As an artist and interior designer, Gemma Dudgeon is used to transforming spaces on behalf of clients up and down the country. This studio apartment, however, proved a different challenge – one that involved designing for herself, and from scratch. “My work is very client-led,” she says. “Deciding for myself was much harder. I had a blank canvas, which was a privilege, but also quite daunting, as I understood the sheer magnitude of choice and looks I could go for.”
Dudgeon moved to south Devon with her husband Alastair, a chef, in pursuit of a better quality of life. “I wanted my kids to grow up climbing trees and playing on the beach – to be in touch with the environment in which they live,” she says. In 2017, they bought a house in the market town of Totnes, which they share with their two young daughters, Olive and Frances, and their whippet, Skye. At the same time, the couple also purchased Mount Plym mews, an 1830s coach house located 100 yards away, for far more prosaic reasons: parking. “It’s a real issue in Totnes,” says Dudgeon.
When they acquired it, the mews was a shell, with bare stairs and an upper floor that was open to the eaves. “It was all very dirty and dusty,” says Dudgeon. “It’s also in a conservation area so there were limitations as to what we could do.” Looking to broaden its use beyond a parking space, they decided to create a garage downstairs and a petite pad upstairs – an additional space where family and friends could stay or that could be rented out on Airbnb.
Measuring just 30 square metres, space had to be maximised to make it work. Low-hanging beams were removed and three new skylights installed, while a partition wall was added to break up the cubic volume and separate off the bathing area. “I did so many different layouts to find the optimum one,” says Dudgeon. “I wanted the main space to feel as big as it possibly could, which meant the kitchen and bathroom needed to be compact.”
The cooking zone was also positioned so that it would not be the first thing you see as you enter the space, or be visible from the bed. “I wanted to create the sense of an entry point, plus nobody wants to see dirty dishes when they wake up,” she says. The kitchen was additionally stripped back to the barest essentials. “I agonised over what was necessary in a studio where people stay temporarily rather than live full time,” says Dudgeon. Space-enhancing solutions include a plug-in hob that lives in the cupboard to keep the worktop free, and a recess built in behind the microwave so that it could sit on a narrower shelf.
Along with the constraints of a small footprint, Dudgeon was working to a tight budget. “I had to do the interior as inexpensively as I could, without it looking like that,” she says. “And I didn’t want to have to redo things in a couple of years, so needed to spend money where quality mattered.” As a result, a large portion of funds went on the kitchen cabinets, an elegant made-to-measure design by Kit Clifford that truly elevates the space. Finished with a white quartz worktop from Steve Bristow Stone Masonry and an Arte Form brass tap, it features an open shelf that’s invisibly supported at one end, resting on a single bracket for a more elegant finish.
For the bijou bathroom, Dudgeon bought space-savvy sanitary ware from Holloways of Ludlow and porcelain tiles from Ca’pietra that resemble more expensive encaustic designs. In the main area, second-hand furniture is thoughtfully deployed: stools bought from the antiques market at Kempton for £5 each stand in as bedside tables; a headboard that a client was going to throw away heightens the simple divan bed; and an old wooden armchair is revived with cushions made from luxe Christopher Farr fabrics.
“I had to find ways to put in things that would have impact without huge expense,” Dudgeon says. Another way she did this is through the clever use of colour – painting the risers on the staircase, for example, adds interest without the cost of a runner.
“Being an artist and painter, I have a strong relationship with colour,” she says. “I’m also bored of the industrial grey look we’ve endured for the past decade – I really wanted to do something more playful.” Bold shades, all from Little Greene, of Orange Aurora, Dock Blue and Mister David yellow are harmonised with a tonal backdrop of Slaked Lime greys. To this, Dudgeon has added a few characterful details, such as a pigeon light by Ed Carpenter and the balloon artwork by Adam Herbert, that give the apartment personality without sliding into pastiche. “I wanted it to be fun, but also a refuge,” she says, “a nurturing space in which people could stay, however briefly.”