Knock Knock With Joanna Maclennan
Photography by Joanna Maclennnan
9th June 2023
What we like at Tat is other people doing the hard work for us, obviously, that is Knock Knock as a whole, but usually, we at least go out trying to find the house. Not this time. We even outsourced that. Thankfully other people are generally far better than us at finding houses. So it was with great pleasure that photographer, Tim Clinch (who has previously taken part in Knock Knock), introduced us to another photographer and his friend, Joanna Maclennan. Joanna works with Tim hosting photography workshops. They have two more left this year. One of which will take place in September in the house Joanna is about to introduce us to; the next will be in October in Bulgaria, at Tim's home. To find out more, click the links below. For a little amuse-bouche, read Joanna's wonderful Knock Knock about her home in Provence.
Provence Workshop - 19-26 September
Bulgaria Workshop - 4 - 11 October
Originally, my husband Mike and I were looking to convert an old stone cottage, but it was either too expensive or there wasn’t enough room for a studio. The director of Musée Estrine - Elisa Farran - recommended Eygalières, a beautiful village in the Bouches-du-Rhône, surrounded by the Alpilles. We thought it was out of our range, but Elisa suggested the Zone Artisanal, where a number of artists have studios. We found a piece of land and decided to build our own house. Contractors did the foundations, exterior walls and windows, along with the electricity and plumbing. With the help of his father, Mike did the roof and the mezzanine. This was early 2020. We were very fortunate with our timing, having bought the materials prior to the pandemic, and so, during the initial lockdown, Mike and I did the insulation, floors and interior walls ourselves, along with the kitchen and bathrooms.
In 2019, I published a book called The Foraged Home, which looked at innovative ways to restore or repurpose found objects. Our previous house - a mas in a nearby village - was featured in the book, and we’ve continued the same philosophy here. The old green doors dividing our studio and living space, for example, were bought from a local dealer, and we specifically built the wall to accommodate them. Elsewhere, the floors in our bedroom and bathroom were from a cabin being knocked down around the corner (a builder informed us, and, with less than 48 hours before it was carted away - and in the hot July sun - we rushed over there and gathered as much free wood as we could manage), while the shutters lining the corridor were from a house being demolished in Eygalières. In our bedroom, there’s an entire wall devoted to female portraits, my particular favourite - and a surprise birthday present from Mike - an androgynous woman from the early 19th century. Next to her is a portrait picked up in a car boot sale in Bulgaria, plus a growing collection of ex-votos.
The sinks were all foraged or bought cheaply. (The tiles above the one in the kitchen are 18th century.) We love mixing textures - old with new, domestic with industrial - like the bathtub with the corrugated iron. The sliding door - between the kitchen and the hallway - creates more space. A favourite piece in the house is the green market board that everyone wants and which Mike saved from a building that was being pulled down. (Meanwhile, our daughter Poppy, aged 12, insisted on something more ‘modern’.)
It’s an unhurried approach. We wait until we find the right thing - or it finds us.
Mike and I met 15 years ago, introduced by a mutual friend in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Mike is an artist and antiques dealer; I’m a professional photographer, specialising in interiors, travel, lifestyle and portraits, having worked for a variety of magazines such as World of Interiors and Cabana. I also run Two Photographers with Tim Clinch, conducting weekly online discussions and Q&As. The studio is a shared space, filled with all sorts of interesting objects - a cabinet de curiosité writ large. It’s where I photograph still lives, using natural light, and Mike creates his transformative artworks, including his shadow boxes. We also do workshops there. Above the studio is the mezzanine, with our office at one end and the guest bedroom at the other. Before moving in, we’d found an old workbench and removed its wooden top: the staircase was then built around it.
The house is always changing and evolving. Nothing’s permanent. Mike draws on the walls in black ink, objects come and go, or shift position.
When we first moved in, there was no electricity, and we used a hosepipe to shower in the garden - we all still use it throughout the summer.
Outside, there’s a greenhouse, a chicken coop (currently vacant), a terrace (made from foraged brick boards). Because it was a piece of land, there was little to no shade, which can be challenging during the Provençal summer. We’ve had to create a garden from scratch, planting numerous trees - a much slower process than the house!
My second book, Living Wild, has just been published, exploring how people juggle life, work and family, while living in harmony with nature. The kitchen needs finishing - along with a few other bits and pieces - but I feel like we’ve found a good balance.