Through the keyhole in Rochester

PUBLISHED: 15:47 28 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:47 28 January 2014

Rochester living room

Rochester living room

Rikard Osterlund

You don’t have to own your own home to put a personal stamp on it: find out how

When a Swedish photographer meets and marries a Chatham milliner and they both work from home, one of the essential requirements is great light – and this rented two-bedroom house in Rochester fits the bill perfectly.

Rikard and Zara Osterlund have lived here for a couple of years, Rikard using 
the second bedroom as a home office 
while Zara (who makes jewellery and sculptural pieces as well as hats) has 
a studio in the conservatory.

She also loves pottering around in 
the garden, invariably accompanied by their striking cat Babooshka.

“The light in this house is beautiful 
and the space, with such high ceilings, gives the rooms a real sense of openness,” says Zara.

“Our landlord used to live in the house and took really good care of it, so when we moved in we only had to decorate.

“We painted the walls in neutral colours as we have a large collection of artwork 
and bold colours or wallpapers tend to distract from the art.”

As Rikard’s stunning photos show, the couple have an eclectic taste that combines Arts & Crafts furniture with modern, simple Swedish design. The house is brimming with collections and oddities, but it has all been very carefully considered and placed.

Zara collects religious imagery, an interest that began in childhood when 
she was fascinated by a beautiful icon 
her mother keeps by her bed.

Dotted around the house, often in the most surprising places (check out the bathroom pictures overleaf) you’ll find 
all sorts of prints, paintings, crosses, 
votive candles, statues, ranging from 
the beautiful to the kitsch. There’s even 
a glow-in-the-dark Virgin Mary.

“I also collect skulls, taxidermy and anatomical studies,” Zara adds. “Antique shops, flea markets and charity shops are my hunting grounds.

“Rikard has a sense of sleek Swedish minimal elegance, while I have a collector’s mind, surrounding myself with beautiful things (including him…).”

Zara likes to work with ‘found’ objects when adorning her hats and brooches, from taxidermied bird wings and feathers to broken jewellery and toys; nothing is ever wasted.

Persephone (the head in the dining-room cabinet) is a woman’s head and shoulders made from gathered birds’ wings, butterflies, snail shells, and other insects that took more than a year to make.

She is currently working on her latest sculptural piece, Icarus, a man’s head and shoulders made from birds’ wings dipped in beeswax. Another ongoing joint 
project with Rikard is a film about 
chronic illness and pain.


“Probably my favourite room in the house, the light streams into our bedroom in the morning to welcome the day. It’s my safe place, its feels calm and peaceful and the teal-painted wall gives it a sense of cosiness,” says Zara.

“My bedside table is an Arts & Crafts table my mother gave me when Rikard 
and I moved in together, it has the most gorgeous tiles. On the mantelpiece of 
the fireplace sits a painting of birds my father painted when I was a small girl.”


“What’s nicer than having a candlelit bath? And yes, I do have quite a few candles! They are part of my votive candle collection which ranges from saints and 
the Virgin Mary to Mexican Day Of 
The Dead and Dr Who images.”

Living room

“The living room is perhaps the room 
we spend most time in, its is dominated 
by an impressive portrait Rikard took of 
our friend and illustrator Mark Barnes for a series of work called A Storm Is Coming; all the people photographed in this project are Medway artists, designers and makers.

“On the wall we a have a ‘floating’ bookshelf which hold some of our most precious and influential books, from Susan Sontag’s On Photography to Mark Ryden’s Blood. We have piles of coffee table books everywhere in the house, especially in the front room, books that inspire both our work and lives, books we have read and books we have written or been a part of.

Dining room

“Currently Persephone is on display in our dinning room, until she finds a new home in the next exhibition. The walls are full of artwork from Medway artists and friends, my favourite piece being the painting of my father and brother (I think my dad looked 
a bit like Frank Zappa when he was young). Darrell Hawkins painted it for a book of poetry I wrote called Chatham Girl.

“We are incredibly fortunate to know many talented artists and have received many artworks as presents over the years (most recently for our wedding last July).

“As we live in Medway, as do most of our artist friends, there are many references to this area in their work and ours.

“One of our favourite artists is 
Malcolm Attryde and we have a number 
of his works, we also have a beautiful watercolour by Billy Childish of my grandfather given to me as a birthday present from the artist.” n

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