By Ryan Keating-Lambert
So this was kind of cheating, because Nick does NOT live in Prague. But how many time do you get the chance to interview an expat living in the isolated Czech countryside?? He also lives with 8 cats (one of them named Mario from Milan) and a German shepherd, so I couldn’t resist having a chat with him. I’m fascinated by country life but definitely couldn’t handle the islolation myself… Nick deals with it by crafting, building and rebuilding furniture with vintage market materials from his village. I realised after looking at his handiwork around the house that he wasn’t just a handyman, but a kind of home decor “MacGyver”.
Where are you originally from?
Nottingham England, like Robin Hood!
What was it like growing up there?
Looking back, it was perfect. I was living in the suburbs only a bike ride away from beautiful countryside and yet we had a pretty big city on our doorstep. As a child I spent most of my weekends playing in the forests and gardens of Wollaton Hall, an Elizabethan Mansion close to our house, and later for a teenager at art school, Nottingham was a fantastic place to live.
What did you want to be as a kid?
I got into acting when I was young which is kind of strange as I was quite shy, but my real passion was drawing, designing and building…anything and everything! I think I wanted to be a roofer first, then a builder, carpenter, set and costume designer, artist… the list is endless!
What made you decide to pack your bags and leave England?
I had been studying then working in London which I loved but felt I was no longer following my dreams-is there such a thing as a ‘mid-twenties crisis? A friend of mine in Italy suggested I take a break and visit, and within a couple of months I had moved to Milan and started a new life. It was totally irresponsible and I was broke, but it was fantastic.
And what made you decide to come to the Czech Republic?
I’d spent most of my summers in the Czech countryside with my friends and family at my father’s neglected holiday house (my father also loves Czech but doesn’t have the time to visit often) This area is a dream-it’s truly beautiful and Ustek the closest town, is stunning. It was so different to what I was used to, but somehow felt familiar. When I left Italy I took my cat Mario and our junk, and decided to come here and start working on the house and garden in Czech. The first night I slept here alone, I felt like I had come home.
Tell us a bit about your home here. What do you spend your days doing?
This house is about 200 years old and has gone through many changes. Most of the original features had sadly been removed over the years and it was kind of plain. I started little by little removing modern walls, opening original doorways and fixing problems as and when they came up and things continued from there. I taught myself to plaster and build and as I didn’t have much of a budget I found creative ways of reusing materials and doing the work myself. It now feels like I’ve made some progress but there is still a long way to go.
What are some of the things you’ve made in here?
In the kitchen I built the fireplace (pictures below) and put in an old English stove. Around the fireplace I painted 17th century tile designs by hand (using ‘real’ tiles would have cost soooo much) I copied the designs from images on google and painted them straight onto the plaster.
I also built the staircase paneling from old wardrobes and made the sofa from old wood, some curtains and some flea market feet. The sofa was kind of a bet with a friend who said I wouldn’t be able to make one.
I also design and make bags and small accessories, from surplus or vintage materials, under the name ‘From No 19‘which is the house number here. It started off as a necessity as I didn’t have any money, now I think it’s something I should do – I hate waste!!!
Very nice, and do you ever miss the big city life?
I thought I would, and sometimes I do miss the anonymity and diversity, but overall I’m pretty happy being one of the village people 😉
You’ve got some pets! Tell us about them..
After spending his life in a flat in Milan, my cat Mario slotted himself into Czech country living with remarkable ease. When a farmer offered me a German Shepherd puppy I gladly accepted but vowed he would never enter the house…he now spends his nights on the sofa with Mario and the 7 other cats I’ve given a home to over the years. I know I’m falling into the stereotype of a mad old person, but I do enjoy the company of animals.
8 cats?! That’s a lot. How is your Czech?
Bad! However, I would have gone mad without the daily company and conversation of the friends I’ve made here in the village, an older Czech lady and a Roma boy, neither of which speak English and so I guess I have at least some level of communication. I find some people make an effort to understand my bad Czech which really helps me, and others don’t even try-that’s just the way it goes.
How would you sum up Czech Republic in a few words?
A pretty door, closed but unlocked, hides something far more interesting and beautiful.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
If you could travel back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?
I think the village and area in which I live has such an interesting history it would be fascinating to see it in the past-to know who also loved and lived in this place. On my attic ceiling there’s a painted love heart with the words ‘built with love’ in German…I’d love to see this house when it was first built. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind going back in time and revisiting all the places I’ve been! What an adventure it would be!