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At Home with Sophie Ryder: The Mythical Estate

Sophie Ryder’s sculptures are monumental and otherwordly. Luxury London speaks to her about the home she built in the Cotswolds, where art is abound

Sophie Ryder’s practice is defined by her large-scale, mythical creatures that have presided over landscapes as varied as Palm Desert, West Yorkshire and Chicago. Constructed from bronze as well as much less conventional materials such as sawdust, wet plaster, machine parts and scraps of paper, Ryder’s sculptures take the form of dogs, hands, feet, horses, rabbits and hybrid beings that reflect both human and animal features.

Educated at the Royal Academy of Arts, the artist has spent the past 30 years dreaming up a whole catalogue of characters, most famously the Lady Hare, a female partner for the Minotaur. With Ryder’s interest in the interaction between giant structures and the landscape, perhaps it was a natural transition when she started building her own home in the Cotswolds.

In 1989 she purchased Lampits Farm, and has spent the past 28 years creating a very different type of art; one that is home to her family, staff, studio, dogs and – of course – plenty of art. Appropriately named Ryder Park, the house was originally a threshing barn, but woodworm put most of the original structure to rest. So, Ryder and her ex-husband had a rather large job on their hands. She explains: “We designed everything, did drawings, chose craftsmen who worked in the style we liked. We worked with very traditional and very solid long-lasting materials. It’s a stunning house, really beautifully built, and all done in an Arts and Crafts style, so there is lots of wood.”

"It’s a stunning house, really beautifully built, and all done in an Arts and Crafts style, so there is lots of wood."

A large proportion of the house was made by Ryder herself: the doors, windows and metalwork, alongside the large sculptures and artworks dotted around the property, inside and out. Her most recent addition pays homage to her beloved greyhounds: “I just made a steel-cut lamp in Italy with dogs cut out of it. The light reflects the dogs’ shapes onto the ceiling. In the kitchen, I’ve done another and inscribed my family’s names into it.”

It was important to Ryder that the house didn’t just reflect her family, but also the Gloucestershire landscape. “I tried to choose things that looked in keeping with the landscape, so it didn’t stand out. The thing about this house is that it feels like it belongs here, not like it was built 28 years ago. It feels like it has always been here.”

This success in timeless construction can be attributed to Ryder’s commitment to using materials lifted from the surrounding area. A lot of the stone used was sourced from the land itself and each of the roof tiles were made from moulds to mimic a traditional Cotswoldian stone roof. She also hired mostly local craftsmen, although does acknowledge the practical benefit, too: “because they were working here for so long they needed to be local – they were here every day for years!”

Although construction of the house is largely finished, the work at Ryder Park is far from over. Ryder has two studios on the property where she crafts new works. The larger studio is a newly refurbished cowshed, while the smaller one doubles up as a gallery.

Ryder’s art can be found all over the place: as a centrepiece on her dining table; as a point of interest on her mantelpiece; and a decorative flourish on the windowsill. Meanwhile, outside Ryder planted 4,000 trees on her 20 acres and intends to build a private sculpture park peppered with a number of her large-scale pieces.

“The Minotaur and Lady Hare torsos are like sentinels to welcome you into the property,” she says. “They have always been a pair. They are six metres tall, framing the entrance to the sculpture park.”

“The Minotaur and Lady Hare torsos are like sentinels to welcome you into the property”

Creating new spaces for viewers to inhabit is a reoccurring theme in her work. “It’s something I’ve done from a very early age. I used to make little villages of people and create whole environments for them with lakes and ponds and waterfalls. I just absolutely loved creating a space where things happened, not just creating objects, but creating places for people to be in.”