RUNNING around with family lurcher Roo on a deserted beach in East Lothian is the perfect daily refreshment for ceramicist Lucy Dunce.
Lucy and her husband, cabinet maker Alastair Letch, had been seeking a rural idyll for several years.
They had been living in an apartment in Edinburgh but were looking for a bit more space, while creating a studio for Lucy was becoming a priority. Bringing up daughters Holly, 16, and Caitlin, 12, meant a break for Lucy. “I wanted to be a full-time mum, but found myself painstakingly decorating cupcakes at every opportunity.”
Having returned to work when her daughters started school, Lucy’s career as a ceramicist is well established again, selling through galleries and craft fairs all over the country. She now runs ceramic classes and creative weekends from her idyllic garden studio. Their home, in a small hamlet on the beautiful East Lothian coastline, is set in a courtyard of what was originally a terrace of ten farm cottages. Developed in the 1970s, they had been turned into four individual homes. When Lucy and Alastair came across theirs, despite the poor condition of the interior, they knew their search was over. “There was not even a staircase connecting upstairs and downstairs,” Lucy remembers. “It was truly dreadful inside, but the setting was perfect.”
Their beautiful home has been sculpted out of the wreckage. Alastair tackled everything, aside from plastering and a few electrical tasks, and his skill as a craftsman is obvious in every nook and cranny. Upstairs was remodelled to create four bedrooms and a comfortable bathroom. Downstairs there is a welcoming farmhouse-style kitchen and a spacious, tranquil living room. The sycamore staircase is by Alastair. “It is my favourite fixture,” Lucy says. A thing of beauty, made from locally sourced wood, every step contains a drawer or little cupboard for everything from kindling to the dog’s lead. “Creating this home was an evolutionary process,” Lucy says.
“Nothing was straightforward. Every new project seemed to open another can of worms,” she says. It is clear, though, that she and Alastair would not have been happy rushing the renovation; the couple naturally gravitate towards a more organic method. “We had no clear vision of how things would turn out,” admits Lucy. “I think you have to be adaptable in a house and see how it works, how the various rooms are used in terms of lighting and seating. I suppose that’s the good thing about taking ten years to do it – it means we know our house intimately.”
Colour is muted throughout, kept to a minimum to allow the bespoke furniture and fittings to speak for themselves. Handmade pieces by Alastair sit easily with items made by artists, friends and children, while junk shop finds are another staple. Hand-carved legs from a billiard table that were once destined for the skip now hang proudly in the hallway, opposite measuring sticks from old whisky barrels.
The whole family hangs out in the homely kitchen, where everything from homework to cooking and entertaining takes place. Multicoloured jars of pasta, beans, pulses and cereals line hand-made shelves along with cooking utensils, proving that practical can also be pretty.
Above the wood-burning stove a beautiful wood-carving picked up on holiday to Zanzibar is surrounded by carefully selected ceramics. Behind the back door a framed, crocheted baby scarf makes for an unlikely artwork, while a collection of English tea bowls line the shelves by the kitchen window. Tunisian scent bottles in jewel-toned hues, picked up by Alastair when he was working in the Mediterranean, sit above a marble-topped dresser he made.
Lucy and Alastair’s bedroom is lined with bespoke book shelves, while two dormer windows illuminate the space. The only splash of colour is in the fuchsia bed linen on the black cast iron bed. A bowl by ceramic artist Rupert Spira sits modestly in the corner.
Lucy’s longed-for studio is now a reality. Set in the lavender-scented plantsman’s garden the couple created – a work of art in itself that is crammed with texture and interest – its roomy, practical layout is ideal. With a patio to the front and wonderful views, Lucy takes inspiration from the countryside that stretches as far as the eye can see. Indeed, abstractions of nature’s geometric forms are the staple of Lucy’s ceramics. “We built the studio from scratch,” Lucy explains, “and it was laborious.” Colour, as in her home, is used sparingly. Lucy obviously prefers to reserve it for her mouthwatering earthenware creations.
The tranquillity that permeates this home is disturbed only by Roo, bounding about when she needs a walk. Just turning round on to the dirt-track lane that bends into the courtyard of Lucy’s home, it’s almost as if someone has turned the volume down.
• For information on classes and Lucy’s Open Studio, 3-6 August, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (www.lucydunce.co.uk)
What is your favourite food?
A feast of locally caught seafood. Crabs and langoustines with garlic butter and plenty of chilled white wine.
What was the last book you read that you loved?
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Grim but fascinating reading.
What is your ideal way to relax?
Gardening, provided someone has done the back-breaking work ahead of me.
What is your favourite space in the house?
My favourite spaces are creative: the kitchen where a lot of good food is prepared and eaten, it’s in the centre of the house and is the focus of hectic family activity around the kitchen table. And my studio, which is the antidote to our busy kitchen and my personal headspace where I can make ideas happen.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
An ideal holiday would be a place where I could be very active by day and pampered with good food by night, so perhaps a walking holiday in the French Pyrenees.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
It was by my father: “You tend to regret things you haven’t done in life rather than the things you have.”