first day of spring | couplings no. 20 | via: chatham st. house
first day of spring | couplings no. 20 | via: chatham st. house
first day of spring | couplings no. 20 | via: chatham st. house
first day of spring | a flower does not think...| couplings no. 20 | via: chatham st. house
first day of spring | couplings no. 20 | via: chatham st. house
first day of spring | couplings no. 20 | via: chatham st. house

Welcome to Spring. As I sit here typing I'm staring down yet another snow storm and spending precious minutes trying to conjure up what today should feel like - "I'd have to say April 25th. Because it's not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket." One can dream.

To help with my conjuring, and maybe yours too, I've collected all the pretty I could muster this morning and I'll be staring at this arrangement from now until April when 70 degrees is the new 30. Happy Spring equinox everyone. - b.

Couplings is a series on Chatham St. House celebrating the kindred spirit in images, how they relate and respond to one another in a way similar to how body language communicates between two people. 

Image Sources: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

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Inside Charleston House | Anna Huix photography | via: chatham st. house


Once upon a time there was a beautiful English cottage called Charleston. Inside its peeling walls and sagging roof lived a family of artists and they were called Bloomsbury...ok, so that isn't accurate but it does have the makings of a magical Disney movie I'd definitely watch. The true story is much more interesting and unconventional and I've done my best to distill into a digestible post with loads of information. I've decided to focus on the matriarch of this pseudo-family, Vanessa Bell, her Sussex cottage and her influence within the Bloomsbury Group.



Vanessa Bell (née Stephen) was the daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Prinsep Duckworth, and the elder sister of famous modernist author Virginia Woolf. From an early age Vanessa’s calm, sweet disposition was overshadowed by the tempestuous Virginia, and even as I write this I’m aware she is still referenced to in the context of her relationship with Virginia. An amazing talent in her own right Vanessa has gained notoriety as an artist and interior decorator whose influence can still be felt in the world of decorative arts. Additionally, Vanessa served as an important source of comfort and inspiration to many of her more illustrious peers.

Incredibly close to her younger siblings (Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian) Vanessa sold the family home in Westminster, London after their father's death, and moved the family to Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, London. It is here that they met and began socializing with artists, writers, and intellectuals. The individuals who would form the Bloomsbury Group.

Charleston House guest room by the Bloomsbury Group | via: chatham st. house
Painted door by Duncan Grant in the study of Clive Bell in the Charleston House by the Bloombury Group | via: chatham st. house
mantel in Charleston House by the Bloombury Group | via: chatham st. house


Many of the founding members of the Bloomsbury Group met as students at Cambridge University, but it was in Vanessa’s Bloomsbury living room that many of their ideas and relationships began to take shape. Founding members included Vanessa’s siblings, Lytton Strachey, Desmond MacCarthy, Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, Roger Fry and Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell. 

Clive and Vanessa had an open marriage which allowed both of them to live out one of the most important Bloomsbury tenants – Rejecting the bourgeois habits of their Victorian upbringings. This included the belief in monogamous relationships. Remarkably Vanessa’s lovers, including Duncan Grant (father to her daughter Angelica) and Roger Fry, would remain lifelong friends and companions. She and Clive also remained close, though their sexual relationship cooled after the birth of their 2 sons Julian and Quentin.

The Bloomsbury Group was highly influenced by their left-liberal political stances and a collective appreciation of post-Impressionist art which was introduced by group member and art critic Roger Fry. They also worked to blur the lines between fine and decorative arts as you can see in the interiors of Charleston. All of these things lead them to become the premier bohemian set of their time and interconnects their work in an inexorable way. 



In 1916 Vanessa Bell purchased Charleston, a 16th Century farmhouse in East Sussex, at the urging of her sister Virginia Woolf. Along with her 2 young sons, Bell moved in with longtime companion Duncan Grant and his friend and lover David Garnett. The plan was partially to protect Duncan and David from conscription during World War I. Their anti-war stance required they find “work of national importance” or they would have to serve. The farm allowed them to toil on the land while maintaining their artistic lifestyles.

Charleston quickly became the country getaway of the artists, intellectuals, and writers within the Bloomsbury Group. There they could freely discuss their political views, live unconventional love lives, and squirrel away to complete their most important works. Over the years visitors included the likes of T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Vita Sackville-West, Hugh Walpole, and of course Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

Almost immediately Vanessa and Duncan started the important work of transforming the cottage from shabby farmhouse to a masterful display of color, expression, and art. By this time they had started the Omega Workshops with critic Roger Fry where they pushed the boundaries between decorative and fine arts. Their explorations in furniture design, textiles, and other household accessories can be seen in every facet of the Charleston home. 

