The Art Studio Renovation Diary – Update

After years of painting trips, holidays and a rollercoaster of a property search, we’ve finally found our dream studio in Cornwall.

Leaking roofs, copious amounts of whitewashing, numerous skips, and an epic space once the working studio of Royal Academy artist Sandra Blow, in glorious St Ives. 

I’ve been taking lots of photographs and Vanessa has been writing a monthly journal following our progress on the build. We’ll be sharing more of the Art Studio Renovation Diaries in the New Year.

Here’s a brief update of the journey so far, bringing this eclectic empty property back to life. The highs and lows of creating a studio, home and new life fuelled by large amounts of ice cream. 

First things first, the Annexe

It seemed like the most logical place to start. Small, manageable, single-storey, and far enough away from living conditions to be contained.

The Annexe is where it would all begin.

It had considerable water damage from various roof leaks over the years, and the timber-frame doors were completely rotten. Improvements would mean adding acoustic, fire, and thermal insulation, and we wanted to respect the existing architectural character but provide easy access to public areas and studios wherever possible.

But most importantly, we wanted to preserve Sandra’s original snug drawing-room. 

Artists’ studios leave clues

When we visited Cezanne’s studio it was the first time I had seen a super long door designed to move large canvases. When visiting Sorolla’s space in Madrid, I saw how a garden, home and studio space coexist together (and both artists had daybeds next to their easels!) Sorolla had a doorbell at the entrance of his studio so he could paint uninterrupted.

Sandra’s drawing studio gets the sun in the afternoon, making you feel entirely cocooned into the space.

It’s a real contrast to the epic scale of the painting studio next door, and having a change in scale between the spaces allows you to reflect on your paintings within a more homely environment, to lose this would feel so sad. It’s not just a drawing space, it’s a valuable thinking creative space.

The Rip Out

The rip out went swimmingly well; we felt utter joy at seeing the old mouldy kitchenette and shower room piled up on the courtyard; we even took funny photos of skips and marvelled at the demolition. 

But it soon became obvious things were going to get expensive… replacing the roof, timbers, insulation, rewire, new boiler, upgrading the windows and doors, wet room and kitchen.

What on the first appraisal seemed like a starter project now definitely felt like we had moved into full-on renovation territory.

If Vanessa is the eternal optimist that sees change as an opportunity to improve, I’m a little more slow living, taking old bits of wood out of the skip and collecting piles of stuff that may still come in ‘useful’. Wildly out of date with all pricing apart from ice creams and paints.

As plans developed and the sun got higher, the space changed identity from a reception room next to the studios to grab a brew to a sunny garden lounge with a cafe bar to receive guests.

Our new Cornish dream team were incredible; having had the same builders for the last 20 years; a shift to a new crew is always unnerving, but they answered every question with thorough explanations, coming up with inventive suggestions and ideas. Through mizzle, searingly sunshine and strong winds, they worked tirelessly on our new little nest. It’s looking fabulous already; still a little way to go it’s going to be so much more than just a reception, café area, or lounge for the art studios.

It signifies hope; that the rest of the project will be as satisfying, 

Triumph; because I could cope with a complete redesign after all, even with Vanessa’s fast and furious ideas coming in. 

And a sense of commitment it’s beginning to feel like home with finished things that don’t leak.

Wishing you all a healthy, peaceful festive season and here’s to a creative 2022!

The Annexe before, April 2021

Annexe interior before, with mouldy timber on the doors, April 2021

Sandra Blow’s Drawing Room, you can see the hole in the ceiling where water was seeping in, April 2021

Rip out day – May 2021

Shower room gone – May 2021

 Old roof off – August 2021

Preparing for new doors & windows – September 2021

Raising the ceiling height, insulating & soundproofing – September 2021


Suntunnel installation in the wetroom

Whitewashing and sanding back original floors – November 2021

Reinstating the Drawing Room

Restoring the beauty of the wooden floors


This Post Has 127 Comments

  1. Richard

    Wow, what a really big job! Congratulations Will on finding such an amazing place, hope all goes well for you there :)

  2. Jennifer

    How incredibly exciting for you and Vanessa! As I’ve been digging more intentionally into your tutorials, it’s a distinct treat to share your renovation/studio with you.

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you’ve been enjoying the tutorials Jennifer.

