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Milk and Honey

 OBSERVER MAGAZINE // APRIL 2019

OldDairy.jpg

MILK AND HONEY

An old dairy in Hackney has been given a new lease of life as a home and thriving venu

Words Tessa Pearson

Photography Rachael Smith

The Old Dairy, as it’s known, has seen a variety of inhabitants over the years. These range from cows that used to graze on Hackney Marshes to carpet-makers, squatters, skateboarders and, most recently, Florence and James Kennedy, who live there with their two-year-old daughter, Clover, and a Great Dane named Huxley. Tucked between rows of Victorian terraced houses in east London’s Claptonthe building had been a live-work space for a photographer, from whom they took over the lease two years ago.

“We moved in when Clover was two weeks old,” recalls Florence who, together with James, runs Petalon, a flower delivery service. “We’d walk past the building and admire it, so when the lease came up the opportunity was too good to turn down, but it needed a lot of work.” Luckily, James, who’s also the founder of Kennedy City Bicycles, is pretty handy.

The couple, who are both from Bath and have known each other since they were teenagers, took on the Old Dairy to run as a location and venue hire space – hosting events, shoots, workshops and more. To make the business viable, James has had to master an ever- expanding range of skills to maintain the building, from plumbing to mending roofs. He’s even become a certified plasterer in the process. “Everything we do requires a process of weighing up investment versus return,” Florence says. “It’s great to have the freedom to make whatever changes we want, but there’s only so much we can put into the property, as we know we’ll have to move on when the lease is up.”

The balance they’ve mastered has clearly been successful – the business is busy with a stream of bookings ranging from TV, film and fashion shoots to AGMs, weddings and spiritual gatherings. The building contains separate living quarters where Florence and James have carved out a home for themselves. “The private areas were always delineated, but the other spaces were divided up by huge movable partitions. James made stable doors that we can open to let in natural light and create more space for Clover
to run around. Huxley actually spends most of his time sleeping.”

Sectioned off from the rest of the building, the couple’s home is set on two levels, with a kitchen-living space and bathroom on the ground floor, and two bedrooms and a rooftop garden above. Textural plaster makes a feature of two of the walls downstairs where the kitchen runs the full length of the space. It’s made up of freestanding appliances, vintage carpenters’ benches and a splashback created by James from a marble fire surround bought on eBay. A long dining table takes centre stage. It was crafted from a single piece of redwood by James’s father. “It’s our favourite item, for sentimental reasons as much as anything,” Florence adds. “We always wanted that table to become the heart of the home.” This room also contains a large L-shaped sofa (“remodelled” with a saw by James so it fits perfectly into the corner) and a large bed for Huxley. “This where Clover’s mini-kitchen is located – she pretends to make porridge for the dog in the mornings.”

Upstairs, putty-pink walls add warmth to the industrial bones of the building, and an unusual, pyramid-shaped skylight punctuates the ceiling of James and Florence’s bedroom. Clover’s room leads out on to a roof garden. “The building can feel like a bit of a hamster cage,” says Florence, “and every time there’s a high wind, James has to go on to the roof to fix leaks. But we love the area, and the experience has been amazing.”

The end of their lease is imminent, which leads Florence to muse on their future: “I don’t think we’ll be able to find anything to live up to this place if we stay in London.” Fortunately, they will be able to transfer all the skills they’ve learned from their time at the Old
Dairy to the next project, and most of the fixtures and fittings, too – even the bathtub, which was £50 on eBay.

“Everyone needs different things to be happy where they live,” she adds. “For us, home is wherever our family is. We’d like to be near the sea, and have some green space for the dog, but ultimately you only really need one good coffee shop and a decent pub, the rest is all down to feeling part of a community.” ■