PORTRAIT - Matthew Cox
Many people have 9-5 jobs, where work is separated from home either by location or preference. But many others prefer a different kind of life; one where it is all mixed in together, because combining the two makes sense – emotionally and aesthetically, or because it just is one thing. Matthew Cox is one of these people. His upbringing and his finely tuned aesthetic have led him to his new home as a way to share what he makes and sells. A home and business, in a beautiful house in his beloved home town. He shares all of it with the wonderful Meely and their dog Lily. Home and work, work and home – both incredibly quiet, restrained and deeply beautiful.
Matthew is an antiques dealer and maker of incredible pieces of furniture and lighting. He manages to combine pieces in a way that is comfortable, modern and traditional. Telling stories through objects and the magical ‘Ma’ or space in between. Never too much or too little. It’s a rare skill.
Apart from the obvious beauty of what they create, my favourite moments during the making of this portrait were whilst walking through town to the station, when Matthew shared his deep love for and connection with the place he grew up in. It is a wonderful thing to be so deeply rooted to place.
We spent an inspiring day with Matthew and Meely, learning more about their views on home, and how the way they combine work and home creates something far greater than the sum of its parts.
Images by Kalina Krawczyk
My father is an antique dealer and when I was growing up, our house was always an aesthetic extension to his business. As well as buying and selling pieces, he treated our homes like an enormous antique – the visual aspects were incredibly important. Our homes were also an extension of the business from a financial point of view and because of that, work and home life were entirely inseparable.
Home life was the business, the house was the business. All of their friends – mum and dad’s friends – were something to do with the business. They had very little what would you call spare time to do anything other than something related to the business. Even going to the beach in Norfolk for a couple of weeks was punctuated by church visits, visits to stately homes – business and life were one and the same – and of course, this has had a significant impact on my choices of home and work.
My great-grandparents were independent shopkeepers. There was definitely an emphasis on taking care of yourself and those around you. It gave me the belief from a very early age that anything was possible. Nothing scared our parents…I speak to a lot of friends, who work for other people and when I say they could be brilliant at doing their own thing, they say, ‘yeah, but I like the security’. It’s the opposite for me and probably the opposite for Meely too. You’ve seen your mother and your father doing their own things all their lives and it gives you an innate belief that you can do it too.
I think our house was everything to our family – everything went on in our home. Whether it be stripping wood carvings in the kitchen to having a load of people round, mum cooking a big bowl of soup… business happened there, we happened there. It all happened under that one roof. The house has to be able to take whatever you can throw at it. Growing up, right from the word go, dad’s stuff was coming in and out of the house, the showrooms were in the house, nothing was sacred, pretty much everything was for sale at a price. Not only did I live in houses full of interesting stuff, but that stuff was changing all the time.
My home Water Furlong was my first playground, the first time I had some money to be able to do something with the house. It became my baby in the way that my parents’ houses never were for them. I think the biggest difference between my childhood houses and that house was that I had no intention of leaving it – whereas with my parents’ houses, they moved every one-two years. I rebelled in that way – I wanted to stay put and I was there 14 years (with my father regularly suggesting that I should sell it). So, I guess that was a rebellion against what I grew up with.
It was a place to play with ideas and if I found something that was going to work better somewhere, then I could have a change. It’s one of the perks of the job, everyone tires of what’s around them and I have the chance to change them. It was the best place to cut my decorating teeth.
We have recently moved into our new home in Stamford. The road has been long but quite straight – we just had to get to the point where the turnover could support it. It’s always been a quiet aim to end up doing what we’re doing at the moment. Not one that I was ever sure would happen, or that I would dare to think about too much. Just an idea. I suppose I always had always hoped that if I kept doing what I was doing, with the same level of commitment and integrity that that would be where I would get to. It’s been an evolution every step of the way – there’s always been change in the business.
Of course – now I pretty much live in the equivalent of my childhood homes – large and very old. History is repeating.
When we were planning on moving, we knew we needed somewhere with space, flexibility and to be a little bit rough around the edges, in the centre of town, somewhere we could put our own mark and somewhere that we would love to live, work, have parties, do business, wake up every morning and go “wow”. But it had to feel like home as well. We were looking for a big old place that we could do everything in. The boxes we wanted to tick were period and characterful and big enough to house both us and the business.
The landlord told us about this property – it wasn’t even on the market – we were so lucky that it came along at the perfect time.
We just feel incredibly happy and excited to live here. The views, the walk down the garden path and the enormous sense of history. It is, of course, our business and our home – so although it is my creative tool, it is also home for me, Meely and our dog Lily. We live and work together – and it’s a huge part of how our business and home life come together. I couldn’t do this without Meely so it is an incredibly exciting time.
Because of all of this, I guess I want everything from our home. I want peace and quiet, I want a riot. I want inspiration, I want calm, I want energy. For Meely, the most important thing is for our home to be joyful for us and for others.
I would hope that people could see and feel that this house is just like me and what I make. Not too precious – but also simplicity in the best sense. They would learn about things that I like, and that I don’t like. I don’t like unnecessary design. I like things that serve a purpose, but also to represent my aesthetics. I think that design in interiors (as opposed to Interior Design) is super important – it can dictate peoples’ happiness from an aesthetic or an organisational point of view. The house came a long time after I started doing what I do but that’s not to say that it doesn’t help steer the business. It’s a wonderful place, so why not try to work with it? And it’s a joy and privilege to do so. I’ve learned from home, I’ve learned from my career and so they’re defined by each other. I grew up in houses just like the one I am in now and they now naturally feed each other.
I know that what I do is a niche and particular thing. I don’t expect people to live in the way I live, because I’m an antique dealer and furniture maker …It’s my life and it’s easy for me. However, I don’t think there’s any room in this world for excess and for stuff that isn’t going to stand the test of time. We don’t make anything that will be thrown away with changes in fashion, or thrown away because it’s fallen apart. We make things that are going to last, that are designed to survive, or we resell things that were made a long time ago. And there’s too much of the other that goes on in this world today, I don’t think there’s room for it. When people who do have the opportunity to choose, I feel really strongly that they should choose something that stands the test of time – not the fashion/trend-led choice.
I think that home is wherever you feel happy. Where you feel safe and where things tend to come easily, the place where you feel most at home – know most people, most places. Generally, that’s where you have the most ties, most connections, where things are easiest for you and where you feel safest and most comfortable. We’ve all felt at home somewhere else but I only personally feel really at home when I’m at home.
This house is so new to us, that we are just longing for is to get our teeth stuck into it. We’re thinking that 5-10 years from now that our house, our home, will no longer be a place that we are busying ourselves over, it will be our perfect home, somewhere to enjoy. Hopefully there’ll be lots of exciting projects, but they will be rooted in where we are now. We might have a London space or we might flex our design muscles with a restaurant or hotel – or maybe even some other radically different environment.
Our house will become just our home – leaving us free to start expressing ourselves in any number of other ways. That’s exciting.