  3. Taffy

    Hello Will
    Great job, reminds me of the reno’s done to old cottages alongside a lake here in Ontario, looking forward to seeing it finished. Best wishes for the holidays, and a safe and healthy 2022…………Taffy

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks very much Taffy, have a great festive break.

  4. Mike Kean

    This looks very promising Will! Having an inspiring studio like that, would make you want to have a paint brush in hand every day at the easel. I envy you pal!

  5. Sue

    Gosh beginning to look good – very big project you have set yourselves, bang a Christmas Tree up and put your feet up over the holiday.
    Merry Christmas and every good wish for 2022. Stay safe

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Sue, sounds like an excellent plan!

  6. Karen Bohan

    WOW! Fabulous space and so interesting to see the progression of the studio. Thanks so much for bringing us up to date – looking forward to the next installment! Sending you thanks for your inspiration and tutoring and wishing you and Vanessa a joyful holiday season and a very Merry Christmas!

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks so much Karen, have a great Christmas aswell.

  7. Montie

    Congratulating you and Vanessa for finding wonderful space for future productive creativity. The results thus far look amazing. Initially I could not see windows but then saw you have a whole wall of natural light.:) MJG

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks for your kind words Montie, super excited about it.

  8. Helen

    Hi Will. So pleased you have found a beautiful spot where you can flourish. Best wishes for you and your family for Christmas and all good things for 2022.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Helen, hope you have a lovely Christmas.

  9. Kathy

    Wow, quite the reno. I feel like I’m part of your family as my husband built a lovely, somewhat smaller, studio for me. Renovation, renovation, it’s in our genes! lol I enjoy your posts, your art and wish you a very Merry Christmas!

    1. Will Kemp

      Cheers Kathy, glad your renovation went well, hope you’ve been enjoying your studio space.

  10. john DeMoss

    looking great….best of everything for 22

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks John, have a great Christmas.

  11. Sarah Clark

    Fantastic work on the annexe! These things always take twice as long & cost twice as much as anticipated but it’s going to be an amazing space! Have a good Christmas and a healthy 2022, Will & Vanessa.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Sarah, you’re spot on there!

  12. Matt Arthur

    Sure is a lot of work,and no dought eye-watering expense Will.
    Luckily, Your Vanessa has Pioneer Blood in her veins!!
    Merry Xmas, and May all go well for the New Year.

    1. Will Kemp

      Ha, ha, very true Matt, thanks so much.

  13. Barbara

    Thank you for details of the studio transformation at St. Ives. Lots of hard work with wonderful results!
    Hope you enjoy Cornwall – I live in Falmouth!
    Love watching all your videos and hearing your inspirational way of teaching.
    Well done and thanks

    1. Will Kemp

      Fab stuff Barbara, yes really been enjoying it, so pleased you’ve been finding the lessons helpful.

  14. Giselle snell

    I was just, thinking I haven’t heard from Will, thank you for the update, you have put a smile on my face, glad the studio is going well, Imagine next year in the the light down there wonderful.

  15. Patricia

    Brilliant new space. Merry Christmas and have a healthy, safe, prosperous 2022! Patricia

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks so much Patricia, have a lovely Christmas too.

  16. Sharon Hodgdon

    Will, what a great spot, and it looks like it going to be wonderful for you and Venessa. Love watching the progress. Happy Holidays!

  17. Robert pyle

    Will, you are such a wonderful person to know by internet, maintaining the energy and optimism, and your background skills and vision. I am now in my 80th year, and each day enjoying the work we did to our home 35 years ago, best investment.
    Happy solstice

    1. Will Kemp

      Well that is wise advice indeed Robert, I will think of how my future self would view this stage, very much appreciated.

  18. Helen Brett

    What a wonderful transformation, congratulations.
    Haven’t been to St.Ives for a few years, would love to visit you sometime in the future.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Helen, pleased you enjoyed the photos.

  19. pat groom

    Wow, what a journey! Thanks for sharing, looks like a fantastic space, nice it is away from “home” where interruptions stare you in the face. Good on you, what a blessing

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Pat, yes feeling really excited about it.

  20. Steve Jones

    Hello Will, Looks to be an amazing space for an amazing teacher and artist. Cheryl and I are building a new home with ICF construction. I mention only as we have allotted a space for a studio for me. Although under construction I will share some photos of the space this week. We have just completed the drywall and if you don’t mind I will ask for some suggestions on lighting and some other things. Again congrats on the new space, and of course good luck with those new digs.
    Steve Jones, Tennessee USA

    1. Will Kemp

      You’re very kind Steve, oh wow, so the ICF is a combination of concrete and polystyrene system than interlocks? Sounds cool.

