Look away now if you are not handy around the home and tend to suffer from guilt / envy when viewing another person’s extremely impressive achievements with a power tool and a knack for having a go. For this month we’re catching up with jeweller and all-round artsy type Hannah Upritchard, who together with her husband Christian Alert has basically rebuilt her ex-authority Hackney home from scratch (with a little help from friends). We found out about Hannah through the strange diverting powers of Instagram and were bowled over that the young maker appeared to have built a mezzanine in her bedroom all by herself on a bit of a whim – more on that in our interview below. We later learnt that she and Christian set up an online shop, Pedro and Money, selling all the beautiful things they sourced for their own home – prompted mainly by the many visitors who asked “where did you get that?”.
Hannah and Christian were travelling around Hannah’s native New Zealand when we contacted her – learning how to weave while there, just because – but we managed to grab Hannah for a quick chat. Here’s what she told us, alongside images of her gorgeous home, which was shot for New Zealand interiors bible Homestyle.
How long did the house project take and – in summary! – what did you have to do?
“We finally finished the house just before we left for New Zealand to visit family which means, from collecting the keys to putting the last coat of oil on the new back doors, the renovation took two and a half years. It was a pretty big project. The inside was in such a state that in the whole of London only two people made an offer on the house. We were delighted to get it because we had strong ideas about how we wanted it to be and we really didn’t want to be pulling out lots of perfectly good homeware just because it didn’t suit our taste.
We started out just stripping everything back to bare bones – removing old flea-ridden shag pile carpets, scraping cigarette-stained wallpaper, pulling up carpet – before really setting to work removing a defunct heating system and bashing back walls to allow light to come into the ground floor of the house. After that we decided to split the house into two parts – the kitchen and the rest. Basically Christian got final say on everything about the kitchen and I was allocated the rest of the house. It was a brilliant system for us because we were able to reach decisions really quickly and the work moved ahead swiftly and without fuss or extended discussions.
Most of the work was fairly cosmetic- except the demolition of several sections of walls. The scariest thing that I decided to do was to change the plumbing in the bathroom. This required supporting an enourmous cast iron pipe sufficiently to cut in in half with an angle grinder. I was terrified that it would topple and pull down our entire roof!”
How did you get your friends and family involved and do they now come over and take pride in their parts?!
“Christian and I are extremely lucky to have incredibly talented, generous friends and family. Our old landlord is a sparky and he explained to us how to rewire the entire house so we could complete the cabling work ourselves before he came over to test and certify the work which saved us thousands. I was taught how to do all the plumbing work by our charming but insane plumber so that I didn’t need to call him any more when I wanted to change something or move something around.
My family and friends (especially my twin brother Willie and amazing friend (New Zealand artist) Emma Fitts not only spent hours/days/ weeks doing really mundane and unpleasant work, but they also generously gave us amazing contributions of their own. Willie made all of our ostrich egg lampshades and speakers (available on Pedro and Monkey). Harry Thaler presented me with one of his stunning lamps and a bespoke bed, Martino Gamper, my brother in law, gave us a set of his beautiful dining chairs and even a bespoke, custom made Gamper peg board/storage wall for our kitchen. My mother and father saw the ostrich egg lightshades and, pairing with New Zealand ceramicist, Cheryl Lucas, designed some duck egg door handles. Each is individually slip cast and glazed and then set on a door post that my father created in his garage on his metal lathe. We have blankets spun, dyed and woven by hand by my aunt, Jenny Cook.
It’s a pleasure to be surrounded by high quality homeware and it’s a daily reminder of the generousity of all the amazing friends we have made in our ten years in London.”
Does this mean you are DIY-ing other people’s homes in return?
“Yes, constantly, but that’s also how we learned everything we needed to do our own house! Before we started, just though helping other people, we already knew how to build or demolish a brick wall, how to lay a new lawn, how to construct our garden retaining walls, the basics of plastering, adobe and tadelact….etc etc…Helping my sister [artist] Francis Upritchard, to renovate her house about five years earlier was awesome because our house was built at the same time and is almost identical so we knew a lot about the challenges we faced and some of the solutions that we could employ.”
How did you design the kitchen – and also how you decided on the colours?
“Chrsitian already had strong ideas about how he wanted the kitchen to work and he worked closely with two great designer friends of his, Lars Freiden and Tiago Almeda. Christian really likes strong colours and clear lines so by unconscious accident it resembles a Mondrian drawing, although the size of the cupboards were chosen purely because of intended functionality.
Freiden was brilliant at pushing me to resovle all the niggley problems of the kitchen while we were still in the sketch phase and the result is this extremely elegant kitchen where our boiler is hidden behind a set of shelves and the fuses lie in wait behind a secret cupboard.
The splashback/ storage wall is Martino’s design. After I had finalsed the placement for all of my kitchenware he built the sheets of peg board/splashback to fit. It runs on an angle because at the top it is concealing piping from the extractor fan and the heating system. Because its powder-coated metal its not only strong but its also fabulously easy to clean.”
What’s your proudest DIY achievement?
