Hugh Dunford Wood, artist and owner of Arty BnB By The Sea, on how this special place to stay became his canvas, as well as a happy hub of engagements, conceptions and life-long friendships.
Six years ago the last of the kids left a trail of clothes for London, and we found ourselves rattling around in a large Georgian villa overlooking the sea in Lyme Regis. We were unable to downsize having taken in my ancient mother when she was given six months to live, and she was still with us eight years on aged 93 and working on her first novel. The sea air does funny things to people.
My wife Candida was exhausted from having spent several years running the Jurassic Festival 2012 alongside the Olympics, and I gaily came up with the idea that she could stay at home and run it as a B&B for those who liked their creative atmosphere undusted. Would our way of life attract anyone to come and stay with us?
You see I am an artist designer. I have always worked at home, in home, except when I have a residency away such as with the RSC, the Globe or the Museum of Bermuda.
The house is my canvas. I paint the furniture, hang paintings on the ceiling and handprint our wallpaper from my own designs. I make the cups and the plates, the bread and the jams, the pesto, the cheese and the fruit shrubs.
The sea air does funny things to people you see.
So we cleared out a couple of the rooms and contacted Sawday’s – who else? I was surprised by the people they sent us – not the crusty old colonels and memsahibs that I had imagined sunning themselves on our veranda, but young professionals, and artistic families, architects and scientists eager to get down and dirty on the beach with their fossilling hammers.
We have had three engagements to date, two recovering cancerians and goodness knows how many conceptions. One young couple did not emerge from their room for three days…
The sea air does wonders for people you know.
Candida lasted six weeks as host before being tempted back to work as director of Communities Living Sustainably. So I was left to make the breakfast and field the bookings. It fits well with the artist’s life. We built my studio onto the house beside the kitchen, so I could bake the bread with a paintbrush in hand.
The most surprising element of this business, which it has become, is the added on bonus of the patronage of visitors. I have quite unbrazenly sold engravings and paintings, linocuts and wallpaper, handprinted cushions and portraits.
I am off to Ireland next month to paint an ex-ambassador who stayed. I have made wallpaper for guests’ houses in London, the Hebrides, and Geneva. I specialize in loos being the smallest wall-spaces to paper. Last year I officiated at a wedding of one of our regulars in Cahors. The groom brought his paramour here one February to propose to her at the end of the Cobb, but it was blowing such a hooley, he fell to his knees on the landing – the sea air has that effect on people.
Although it is a business in that we earn decent money from the house, it ain’t a job – its more a way of life. You have to like people and be sensitive to others’ needs for solitude or wanting a nose around the studio. It is in no way a servile role, more a matter of sharing the sea air with others who don’t have the fortune of rattling around in the Arty BnB By The Sea.