Artists’ homes are a fascination unto themselves, and they were a favorite at Nest, the daringly creative shelter magazine. Editor Joseph Holtzman, a painter himself, flew a writer to London to tour Julie Verhoeven and Fabio Almeida’s flat after reading about them in Britain’s Observer magazine. It appeared in Nest 12, in the spring of 2001.
An artist working across mediums, Verhoeven began her career as a fashion illustrator and designer — working as John Galliano’s first design assistant for years — and made her way through the upper reaches of that world (she even had her own line, at Gibo, at one point) and has a laundry list of big name collaborators, like Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Uniqlo, and MAC. Her most recent installation work has begun to more closely resemble her home — layers of paper and assemblages of sculpture.
Verhoeven first rented her home from a friend of her brother’s, and then bought it for a mere £42,000 (a deal, even in the 1990s.) It’s a three-story flat, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. She did the apartment’s first improvements — pulling up old carpet and painting — and had begun drawing on the walls. Her then-husband, Fabio, installed colorful vinyl tape strips (from “a store in Paris that sells only tape”). The duo stuck contact paper on the floor and the stairs and nailed a rubber lobster to the wall over their bed. “None of it is meant to last,” Fabio told Nest, but he didn’t yet know that almost all of their decor would outlast their relationship: They split, and Fabio left, in 2004. Not only has Julie barely removed anything from those days — she’s continuously added to it.
You still live in the same house as you did in the Nest interview? How long have you been there?
I moved in around 1991, and the flat is in Walworth, South East London. It’s a slow but dramatic course of gentrification, with an excessive amount of generic new builds everywhere. I love it because it still retains its edge and working-class roots. It is unpretentious, forgiving, and full of life and characterful locals. My favourite is the street market every day (except Monday), called East Street. It’s very Cockney, very loud, cheap, bright and bustling. On a Sunday it has loads of rubbish, house clearance stuff, and the atmosphere remains grounded, unpretentious, and a little bit petty criminal. There is plenty of crime, and emergency service sirens are a constant. I’ve been burgled three times over the 30 years, which isn’t bad, I suppose. The council has just closed and boarded up the 1960s shopping centre at Elephant and Castle, which is a real shame as it was one of the first of its type and was home to a Latin American community too. I have a huge soft soft for the shopping centre. I love that shopping centre, and the Michael Faraday memorial — there is an urban myth that Aphex Twin lived in it.
How did the Nest piece come to be?
I think Joseph Holtzman had seen a feature on it in the Observer magazine. Joseph came to the flat. I don’t remember a lot to be honest other than we served him gin and tonics, so I assume it was later in the day! I think we were feeling quite meek, as we were both superfans and a tad in awe of him. We didn’t know him, just loved that magazine and pored over it. I was quite obsessed with magazine since a young age. I remember the shoot to be quite painless for both. The flat had only recently been vinyled up etc., and we didn’t have a lot of stuff, so cleaning in preparation for the shoot was less of a chore.
Were you nervous to have it photographed?
I do remember a little bit of apprehension initially about showing the environment because it felt a bit brazen! But I soon got over that and was happy that anyone should take an interest. It certainly made us more confident. The work on the flat had really just arisen from a necessity and lack of budget. We had removed all the skuzzy carpet which was throughout, and coloured vinyl was a cheap option to collage over as many surfaces as possible. Once you start this process, there is no return, as one colour calls for another, and so it continued. Interiors TV personality Laurence Llewelyn Bowen did reference the coloured vinyl stairs (with a picture) as one of his home interiors tips in a national newspaper, although we were not credited but were tickled by this.
I’m curious always about people’s homes, because they are often so revealing. I’m less interested now, as I no longer feel a peer pressure of sorts to have a “nice” home and am less interested in others. I’ve made the decision a while back that with my fluctuating income, it’s better not to invest in my home, but in my work instead, and just avoid having people round so as not to expose the elderly house in need of TLC and decluttering.
What does the place reveal about you then?
The home is a complete extension of myself and work. It is the shameless, unedited, undisciplined side, which has developed into a reason why I don’t invite anyone in anymore because I am ashamed of the excess which has thoroughly engulfed my domestic environment now. It creates a space that is somewhat antisocial, and there are signs of a lack of control and greed, which are not maybe the most attractive qualities! Weirdly, though, there is a level of discipline and control there which again I like to keep under wraps. It has also re-enforced my discomfort and aversion to white cube gallery spaces. I want my space to feel noisy and with a pulse. Fortunately, I have a patient and sympathetic partner. And I socialize out of the home. I like a public house! I like the dodgy decor of a pub too.
If I have a choice in my studio, it’s the same there. It’s a bit like cocooning oneself from outside distractions. I just need to surround myself with visual stimuli, where I start to make connections as I try to find a lead and some momentum. Once I’ve found a pace, I then throw reams of brown parcel paper over everything that surrounds me, to obliterate the visual prompts and noisy mess. I don’t hang it, I crudely throw it over everything, with a little bit of masking tape, when required.
Who else lives there today?
Remarkably I cohabit with my partner, Leon. Fortunately he has very little stuff, but it’s beginning to make a small impression, partly because I’ve been encouraging him to shop more, a bit like a feeder! We have a house cat too now, who also added to the excess with assorted climbing apparatus! One day I want to throw everything away, and start again. Doesn’t everybody feel like that, though? It’s such a fantastical thought and desire. The reality is I will probably fall down the stairs at one point, and that will be the end.
A dog-eared version of the vinyl tape Fabio installed remains here. When we divorced and Fabio left in 2004, I thought seriously about painting the flat black, obliterating all and starting again, like giant full stop. Very clichéd divorcee behavior perhaps?! The task was too epic an undertaking, but I did throw a couple of black puddles of paint over a wall and and on a landing, as an aide-mémoire. I didn’t make any other significant changes to the flat at the time — it’s been a slow burner — but I did mentally think, I’m going to give up being sensible, practical, or mature about the space. The changes have come predominantly through making work for shows, lacking storage facilities, and thus crowbarring and reconfiguring the work into the domestic space. The home used to be calmer, but it’s rapidly catching up with the chaos of the studio, although there is a form of order within the layers.
I do have a lot of clothes from the past, and magazines, and secondhand books, postcards and junk jewelry, but nothing you could formally call a collection. I don’t care enough to look after things, and am always looking for a new favorite, and the old stuff rots or gets buried. Quite fickle, and I’m lacking in sentimentality.
The flat has become a giant collage of precarious layers of stuff, with the foundation layer being that of 2001. It is a lot less self-conscious now, but more debauched and grotty. A sort of 3D scrapbook or a rubbish bin of tat.
What is your favorite room?
The toilet. It is just a toilet, and we collaged the entire “box” all those years back with black-and-white photocopies. It still brings me pleasure. I love a toilet. It’s probably one of the smallest toilets in London: It’s just the cistern, with two windows that are blocked out, and quite a low roof. Having said that, Leon’s guitar and synch keyboard are there. Sometimes he is inspired to play a tune while seated! The copies are from my “research,” a mix of old graphic magazines, ads, record sleeves — 1960s and 70s pop culture and advertising on the whole. I’ve not added to it, and weirdly I never tire of it. It was inspired by a toilet in a bar in Paris that was plastered with vintage pornography and religious icons; 30 years ago, it felt quite dangerous. The only smell is Aesop’s Poo Drops, close to hand, which I love.