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Garden of Nina Dolan House

Contemporary artist Nina Dolan used the lockdown as an opportunity to focus on herself and shared with us how she evolved her home and studio.

Based in the South West county of Wilshire, contemporary artist Nina Dolan has established a name for herself for her oil paintings, as well as other media including pencil for large-scale drawings. With works regularly commissioned from architects, designers and collectors on a global scale, her works have been exhibited in The Royal College of Art, The Contemporary Art Society and Chelsea Arts Club, to name a few. Once lockdown commenced Nina took the opportunity to focus on herself and her surroundings, and we caught up with the artist on how the period inspired her to change and evolve her home, what home means to her and what we can expect to see from her in the near future. 

Historic door Nina Dolan house

Where is home for you?

For the past twenty-two years I have lived with my husband at Latimer Manor in a beautiful village called West Kington, Wiltshire. Originally, we lived in London but decided to move when our children left primary school. When we first came the house was a labour of love, broken leaded light windows were restored to their original, doors stripped down, and land cleared, an avenue of trees planted, masonry and woodwork restored. One of the lovely things about living in a house like this it grows with you and your family. Much of the work was done by us and other amazing artisans in the South West. It has been a wonderful family house full of young people, friends and animals.

What does your daily routine look like?

I rise at 7.00 and normally ride my bike around the traffic free lanes whilst taking in my surroundings, looking at different shapes, lines, ideas to set me on my way.   Before going into my studio I have porridge with berries and nuts and tea. The first hour in the studio I check emails, another cup of tea and start to doodle in my sketchbooks, write ideas down and I spend an enormous amount of time working out colour before painting. I use large pieces of plastic coated paper on a trestle table to lay out my paints; they start out in organised lines but by the end of the day a different story.  I tend to listen to music whilst drawing but not when I am painting as I like to have stories in my head as I work.  Lunch is simple either hummus or an avocado with chilli. Early evening walk with the dog, either with a friend or my husband.  Time to make dinner. 

What’s the style of your home interiors?

It is best described as eclectic. It was very important to us that the house had a liveable feel, comfortable and welcoming.  I don’t like homes in the country being too staged. Earlier on we restored the dining hall, which is surrounded by stone mullioned windows and a large fire place. The neutral walls and limestone floor are a foil for artwork and an architectural glass table with Rennie Mackintosh designed chairs. Neither of us are afraid to have odd pieces of furniture, for example we were in Bordeaux and saw this carved armoire, which was made into a china cabinet because it was too tall for our bedrooms. On our travels we’ve picked up kilims and other rugs which bring in lots of colour to the house.  The most remarkable feature of the interior is a splendid collection of monumental stone fireplaces, even in our bathroom which dates back to 1617. The fixtures are modern but we have rugs and furniture as both Michael and I spend time on the weekends reading in the bath. During the weekends we like to entertain so the kitchen was made by Cheverell, lots of cupboard space made to last with a pantry and obligatory Aga. The drawing room main feature is a carved stone fireplace, we have kept it very open with antique Thai benches and two tapestry chairs we found in France, the walls have my work or friends paintings which often get changed, depending on what gets sold or I am working on. 

Where’s your favourite room/spot in your home and why?

Other than my studio I would say my favourite room is the dining hall. Due to working alone, I like to have friends or family over on the weekend so we made a conscious decision to make an interesting space for entertaining.  At night its magical with candles burning over an old fireplace, wood stove burner in an old fireplace, you could be back in the Tudor times or in the 21st Century.  During the day the light pours in from both sides and during Covid our adult children have returned from London and have worked at opposite ends of the table.

You’ve got a day to spend at home with no obligations or distractions. What would we find you doing?

My guilty pleasure is that I love foreign films, so maybe watching Netflix. On the other hand I also love to read so you may find me curled up in the TV room.

Please can you share your top tips for how our readers can easily refresh their interiors for summer?

Textiles, rugs add warmth to a home, they don’t have to be expensive.. Don’t be afraid to move your artwork around or just change paintings or drawings. I collect small vases and a few flowers can brighten up a home.  Anything you don’t need, label, put away, sell or give to charity. Mix contemporary with antique furniture.  Paint large swatches of paint on lining paper and leave up in the room to see if the colour works during the day, it is amazing how colours change due to the light. Support local artisans, amazing how many people they will know to make other things. 

Lockdown caused everyone to spend more time at home than ever, which renewed everyone’s interest in their interiors and gardens. What design changes, if any, did you make to your home or wish you could have made to improve your home environment for this period? 

I had been using a bedroom as a storeroom. We moved the paintings out and my husband painted the room, upholstered a headboard with beautiful old fabric from Bernard Thorpe and made a matching bedcover.  Over the last three months we have been restoring an old barn into a larger studio with storage space. I had been renting industrial spaces and then working from home but the Covid lockdown made me realise I needed a space outside the house but on the property.

What did you learn from spending so much time at home and what do you think we can all take away from this period?

During Covid the village came together on Whatsapp and everybody has been helping each other. At the beginning it was for food, colleting prescriptions for the elderly, how to use zoom etc. I have never seen so many new birds and wildlife returning as during the last few months.  We had two swarms of bees, much to the delight of Fred the bee keeper.  It has been good to see so many children, adults riding bikes, walking etc.  During this period I have learnt to appreciate my environment and the friends I have locally.  I still miss not being able to-do things on the spur of the moment for example going to an exhibition without booking, going to the theatre or a film.  Having a few nights at Chelsea Arts Club and meeting up with friends around the bar.  The plus side is technology has enabled us to see and speak to our friends online but it’s not the same as seeing somebody in the flesh.

What exciting projects are you currently working on?

Working on the new studio.  The first night at the Chelsea Waterside ArtSpace was a great success and thankfully I sold over twenty paintings but I never saw the exhibition again due to lockdown coming just days later. I have to finish two paintings I’ve been working on for an exhibition with Aleph Contemporary Gallery later on in the year. Exciting to work with the dynamic Vivienne Roberts and her team.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

I’m completing a series of drawings for an architect client in Zurich.  

Outside of Nina Dolan house