I live in a Victorian square in Bayswater with my husband Charlie and three children, Tom, Bunny and Xan, as well as our whippet Panther. We bought the flat over 21 years ago, when I was pregnant with our eldest child, Tom. The grand white stuccoed buildings, built in the 1850s, were originally designed as single houses. We are on the fourth floor, in the old staff quarters which have extraordinary natural light and glorious views over the communal garden. Our flat is lateral and spans three buildings, two of which were bedsits in the 70s, so it was all in need of some radical remodelling. We knocked out all the internal walls except for three chimney walls, levelled the floors and removed the false ceilings, which obscured the window tops. Large rain water pipes had previously been hidden (as the building is listed, they weren’t allowed to sit on the exterior) so we designed a curvaceous cornice to cover them, and managed to gain 25cm of ceiling height in the process. There are five bedrooms and three bathrooms altogether.
The Sitting Room
The south-facing sitting room was initially conceived as a very relaxed library-living room. Given my compulsive book buying, my priority was to line the walls with bookcases, which are painted the same colour as the walls, in Farrow & Ball Pointing. The ceilings are painted a blue green eggshell which helps to blur the lines between inside and out. The generous use of mirror reflects the light around the space, too.
The rug, in a chevron design drawn by Peter Twining and made by Veedon Fleece's Nepalese workshops, was one of the most transformative additions to this room. A pair of Bergères (copies of the marvellous Syrie Maugham model), which I buy at auction and have copied for Soane, flank the chimney. We all love backgammon, which we play constantly on this 18th century games table I bought from a dealer in Cheltenham.
The Kitchen & Dining Room
The starting point for the kitchen was the blue green tiles I fell for at World’s End Tiles. They run from counter to ceiling, with the painted shelves mounted over the top. I didn’t want to hide my collections of old Sheffield plate silver and copper vessels, hence the open shelves – possibly a foolish decision as I’m not a naturally tidy person. The paints are all from Papers and Paint. The cabinetry was made in a Soane workshop, all from solid English oak (now painted pink) with recessed copper kick boards.
The discovery of a 19th century painting of a Qajar prince prompted a recent redecoration of the dining end of the kitchen, with the walls and ceiling lined in Soane’s Qajar Stripe fabric. With the children all away at school and university, and Charlie and I at work every day (until Covid hit) we realised we’d spend more time in here in the evenings. We therefore decided the kitchen could be lit with soft candlelight, which encouraged me to be really bold with the colours. A brilliant draughtsman and friend called Daniele Iozzia kindly realised my vision for this room with a lovely watercolour, which was made by a Cornish coppersmith. Like all of my favourite Islamic metalwork, it too is made up of a combination of metals, in this case a mix of copper and brass. Surrounding the fumed oak dining table are Soane’s Casino dining chairs, based on a glamorous model from the 1940s. Upholstered in a rich tan goatskin, they have been remarkably resilient over two decades of daily use. The loose covers are made from Soane’s Coquelicots printed linen.
The hall is wallpapered in our Osmunda wallpaper, which was inspired by a tiny fragment of fabric I found in a book dating from the 1820s. The parrots came from Alistair McAlpine, who commissioned a limited-edition reproduction and I rather like them hanging on this wallpaper. I have around 150 of these illustrations and, one day, I would love to have them all framed and hanging together in one room. The demi-lune table is a fine example of beautiful 19th century Syrian craftsmanship with exquisite inlay. The shape is great for a narrow hallway, as it doesn’t have any sharp corners. Like many of the old pieces in the flat, they add an intangible atmosphere and depth.
I’ve always been drawn to the Middle East, particularly Islamic metalware and textiles. This room is my favourite in the flat, a sort of Oriental dream and the space where I spend the most time experimenting with design. The wallpaper is inspired by a 16th century Safavid woven silk velvet panel. I love the pattern when it’s used in a very clean interior or, as here, smothered in pictures and textiles. I’m a great proponent of covering all the surfaces of a room – walls, ceilings and upholstery – in matching wallpaper and fabric to feel enveloped in the most cosseting way. The painting of a Bashi Bazouk above the fireplace was a present from my husband when our daughter was born. The pictures, textiles and maps in this room are all united by a glorious striped kilim rug which I bought 20 years ago from the brilliant Peter Hinwood. One of our workshops made the extra-large sofa so we can all squeeze comfortably on it together to watch television. The rattan Leighton Table is made in Soane’s workshop. It is a design from the Dryad archive, which we inherited when we bought the last remaining rattan workshop in the UK in 2011. It’s painted in emerald green. My preference is usually for rattan to be kept in its natural state or stained a deeper brown, especially in garden rooms and orangeries, but sometimes a painted finish is really needed – this room is a good example. Rattan can look so joyful when it’s painted in jewel-like colours.
At a time when we are scrutinising the origins of materials more than ever, rattan’s ecological credentials are particularly sound. Its inherent malleability has been drawn upon by artisans and designers for centuries, giving life to a vast range of stylistic interpretations. Furniture made from rattan has a soft, sculptural fluidity, contributing to a light-hearted informality, even in the most austere spaces. I particularly like the way it can diffuse light to create a softer atmosphere.
Our bedroom is wallpapered in Dianthus Chintz, which is a faithful copy of an exquisitely drawn 18th century Coromandel Coast chintz from the collection of a great friend, Karun Thakar. The curtains are ivory mutka silk that hangs so beautifully.
Without doubt, my favourite item in my home is the portrait of Tom, Bunny and Xan painted by the brilliant painter Charlotte Johnstone 12 years ago. It gives me so much pleasure, particularly at the moment.
Lulu's new book Rattan is available now.