Suffolk coastal cottage was a blank canvas for artist

PUBLISHED: 15:28 13 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:49 20 February 2013

Suffolk coastal cottage was a blank canvas for artist

Suffolk coastal cottage was a blank canvas for artist

Painter Mary Gundry brought all her artistic talents to bear when she bought and renovated a beautiful little cottage near the Suffolk coast<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>Words and pictures by Tony Hall

Painter Mary Gundry brought all her artistic talents to bear when she bought and renovated a beautiful little cottage near the Suffolk coast

Words and pictures by Tony Hall (

Many visitors to Southwold will recall seeing the attractive postcards and pictures of children on sale in the town. They are the work of artist Mary Gundry, who for some years also ran her own gallery the Garden Gallery in the High Street. Although an artist of life studies, Mary has gained a following for these charming scenes depicting children on their holidays on the beach, climbing on the cannons on Gun Hill, crabbing at Walberswick, picnics on the beach, or frolicking in the waves. The scenes capture seaside holidays of our childhood, full of innocence and fun, so they have become justly popular.
Mary used to live in Stradbroke, moving after some years to Southwold to be near the gallery and the scenes she painted, But eight years ago she bought a little bolt hole nearby, called Pear Tree Cottage, which overlooks wonderful marsh views and the magnificent church.
I was actually doing a painting of the church, recalls Mary, when I noticed the little cottage was for sale. As soon as I saw inside I knew I could do something with it. The building had a delightful feel and I know it sounds silly but I felt it was calling me.
Dick, who was 90 years old, lived next door and I would often have a chat and do his shopping for him. At one stage I asked him if he would sell me a small piece of land so I could extend my drive, but I never heard anything, so I didnt pursue the matter.

Anyway when poor Dick died I had word from the family, who came over and asked me not only if I was interested in that small piece of land, but perhaps I would be also interested in the house as well. As I had sold my Southwold gallery and wanted another project, I said yes please, besides I had always loved the main house.
The gallery had grown over the years and I represented more than 35 artists, so there was a lot of administration and I just felt I was getting further and further away from my main objective namely painting. So this project would have a three fold purpose, renovating the house, making Pear Tree Cottage a holiday rental and of course returning to my paintings.
Although Mary has always been interested in being an artist, her move to doing those evocative seaside pictures happened by chance. She was born in Hunstanton and her parents live in Dersingham. After school her first job was working in a bank.
I totally hated it, she explains. So I did a life-drawing course at Norwich School of Art and a water-colour course in France, whilst working at Anglia Television on Sale of the Century. I used to interview contestants who wrote in from around the country. Then I went on to current affairs programmes for 11 years.
When her then husbands new job in Yorkshire fell through Mary looked round for something else to do.
I had always kept up my painting so decided on a gallery. Initially I rented in Aldeburgh, then the back of Sutherland House in Southwold before seeing a note in the window of David Gays gallery in Southwold High Street that it was for sale. That was 1998 and although I had built a reputation by then as artist and gallery owner I was doubtful I could afford it. What convinced me is I felt Southwold was more or less recession proof, getting lots of visitors and I felt it was an opportunity not to be missed.
The children seaside paintings happened by pure chance, adds Mary. During my time living in Stradbroke, I ran painting classes. The doctors wife attended regularly and it was she who mentioned the children that she used to see climbing on the cannons at Southwold. As I like painting figures and liked the subject I did some examples, published them as cards and took them around the shops. They proved highly popular and thats how it all began.

Clients often say I make children look very cherubic in the paintings, but I am sure if I had been up all night with a child with mumps or not sleeping it would have been another matter all together.

