We chat with Anita Brulee, Creative Director of what might be one of Vrumi’s most spectacular spaces.
It was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that moulded Kontiki Studios into the strange world you can see in these photos. Anita Brulee describes her home as being inspired by “old museums and galleries, French châteaux and manor houses”, but the decor is so eclectic that even this description barely does it justice. The walls are almost comically decked with a morbid menagerie of taxidermy, peeking out at visitors from beneath crystal headdresses, strings of pearls and, in one case, a teeny tiny top hat.
Brightly coloured parrots and peacocks perch on Victorian mirrors or frame a velvet chaise, while a tiny model of the Babycham deer peers incongruously out from behind a vintage bar. This riotously weird space has been used as a backdrop for shoots by Vogue, Saatchi & Saatchi and MTV, as well as being home for Anita, her husband Trev and a handful of flatmates.
As Anita, a 45-year-old artist and former fetish model, explains, “Trev was in a band, and we had quite a hedonistic, rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. There was a lot of partying. About a year or so into the relationship, Trev said, ‘Is this all there is to our relationship?’ - and I thought, ‘What do you mean? Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, that’s pretty good!’
“But I did kind of take it to heart, and the next time he went on tour I had a good think about what we could do together that wasn’t partying. He’d mentioned before about hiring the place out as a location house...” And that was all it took. By strange coincidence, it was only five hours after Anita had raised the idea with Trev that they were contacted by an agency and booked as a location for the TV show Primeval. When the filming was done, the crew left behind them the purple walls and large tropical mural which would become focal points in the decoration of Kontiki North.
After that, Anita dedicated herself to filling the space. She scoured car boot sales and antique markets for the unusual furniture and trinkets she loves. Even Ebay, the grandfather of the sharing economy , played a role. She picked up a peacock there - of whom she says, “bless him, he looks a bit like a turkey” - for only £300 one summer.
Anita kept on shopping until, as Trev jokes, the flat became so full that they had to get a new one. Now Kontiki Studios is made up of two interconnecting flats, both full to bursting with kitsch knick-knacks, tropical souvenirs, Victoriana and, of course, a stampede of dead pets.
Haggerston has changed a lot since they began to live here. When Trev originally moved in, he was looking for, “a place where he could play his drums really loud and have absolutely colossal parties.” It wasn’t the most mainstream location, but at least there weren’t any neighbors. Today Anita laments the fact that small businesses are being pushed out of the area by gentrification, but at least being in such an up-and-coming place has put their studio on the map.
When Trevor first took on the space, Anita describes it as a huge leap. “It was an immense amount of rent,” she says, “so he had to get a deposit together - he managed to scrape it together, just about - and then he put adverts out for tenants and he basically just took whoever came along first.” Now the selection process is a lot tougher. Flatmates go through a very serious interview process, and even people taking the space for a day have to respect the house rules.
Luckily, Vrumi has turned out to be the perfect service for finding the right kinds of guests. Anita describes the people who’ve taken the space through the website in very flattering terms. “They’re friendly, they’re really mindful. They’ve been really lovely guests.” But it’s mainly the organisational side that has helped her business. Like most artistic people, Anita finds the admin side of the process intensely boring, but with Vrumi most of that’s taken care of. “The financial stuff on Vrumi is so easy - I don’t even have to invoice my guests. Thank you for that!”
“I’m normally quite sceptical when it comes to new agencies,” she tells me. “I just think yeah, you know, bring it on. But I was pleasantly surprised by Vrumi. I’d definitely recommend it to other location owners.”