  21. Les Fraser

    In time to come, you’ll reminisce fondly at what now has seemed such a challenge. You’re making memories. Ice cream helps of course.
    Glad tidings

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Les, Robert mentioned the same sentiment so I will take on this advice for sure.

  22. Gordon

    WOW Awesome space Sir. Also a huge undertaking as well. I live in an older house and the work is never finished, but I love it anyway. Best of luck Will and Happy Christmas. Looking forward to some pictures when you are finished. Regards Gordon

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks so much Gordon, have a fab Christmas aswell.

  23. Margaret

    Oh my word what a challenge! Great to see such huge progress after probably a lot of blood sweat tears (and money)! It will be such a joyful space for you both to enjoy.
    Have a restful and safe Christmas.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Margaret, yes, really looking forward to the next stages, have a great Christmas too.

  24. Wendy Laurence

    Wow wow wow … how marvelllous to have found your forever home with such an amazing painting, business place attached! Will just to say you have changed my life … at last being able to handle oil paints with your tutorial guidance! To a happy, healthy 2021! X

    1. Will Kemp

      That’s so brilliant to hear Wendy, glad your oils are going well.

  25. Helene

    Happy Christmas Will and thanks for another year of inspiration!

    1. Will Kemp

      Happy Christmas Helene, thanks for following along.

  26. Susan

    How exciting! I visited St.Ives about 20 or so years ago and fell in love with it.
    It would be my dream place too!
    I went to see the Leach Pottery not realizing how incredible the whole area is. Good luck!

    1. Will Kemp

      Yes, really excited to explore the new area, have a lovely Christmas Susan.

  27. Mary Thompson

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you both!

  28. Jacques Ledoux

    Awesome project underway Will. Can’t wait to see when finished. Happy Holidays and stay safe. Jacques from Ottawa, Canada

  29. Charles Parry

    Oh boy! What a place to choose to be. Expensive but it could be worse and moved to Padstow..
    Don’t forget the Minack Theatre. Wind, rain, snow or whatever, it’s compelling. And on top of all this there are the places to sit and paint. You lucky people.

    Keep the material coming Will. Best wishes.

    1. Will Kemp

      Yes, it’s fab at the Minack, have a great Christmas Charles.

  30. Pat Jones

    Fabulous! Can’t wait to see it in the flesh

  31. Mary Tabor

    Looks amazing! And your studio will be grand. We also moved and have been renovating–I haven’t been able to paint for two months or more as we are rebuilding my office where I write and paint–and I need to house 3,000 books from a lifetime of reading and teaching. I know how hard this process is and how full of hope it is, too! Thanks for the great update, my dear teacher! –Mary

    1. Will Kemp

      Hey Mary, great to hear from you. Hope your build is going well. Wow, 3,000 books, sounds like the perfect opportunity for a super library, how inspiring.

  32. Laura

    Hi Will,

    Looks great! I’m like your wife and get into the entire process to make it beautiful and functional and it looks like that’s exactly what you two are doing. The progress you’ve made is quite impressive, and I’m looking forward to seeing the end product.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Laura, pleased you enjoyed the progress pics.

  33. helen bhual

    looks wonderful,i wish i had one of those,merry christmas,stay safe hugs

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Helen, have a lovely festive season.

  34. Judy G

    It’s looking great! Is Vanessa blogging about the reno too? (I love following these renovation stories).
    How have you managed to keep painting through all of this?????

    1. Will Kemp

      Hey Judy, yes, there will be new blog updates from Vanessa in the new year on the reno.

  35. Lennie Robson

    Great job on the reno so far, change is good for us, embrace all the ups and downs. At the end of it you’ll both sit back with smiles on your faces and go Ahhhhhh! Merry Christmas & stay safe
    From Lennie R

    1. Will Kemp

      I will hold that thought in mind Lennie! have a great Christmas.

  36. C-Marie

    Well done!! Will love seeing the finish!
    God bless and Merry Christmas!!

    1. Will Kemp

      Cheers C-Marie. Have a lovely Christmas.