“Probably the bathroom. It was extremely difficult to accomplish with the limited budget that we had and really I couldn’t be more proud of the result. It’s a special room with a jungle of inside plants tucked away above the shower cubicle which is massive and filled with blue geometrically patterned Moroccan tiles. We combined wood, tile and painted walls to create a warm yet open feeling space moving away from the austere, sterile coldness that many modern bathrooms have.”
How about the bedroom mezzanine?
“The story behind that mezzanine is hilarious. We had almost finished the house – just had the kitchen doors to go – and my mother decided to come and stay for a few months very soon after another friend was planning to stay. Christian and I had been using one double room as our bedroom and another as our dressing and yoga room. I needed to figure out somewhere to put this extra bed, but I loved having a separate dressing room. I waited until Christian was flying to a meeting in New York, climbed into the loft and stuck my foot through the plaster board ceiling of our dressing room. Once I had done that it was too late to go back and I was committed to building this ridiculous little loft bedroom. After taking out the existing ceiling I lifted all of it to the height of the rafters and pushed the wall as far back as I could over the hallway. This allowed me to make a tinsy tiny little room – about 115cm x189cm- where we could sleep while we were hosting. The only problem we faced was that it was extremely dangerous to get in and out of bed when there were two people (and often a cat) so I had to build a little mezzanine platform. In the end it’s been great. It also gave us room for a giant shoe shelf and now when children come to visit they can entertain themselves for hours climbing up and down the ladder into our (tree house, castle, boat- you name it!) loft bedroom.”
You seem to be able to turn your hand to making anything – where does this spirit come from?
“None of my rather large family are particularly good at sitting still and we never had a television growing up so if it was too cold or dismally wet to go and play outside on the trampoline or river then we would be sitting inside sculpting with a dough that you could cook and then paint, or sewing clothes for our toys or building incredible huts in the furniture. If we were visiting extended family then the games would always involve grabbing a hammer and a power drill to build a tree house or painting (which I am terrible at btw!) or collecting treasures from the beach. My family are all still constantly making things – as you know I’m travelling around visiting family now. I’m currently staying with an aunt who is teaching me how to spin wool and weave blankets. It’s just something we all do. I’m a jeweller now in London making bespoke and contemporary jewellery (Hannah Rings) plus a few things for our Pedro and Monkey shop. Making stuff is in my genes I think.”
Tell us about the touches of New Zealand in the Pedro and Monkey collection?
“There are certainly touches of NZ in the collection, though they reflect more the easy access we have to people with great craft skills and amazing natural materials than using traditional designs. This is one of the great things about NZ that people really value traditional skills and materials are now adapting them to modern tastes. Having said this NZ is also a treasure trove for genuine and awesome 70’s pottery which you only get here. My luggage is always full of charity shop finds when I’m flying back home to London.”
How about things your family has made?
“My dad is basically a walking 3D photocopier. You can show him almost any item out of, lets say, the Egyptian collection at the British Museum and he can carve it for you. I love congee so when I showed him a drawing of a congee spoon that I’d like he went to his workshop and made one. We loved the prototype. Then we went for a three day road trip and when we came back he’d made 15 out of various NZ hardwoods. It was amazing! Now he’s done some lovely tongs as well as some other great kitchen objects that will appear on Pedro and Monkey soon. My mother is a fantastic artist and a brilliant organizer of people so it was her that really brought the egg door handles project together. She has such good taste and is an extremely elegant woman and this is reflected in her work.”
We love the pieces by Jochen Holz – how did you find out about him and what drew you to his work?
“My sister Francis Upritchard is an artist and she has been working with Jochen for many years. So we knew him from art openings and collecting bit and pieces for Francis. He also taught my brother, Steven, how to blow glass. This means that we had seen a lot of his work and how incrediably capable he is.
Anyway we had been looking for nice lampshades for a long time and we were continusly disappointed by how dull or heavy many of them look while still being so expensive. Finally Christian had a stroke of genius. He decided to do a simple design ourselves and then take it to Jochem to see if he could help us. We were invited to his glass blowing studio in East London to explain what we were looking for and he made them for us then and there. It is so much fun watching a glass blower work and fabulous to know the level of skill that went into our beautiful pieces!”
Will you be bringing anything back from this trip to New Zealand to sell in Pedro and Monkey?
“Oh yes! We already have a big box of collections and finds – though we won’t know which bits are for sale and which bits are just for us until we get them all home. We are currently in Napier learning to weave and spin, but it’s also the Art Deco capital of NZ due to its reconstruction after an earthquake in the 1920s. It’s a fantastic place for looking through Opp (short for opportunity) shops for amazing woodwork and ceramics made by hand by all the hippy crafts people of New Zealand’s small towns in the 1970s. Heaven!”
Finally – where does the name Pedro and Monkey come from?
“We actually had a super long list of names and kept on talking about what would be the best name and everybody had a different opinion. We should have a descriptive name like Ourhomeisourshop.com, which was rejected as uncool and too long and so forth. Then one day we said lets combine our street name – Pedro – with one of our nicknames and voila here we ware with Pedro and Monkey. Though we won’t tell you at this stage who is the monkey in the family, you should be able to guess this from the article.”