Upcycling in St Ives

Setting up a salvage and design business allowed a young family to embark on a blissful life by the sea. Words: Alice Westgate. Photographs: Paul Ryan-Goff

‘Living and working by the sea ticks all my boxes,’ says Kerry Knight, as she hangs the ‘open’ sign in the window of Beatengreen, the vintage boutique she runs with her husband Matt in the Cornish town of St Ives. The sign is made from homemade plaster letters stuck on to a piece of driftwood, and the shop is filled with upcycled, recycled and reclaimed treasures from brightly painted kitchen chairs to old enamel signs. ‘I love to do business in my flip-flops,’ she adds.

Matt, who grew up in South Africa, first came to St Ives 12 years ago and got a job at the famous Porthminster Café before opening his own bistro nearby. ‘My plan was to be here for one summer,’ he muses, ‘but I loved it so much that I never went back. I could only ever live by the sea and find that the surf culture and chilled-out way of life in Cornwall feels very similar to Cape Town.’

THE IDEAL WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Kerry, on the other hand, was brought up in Lymington and, after working as a kitchen and bathroom designer, toyed with the idea of emigrating to Australia before realising that her heart lay in Cornwall. ‘I only stayed in Australia for six weeks,’ she remembers. ‘Although it was beautiful, I felt I needed to live somewhere with a deeper sense of history.’

Kerry had visited St Ives with her sister six years before and changed the direction of her life at a stroke by buying a one-bedroom flat in the town before she had even paid a return visit. ‘It was a huge leap of faith,’ she admits.

There followed a long winter during which Kerry finished her five-year interior design correspondence course while working shifts at the Porthminster Café. There she met Matt, discovered a shared love of all things vintage, and the rest is history. Running a shop like Beatengreen (which incidentally gets its name from a combination of ‘beaten up’ and ‘green’, as in eco-friendly) allows them to share the care of their twin girls – 18-month-old Sydney and Saffron – and is a perfect match for their professional skills. Matt, who can turn his hand to anything practical, scours the area for salvaged furniture and collectables (his precise sources are a closely guarded secret), which he then adapts or paints to give them a new lease of life. He also makes a range of furniture from scratch, including scrubbed-top farmhouse tables fashioned from reclaimed timber.

A SHOWCASE OF VINTAGE CHIC

Kerry’s role is to style the shop, consult on design projects and run upcycling workshops for like-minded customers. She has always been interested in vintage pieces and has been an avid car-booter for many years. ‘From an early age I had a passion for salvage,’ she says. ‘I’d have to be the first in the queue at any boot fair or auction, and would get butterflies in my tummy from the sheer excitement. It was a great way to express my creativity at a time when I didn’t have much money. So launching a shop like Beatengreen is a long-held dream of mine, but it only became possible when I came to Cornwall and met Matt.’

The couple’s flat, which they bought in 2009, is a fantastic showcase for their particular brand of vintage chic. Tucked away above a deli in one of St Ives’ narrow side streets, and just a stone’s throw from the harbour, it is filled with all their best-loved finds, from a green velvet sofa bought at auction to a coffee table made from an old trunk. ‘From the outset we vowed to furnish it solely with things that were pre-loved,’ says Kerry.

Yet, like all the best revamping projects, the property needed a fair amount of tender loving care first and, true to form, they did all the work themselves. ‘The building is 100 years old, so has a lovely period feel,’ says Kerry, ‘but the bedrooms had been used as offices and a hideous purple brick fireplace spanned one wall of the sitting room. We had to dismantle it and dig back a section of the granite wall to reinstate a traditional grate for an open fire; then we sanded and painted all the floors. Everything was covered in bricks, sand and dust for quite a while.’

The kitchen, which already had a handsome wooden worktop inset with marble, just needed a lick of paint to revive it. The couple sourced an old sewing machine bench to use as a table and installed a sideboard to hold Matt’s pieces of retro china.

A SENSE OF BELONGING

‘Matt loves mid-century furniture and crockery, and has a passion for original artwork,’ says Kerry, ‘while I go for things that are older and prettier, with a shabby-chic look. I suppose Beatengreen is a hybrid of these two styles. Luckily, it is a look that is currently very fashionable.’

Much of the shop’s stock comes from house clearances, and the couple often gets asked to help refurbish these properties and turn them into holiday lets. Matt paints and distresses pieces of dark mahogany furniture and orange pine to give them a fresh and more seasidey feel, while Kerry’s interior design skills come in handy when it comes to sourcing specific pieces of vintage furniture or giving an entire house a new look. ‘It is a good niche to have found,’ says Matt, ‘as it keeps a steady stream of work and ensures a constant supply of stock.’

Kerry admits that, after many years of searching, she finally feels at home here in Cornwall. Time off from the shop is spent pottering on local beaches with the girls, walking their Border Collie Keiko and, in Matt’s case, catching some surf. ‘I spent years wanting to belong somewhere,’ says Kerry, ‘and I thought I must be a hopeless romantic until I came to St Ives. We both love its bohemian traditions and its soul, and now we couldn’t possibly live anywhere else.’

Beatengreen, The Old Masonic Lodge, St Andrew’s Street, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1AH (beatengreen.co.uk).

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