Since then I have been asked also to do peoples families and their children. Having had no children myself, I think I probably view them through rose tinted glasses. Clients often say I make children look very cherubic in the paintings, but I am sure if I had been up all night with a child with mumps or not sleeping it would have been another matter all together. I did think at one stage of teaching art to children at primary school and was invited to do so, but after two hours I was totally exhausted. Its so demanding and makes one realise how wonderful teachers are.
When the restoration work was complete on the house, Mary decided to make it her permanent home. How did she find doing the interior designs?
Not easy, Mary says. You would think as an artist doing up houses, the interiors would come as second nature, but no. I buy magazines and tear out ideas I like. Fortunately here I was starting with a blank canvas. Before starting each room I have a scrap book, with story boards laid out, then I tend to end up sticking to those ideas.
I love this beautiful location overlooking this famous church, Mary continues. It has a mystical and spiritual quality which I love. Its a view you never get tired day or night and gradually I have tamed the garden, which also now looks lovely.
Although we have known each other for eight years, I have now been joined by my partner Colin Huggins who originally lived in Epsom but has now retired, having been an accountant with BP.
The property was built around 1900 in classic Victorian style. As one enters the front door, the layout now leads into a spacious dining room with a mixture of odd antiques and a more modern dining table and chairs in off white in the Gustavian style.
Off to the left is the inner lobby and staircase with the sitting room following on. The look here is classical English Country Cottage, with sofa and chairs gathered around a beautiful fireplace. The look and feel is serene, understated, light and comfortable.
That bureau, points out Mary, is a special item for me, purely because at a furniture auction at Orford I left a silly bid, thinking it would make the ideal place to hide the TV, so I would not mind cutting a hole in the back. To my and everyone elses surprise I got it. Off the dining room the other way is the new Shaker/country style kitchen with units by Osbert and Wood of Lowestoft. There are lovely views over the garden which in summer is a total joy.
Beyond that, in what used to be a tumble down outhouse is Marys studio.
As you might expect, says Mary, this is one of my favourite rooms. In winter I love the sound of rain on the skylight and in summer by contrast I have the French doors wide open, and have the birdsong to work by. My other favourite room has to be the master bedroom. To wake up to those majestic views of the church with the marshes beyond is something very special, a view you can never tire of and I feel very privileged to live here and have that opportunity.
There is also a guest bedroom on the first floor and something else that Mary really loves the bathroom.
I always wanted a bathroom with a free standing roll top bath situated in the middle of the room, with country views from the window, so I can lie in the bath, looking out, she says. Fortunately this room which was probably another bedroom originally was large enough to do just that.
Like all projects this house took twice as long as envisaged, and because of timing the roof had to be redone in the winter with the resultant leaks, but in the end the whole renovation took just nine months.
However the highs were when it all came together, everyday something new and exciting and that happened so quickly which after the time taken on the things you dont see like plumbing and electrics was a sheer delight.
Never a person to rest on her laurels Mary now rents out her original bolthole, namely Pear Tree Cottage for holiday lets. As it is just next door, explains Mary, I get to meet the guests, which I really love. Last summer I had a German family stay with three children who were so well behaved I really could not believe it.
Mary has also decided to open a new gallery in Halesworth.
Colin, who is a keen photographer mainly of landscapes in black and white loves running it for me, says Mary. This gives me time to concentrate again on my own paintings. We also manage to get away more on holidays particularly to Italy, which is a firm favourite.
We love the architecture, particularly Lucca and Florence where you just walk around with your mouth open gasping at the sheer beauty and splendour. Seeing items that before one has only seen in books, now seeing in the flesh is so breath taking in real life. Venice likewise never disappoints, and I often sketch or take reference shots on my camera.
Closer to home my all time favourite spot in the world is Holkham Beach. Even in August its possible to get lost and find uncrowded areas. I also love to see the spectacle of the Blues & Royals who come to exercise their horses riding out in the sea, in fact telling you that reminds me I really must do a painting of one of those scenes. On our return home we pop into The Lord Nelson in Southwold, still a proper pub with a lack of fruit machines, loads of atmosphere and cosy in winter by the fire.
I would never move out of this area, continues Mary.
Having been brought up by the sea and spending a lot of my time there, I cannot imagine life without the coastline close by. Its very relaxing, not only for us fortunate to live here, but for all the people coming on holiday.
I notice sometimes when they first arrive, the children are screaming, the parents are dashing about, but give it a few days, some nice picnics and wine on the beach or in a rented beach hut and everyone is totally unwound.
The gallery is now getting well known and many of my old clients and friends are coming to browse, which is great, concludes Mary. I find it very inspirational living here and I am enjoying painting new subjects to me. It's funny how that one instant eight years ago, when I first spotted the cottage on my visit to sketch the church, has totally changed my life and style. Its just fantastic.

To rent Pear Tree Cottage, ring Mary on 01502 478573, visit her website or go through

Mary has recently opened a new gallery. Called The Little Gallery, you can find it at 5 Market Place, Halesworth IP19 8BA Tel: 01986 875367 or visit

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