Vanessa Bell's Charleston House studio of the Bloomsbury Group | via: chatham st. house
Charleston House studio in Sussex | the Bloomsbury Group | via: chatham st. house
Vanessa Bell's Charleston House in Sussex England | the Bloomsbury Group | via: chatham st. house


Each room in Charleston tells a unique story. Over the years the home was added to, rooms changed uses, and bedrooms were fluid as inhabitants flowed in and out of the house. The one constant? Vanessa and Duncan’s unique hand can be felt and seen in every nook and cranny of the space.

Duncan’s work effortlessly mixes figurative motifs with expressive print and color. You can see his work adorning mantels, doors, and on textiles draped over chairs. Vanessa’s work was inspired more by the natural world and grandeur of Roman frescoes. You can see her flowers dotting the windowsills and faux paneling painted in a dazzling mix of colors. She had the amazing ability to mix colors and patterns in a way that feels put together in its chaos.

My favorite part of the home is its layers. You can see years of memories lined up across the studio’s mantel, paint thickly laid on every flat surface from years of painting, perfecting, and reimagining. There is a feeling that things stay where they landed not to be moved or forgotten. Visitors get to absorb just a little bit of their magic. To this day Charleston feels like it is living and breathing, like it’s not quite done yet. It will never be done.

Charleston House living room | Vanessa Bell of the Bloomsbury Group | via: chatham st. house
Charleston House by the BLoombury Group | Vanessa Bell window sill painting | via: chatham st. house
Vanessa Bell's CharlestonHouse living room | the Bloomsbury Group | via: chatham st. house


It could be argued that there would be no Bloomsbury legacy if it weren't for Charleston. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were the heart and soul of the group and they kept the work of their friends and lovers alive through excessive generosity, and the continual transformation of the farmhouse through their art. Over the course of 64 years they poured themselves into Charleston and now it is preserved for future generations to enjoy and be inspired by thanks to their family. I'm incredibly inspired by this place and hope to treat my own house as a canvas for expression. I never want to be afraid to experiment and include my friends in the adventures. -b. 

Learn more about the Charleston and the amazing life of Vanessa Bell here

Image Sources: 1 | 2- unknown | 3-4 | 5 | 6-7 | 8 | 9 | 10

References: The Charleston TrustWikipedia | Artsy

$30 diy dining room light | via: chatham st. house

What do you do when you want a home that looks straight out of House Beautiful, but your budget is more in line with Target pricing? You get crafty! During a recent sample sale I scored an oversized dome light for just $10 bucks, the issue? It was a hideous shade of aqua! Instead of passing on the deal, I decided to put my art degree to good use and reinvent the lighting. A couple of coats of paint (and a lot of lessons learned) later, it's the crown jewel of our dining room.

My first course of action was to wash the light and shorten the massively long cord to a more reasonable length. To do this, I unscrewed the closure at the crown (where the light connects to the ceiling) and pulled it through to my desired length. I then tightened the screw back up, cut the cord about 6" away from the crown, and used wire strippers to clean off about 1/2" inch of the cord for mounting.

$30 diy dining room light | via: chatham st. house

There was a lot of trial and error with this project. I first tried painting the light with gold metallic paint, ignoring everything I know about painting (i.e. prime the surface before painting). It peeled off almost immediately. I then tried using DecoArt's Metallic Lustre Wax Finish first, followed by the gold paint and this stuck much better. The paste hardens really quickly, creating a seal.

It did not however look like a real metallic fixture....Back to the drawing board.

$30 diy dining room light | via: chatham st. house

I finally caved and decided to go the spray paint route, using the metallic wax finish as a top coat. This gave it the burnished brass look I was looking for. Finally I cut off the worn out fabric casing on the cord and carefully wrapped it in electrically tape, keeping it the original black.

So, a couple of notes for those wanting to attempt this at home:

  1. Prime your surface first
  2. Spray paint will give the smoothest, more finished look
  3. I highly recommend DecoArt's Metallic Lustre Wax Finish as a sealant. It dries rock hard and looks divine
  4. Thin the wax finish with water before applying, a very small amount will do. This will allow the spray paint undercoat to partially show through
  5. Polish the finish after it dries. The more you polish, the shinier it will become

I'm very happy with the results and will be on the hunt for more thrifty light purchases in the future. It only gets easier with every project, right? right...? - b. 

$30 diy dining room light | via: chatham st. house
    homeBekuh Browningdiy, renovated