Could Ukrainian art be the next big trend in interior design?
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 August 2018
As the plot of a thriller, it has the lot – Eastern European crooks, corrupt officials and a terrifying 12 hour ordeal at the hands of criminals intent on stealing her home, writes Barbara Waite.
However, this is no work of fiction. Sitting in law-abiding Lytham, it’s hard to believe that Zoe Barker-Moss needs a bodyguard whenever she returns to her former home. But Zoe’s life has been full of excitement, art and travel to exotic places – as well as some frightening moments.
Back in the 1990s she and her husband, Will, and their two children moved to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. He had been offered a job out there and she enjoyed life as a sculptress, mixing with local artists. Then disaster struck.
The couple had bought a small house but, with hard work and Zoe’s interior design skills, they transformed it into a large, impressive home. It proved too much of a temptation for the local criminal fraternity. While Will was away, a gang entered the property intent on taking possession.
‘I locked myself in the bathroom with the children and dogs until, after 12 hours, they threw me out,’ recalls Zoe. ‘Basically, they stole the house from us and ever since, through the legal system, I’ve been trying to get it back.’
It’s a long, frustrating process. ‘Ukraine runs on bribery and corruption and a lot of the paperwork went missing during the time they were in the house so it’s still ongoing,’ she adds.
The strain took its toll and their marriage broke down. With the children’s education in mind, Zoe moved back to England. Four years ago, a friend in Freckleton needed work doing on her house prompting the family to move to Lancashire.
She knew the area well – her stepfather had been with British Aerospace and Zoe and her parents lived in Wrea Green when work wasn’t taking them off to Saudi Arabia. After Kirkham Grammar, Zoe completed an art foundation course in Blackpool and, after a course in sculpture, she eventually took a job with Plowden & Smith, a worldwide name in art conservation and restoration in London.
‘One of the company specialisms was dealing with marble and bronze sculptures. It was a great thrill to be able to restore some Rodin works and I also worked on the Warwick Vase for the Burrell collection in Glasgow,’ she says. ‘Another big project was the ornate ceiling of one of Henry VIII’s hunting lodges. It was a real privilege to work on such treasures.’
Zoe met Will who was serving with the Staffordshire Regiment and, after the Gulf War, he left the army and was offered a job in the forestry industry at Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal in Siberia.
‘We decided to move not even knowing exactly where it was!’ says Zoe. ‘We found St Petersburg, kept looking east on the map and found Moscow and kept on going until we found Irkutsk on the far coast. Forestry and wood processing are big in the area and Will was working for exporters.
‘Irkutsk itself has extremes of temperatures 18C in summer and 18 below in winter. It took some getting used to as I could speak no Russian to start with although I did pick up a little. I set up a studio and mixed with other artists, making bronzes based on Russian fairy tales.
‘I formed some good friendships during this time and, with my London connections, organised a Siberian Art Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London, opened by Princess Michael of Kent.’
Will’s next job was with high security printers, De la Rue, in Kiev, and so in the 1990s the adventurous couple headed off to the Ukraine with their young daughter Arran. This was the move that ended in a nightmare for the family and led to her returning to Lancashire.
Once back, and needing to earn a living, Zoe decided to get some formal qualifications in interior design and gained a distinction in her Masters Degree at UCLan while still working as an artist.
Despite everything, the Ukraine was still dear to her and she wanted to do something to help her artist friends out there while finding an outlet for her own artistic skills. Her company, Barker Moss, was the result. She runs the business with help from her son, Xavier – her daughter, Arran, is artistic too working on illustration and character animation.
While she does much of the designing, she has a network of highly skilled woodworkers and carvers who make a wide range of beautifully intricate pieces such as carved boxes, furniture and architectural features.
The company has built up a considerable reputation and has clients across the world. One recent commission involved making gift boxes for a Far Eastern embassy in London. Barker Moss provides her and her family with a living as well as providing orders for artisans in Ukraine.
Zoe’s life has now come full circle. She lives in a house overlooking Lytham Green that was built for her great-grandfather. He was a businessman from Nelson who spotted a plot of land and decided to build houses which were lived in by his family. She is now at home in the place where her grandmother and aunts resided and she visited as a child.
There are frequent visits back to the Ukraine to work closely with the artists out there. She is accompanied by Mischa, her bodyguard who she is teaching English. While she battles it out in the courts her Lytham-based business is growing.
‘The ups and downs in life make you the person you are, and I’ve certainly had my share of those,’ she says.
‘Art has been with me throughout and right now I’m happy…happy with what I’m creating and excited for the future of my business. It’s a good place to be.’
Zoe’s new interior design business, which she operates from her home overlooking The Green in Lytham, consists of Ukrainian artisans with remarkable woodcarving skills.
Projects tackled range from decorative small finials for curtain poles to grand four-poster beds, fireplaces and tables.
Using her interior design skills, she has had won commissions for houses in Mayfair and her range has stretched to intricate marble floors and fireplaces, and beautiful tiling for both interior and exterior use
The latest innovation is crafting poles and canvas for glampers who want a more luxurious camping experience.
You can see more of Zoe’s work at of www.barkermoss.co.uk