leave by, more than a little disappointed I had found no solution to my design dilemma, I spotted a pair of fragile plaster bas - reliefs, of stylised angels playing early valveless trumpets. Too small, but enhanced in size, could just dovetail into the concept. Kevin, was to have them fashioned in wax and then moulded in resin. I sketched out an image to determine the optimum size of a pair of these angels, and took a fresh look around the workshop for the form of some sort of centrepiece between them.
There it was, a Georgian wall light in the form of a lyre - too small again, but then enhanced in scale would be a fitting focal point. The final piece in the jigsaw was to identify the columns, or more accurately, pilasters to frame the bar and support the gallery above. Finding one in a fibrous plaster material, I acquired just one from which Kevin took a mould and created the six pilasters I needed in resin.
The decoration we all agreed was to be a limestone paint effect with the embellishments finished in verdigris. My little piece de resistance was to take, with tongue firmly in cheek, a phrase from the ancient Greek poet, Pindar in a discussion of the elements -
“The greatest however is water”
API∑TON MEN YAΩE
A fitting warning, don’t you agree, to incise, in the gallery above the bar. Kevin took on board the building and finishing of the bar to my design and he, his van driver and I manoeuvred the single bespoke granite worktop into place as the counter.
Plan & Elevation of the Pool.