  37. Veronica Stuart

    Thanks for sharing your amazing restoration project. You have been a great inspiration to me over the years and I have gained immense pleasure from your videos and courses. I really enjoyed your portrait course and finally painted a portrait of my husband that I was happy to display. I’m just starting your Venice scene course. Hope I do half as good as your amazing version

    1. Will Kemp

      That’s so great to hear Veronica, pleased your portrait went well. Enjoy the Venice course.

  38. Clive stevens

    Looks great Will!! Kind of reminds me of my place in France. I’m in the Limousin, not far from where Monet used to stay and paint in Fresselines.

    1. Will Kemp

      Sounds like a beautiful area Clive.

  39. Margaret Nash

    Wow Will, it looks the perfect place. It will be great when it is finished. I feel excited about it, and it’s not even mine! I do hope to see it one day. All the best for a happy, healthy Christmas and I look forward to hearing from you next year as I always enjoy your emails.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks so much Margaret, yes excited to get prepping on the woodwork.

  40. Adrian Charlton

    Thanks for sharing this Will. It’s quite a project you have there and it looks like you’re turning it into a beautiful space.
    Don’t work too hard over Christmas and here’s to a happy and healthy 2022.
    Best wishes, Adrian

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks so much Adrian, amazing looking work you have. Have a lovely break aswell.

  41. Janet Fry

    Wow what a treat getting to delve into your life a little. The space looks fantastic! Hope it brings much inspiration. Merry Xmas from Australia and a wonderful 2022. xx

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Janet, so pleased you enjoyed it.

  42. Linda

    Wow! Looks fantastic, great that you are keeping Sandra’s original drawing room. Such a huge job and responsibility when renovating and keeping original features. I have bought 2 of your courses and can’t wait to start them during the Christmas holidays. Present to myself. Happy Christmas to you both. Hope you have a brilliant 2022.

    1. Will Kemp

      Fabulous Linda, really hope you enjoy them over the holidays.

  43. Chris Peacock

    That studio space looks amazing. So much light! Lovely seeing an old building come back to to its former life. Costs can be difficult control as we all know on building projects, especially currently. Materials see to have gone through the roof. There’s a pun there somewhere. I wonder how you are working while all this is going on? Good luck with it all and please keep us posted on the final results.

    1. Will Kemp

      Will do Chris, pleased you enjoyed seeing the progress pics.

  44. jeff

    Hi Will,
    studio looks great. I’ve just finished my own studio in the garden, heating installed etc., not as big as yours but hoping it will give me more scope to learn the things I need to, in a dedicated space.
    Merry Christmas.

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad your build is going well Jeff, yes having that dedicated space will be great.

  45. Carole

    Wow! The St.Ives light….what a great project, such hard work will surely pay off. It looks a wonderful space. Be inspired and in turn inspire us enthusiastic beginners to paint.
    The last of my sons (40 years old) has finally left home and I now have a small, but light, dedicated conservatory to paint in – its great to be able to leave work out and go back to it during spare moments without having to clear the kitchen table every time.
    Merry Christmas and an inspiring 2022.

    1. Will Kemp

      Sounds great Carole, yes having that space to be able to leave materials out can make such a difference.

  46. Sherry

    Congratulations, Will, on your new space! Thanks for sharing the progress.

  47. John Simlett

    This was our 25th move….. the light here in Pembrokeshire is similar to St Ives: the colours more intense and sharper. My studio is North lit … overlooking the sea, lovely but distracting. Looking forward to your forthcoming adventures in deepest Cornwall. Best of Luck and seasonal Greetings

  48. Alastair

    Great space but, yes, can get expensive! So much potential though. Once you get the inside and building fabric sorted, a bit of power washing will get the brick patio looking great as well. Have a great Christmas and New Year!


    1. Will Kemp

      Cheers Alastair and to you, yes the power washing was a bit of an epic task but looking sparkling.

  49. Grace Glover

    What an amazing gift to find, acquire and renovate Sandra Blow’s studio! Her positive energy will no doubt enhance your already beautiful art, Will! Thanks for sharing your journey with us. Can’t wait for the final ‘masterpiece’!

    in art,
    Grace Glover

    1. Will Kemp

      You’re so kind Grace, so pleased you enjoyed the photos.

  50. Erin

    It’s really looking great! Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas to you and your family from California.

    1. Will Kemp

      And to you Erin, have a lovely time.

