In Fife looking to buy a camper van so they could travel during their retirement, artist Jennifer Pettigrew and her husband Maurice bought an abandoned jeweller’s workshop in Pittenweem instead
WHEN artist Jennifer Pettigrew and her husband Maurice travelled to Fife 14 years ago, they did so with the intention of buying a VW camper van. Instead, they bought a jeweller’s workshop in Pittenweem and decided to make it their home.
The couple were planning to take early retirement and go travelling, but their journey to see the camper van led them past the workshop – within a building believed to be around 200 years old – and changed their direction altogether. The workshop was in a poor condition, but with Maurice’s background and experience as an architect, the couple knew they could transform it into a comfortable two-bedroom home. “We were coming to Fife to look for a camper van so we could travel around, but we passed this wee house in Pittenweem, we viewed it at the last minute, put in an offer and went off to Spain on holiday. Amazingly we got the house,” recalls Jennifer. “It was in a terrible state, with blackened ceilings, but with Maurice being an architect we could see the value in it, plus the views from it were lovely.”
The views are indeed spectacular, overlooking the Firth of Forth to the Bass Rock and Berwick Law from both the ground-floor dining kitchen and the first-floor living room. Inside, the house is a complete surprise, with its fresh white walls, carefully placed artwork, subtle seaside themes and ingenious additions. Glass peepholes give snapshots of the sea through the banister, and the staircase itself can be hoisted up by a pulley to create more space on the ground floor.
The layout and staircase have been designed with Jennifer’s art in mind – as well as creating maximum wall space, she was keen to get involved in Pittenweem’s annual arts festival, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. During the eight-day festival, artists open their doors and allow visitors in to view their work in a home or workshop environment. Both Jennifer and Maurice have embraced the festival’s ethos wholeheartedly.
Maurice says, “When we were doing the house, we stripped everything out, re-insulated it and relined the walls. We did not put architraves or skirtings in as we wanted to keep it simple so nothing detracted from the central space that we wanted to hang paintings in. We put partitions in where we wanted them. The floor before was just concrete because it had been a workshop, but we put in a lovely pine floor. Eventually we laid a cord carpet on top as it was more practical for the festival and when having people round for viewings. As the years have gone on, we realised we had to get rid of the staircase during the festival as it was difficult with so many people here, so we got local joiner Brian Swankie to make a staircase that lifts up through this pulley system. We put lights beneath the staircase so they illuminate the art when the stair is lifted.”
Jennifer says, “When people come in during the festival some tell me stories about what they believe the history of the house to be, how it used to be a net loft, a Polish joiner’s workshop, a brewery and so on. The first festival I did in Pittenweem was in 1999. At that time, we did not have any hot water. We slept on lilos. The upstairs had not been started. It went well and after that we really did start work on the house properly. During last year’s festival we had 5,500 people through the door.”
Dunfermline-born Jennifer, an Edinburgh College of Art graduate who studied alongside John Bellany, went on to teach art in Fife and Portobello before joining Mary Erskine’s School in Edinburgh, where she was head of art and design. When the couple first bought the Pittenweem house, Maurice spent 18 months travelling between Edinburgh and Fife, helping the joiner who did the conversion. Everything from electrics and plumbing to new windows had to be addressed. Jennifer took early retirement in 2000 to concentrate on her art full-time. The diversity of her work – from abstracts to landscapes and still life – is surprising when you realise it all comes from the same hand. “People come into the house, see all the paintings and often ask how many artists are here,” she smiles. “I explain they are all mine as I do a variety of things.”
Every wall in the house is white, to provide a neutral backdrop for the paintings, while the furnishings are deliberately minimalist or pale in colour – with the exception of the kitchen base units, which are deep blue. The couple have employed clever tricks, such as using both ‘dead’ kitchen unit corners by installing a dishwasher that opens into the dining area in one, and a washing machine that opens into the utility room in another.
The entire décor stemmed from an old wooden chest the couple bought for £5 in Kirkcaldy and which now takes pride of place upstairs. There are other wooden chests and director’s chairs, along with carefully positioned chairs in the first-floor sitting room that take advantage of the view. While they plan to start work on adding a glass balcony next month, one view they savour at the moment is in the summerhouse. “The garden is south-facing,” says Jennifer. “We have a sofa in the summerhouse and we just sit there with a glass of wine looking over the sea after work. We do love it here.
“I like to travel as I need to get inspiration for my work but Maurice would not go anywhere else now. There are those people who come to Pittenweem for the arts festival every year – some come to see what else we have done to the house – but there are also those who fall upon it by accident and think they have struck gold. The festival has made me and my art.”
• Jennifer Pettigrew (www.jennifer-pettigrew.co.uk )will be exhibiting at Venue 34 as part of the Pittenweem Arts Festival, Saturday until 5 August, 10.30am to 5pm every day (www.pittenweemartsfestival.co.uk)
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Italy. We have not been back for ages but it is one of the best countries to visit, for many reasons.
Who is your favourite artist?
Ben Nicholson. My work is not like his – he goes minimalist. I can’t do that and I wish I could.
Do you have a favourite way to relax?
Sitting in the summerhouse looking out to sea with a glass of wine.
Is there anywhere else you would like to live?
I would have to spend a long time researching it. At the moment we are very settled where we are.
Do you have a favourite home style tip?
For me, I have to keep the home minimalist and clear to be able to think messily at work. When I am working it can be very messy, so I have to see something very simple when I get home. My home is tidy so that my work can be messy.
What is your favourite book?
I read Jane Eyre as a comfort book.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North