  51. Katerina

    Wish you merry Christmas and a lot of joy. Its fantastic that your dream place was found.Enjoy every stage. Unfortunately my dream to paint a santa clauss this year didnt come out. It is still unfinished. This is the reason that I say to myself that I must start from Summer to be ready on Christmas. Ho ho ho

    1. Will Kemp

      There’s still time for your Santa masterpiece Katerina! maybe the elves will help?

  52. Colleen

    Whoa, Will, that is one major take-it-down-to-the-bare-bones rip out and re-build!! Good luck in the New Year.

  53. Camille

    Wow! Quite an undertaking but already very beautiful! Well done!

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Camille, have a lovely Christmas.

  54. Yuen Yee

    wow! what a gigantic project! you must be very excited to see it materialise in front of your eyes. what an achievement!

    1. Will Kemp

      Yes, super excited for the project Yuen.

  55. Jan Hazzard

    I feel very privileged to share in your adventure. I recently bought a second hand shed and spent hours painting it and fitting it out. Sadly, it’s too cold to venture down the garden so I’ve not been in there for a while. Am I down hearted? No! I’ll just return to my dining table until it’s warmer.
    Every happiness in what will be a dream come true for you both. Jan

    1. Will Kemp

      So pleased you’re adapting with your painting space Jan, glad you enjoyed seeing the photos.

  56. mary

    Wow…..big stuff but so happy for you – congrats. Love the updates. Best to you and your family for a Happy Christmas and 2022.

    1. Will Kemp

      Cheers Mary, have a wonderful Christmas as well.

  57. Donna Campbell

    Happy New Year to you and Vanessa! I loved seeing your pictures of the renovation. Your creativity extends beyond the canvas! I can tell this is going to be fantastic and I am so happy for you both.
    By the way, you have such an easy but professional and beautiful way of giving instructions, I am blown away at how you can guide us, your students, to accomplish pieces of art that we are proud of. Thank you for helping a 68 year old beginner—behind what I had hoped for or even imagined!
    Donna Campbell

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks for your kind words Donna, very much appreciated. So pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons and the building project.

  58. Veronica

    Wow, you have taken on a big renovation. How exciting! The state of the annex looks like so many wooden cottages or extensions we have here in Kenya. Luckily, we don’t get rot and mould quite like you do in England, and our weather isn’t as extreme. Good luck with it, I’m really looking forward to seeing the progress.

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you’re looking forward to seeing the progress pics Veronica.

  59. Carol

    What a fantastic space. It has amazing energy. Hope you’ll be very happy there.

  60. Marivone Lier

    Hi Will,
    I’m impressed with the progress of your home/studio renovations. Wow, how charming is your Annexe. I am so happy that on your search route you found a place with so much character to build your dream: The Will Kemp Art School.
    I wish you and Vanessa all the best and lots of ice cream throughout those hard reno moments.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks so much Marivone, yes super excited about it!

  61. Jenny Fisher

    Hi Will and Vanessa. We are on holiday in St Ives and catching up on your renovation journey. We are loving being in St Ives and words cannot convey the dramatic seas and the wonders of St Ives. So given there are so many galleries here we are looking to take a piece of Cornwall home. Keep up with the Reno! Jenny

    1. Will Kemp

      Great stuff Jenny, have a brilliant time, it’s definitely the weather for crashing waves!

  62. Lawrence Driscoll

    You both deserve it! Thanks for being such a great teacher! Best wishes for a creative year, Lawrence and Alice

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks so much Lawrence, hope you’re both keeping well.

  63. Lynne Leslie

    Hi Will
    I’ve been meaning to get in touch for ages. I love your site, all the tips and courses. I’ve learnt so much! Anyway the reason I’m writing this time is to let you know that my previous art teacher was actually related to Sandra Blow. She bought in some copies of her work one day in relation to the topic we were working on and told us that Sandra Blow was her great aunt. It wasn’t until I read your article that it all fell into place. Another thing I wanted to tell you is that I met Lucian Freud several times. Many years ago I worked in a casino and he often came in and I dealt black jack to him. I remember that he looked rather unkempt and sometimes had his trousers held up with string!
    Best wishes

    1. Will Kemp

      How fascianting Lynne, thanks so much for sharing. And what an experience, dealing black jack to Lucien Freud! Loving the inventive use of string, could be a new fashion trend!

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