When bestselling cookbook author Skye McAlpine wanted her new house in southwest London to feel immediately lived in, who better to call on than architect and interior designer Ben Pentreath for help?
Together with Ben, a master of combining comfort with patina, Skye and her husband Anthony decided to strip their then newly purchased four-storey Victorian terrace house back to its very bare bones and start again from scratch.
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The house, part of a row of Victorian terraced houses ‘cheaply and soullessly renovated’ by a property developer in the 1990s, had been on the market for a long time. Emptied of all its contents, ‘it looked incredibly sad,’ recalls Skye.
‘But it had a really good energy, which Ben felt too, with great ceiling heights and views of the park beyond an albeit busy road, which gave it a generous feeling of space.’
Set to a tight timeline – six months from receipt of the keys to when Skye and Anthony’s second baby Achille was born (Skye literally moved in straight from her hospital bed) – they worked to ‘a blank canvas,’ she says, reinstating chimney breasts, fireplaces, sash windows, parquet flooring and decorative cornicing.
The sitting room
The sophisticated but child-friendly sitting room is where everyone will gather for mulled wine, mince pieces and carols around Anthony’s beloved Yamaha baby grand piano and open stockings, with mugs of hot chocolate and panettone on Christmas morning.
Skye’s love for the richness of traditional English interiors is echoed in the oversized sofa and tasselled ottoman.
Skye calls on florist Milli Proust to dress doors, mantelpieces and tables with ‘show-stopping’ wild flora and foliage, including holly, rosemary, berries and ivy, grown and foraged at Milli’s West Sussex farm. ‘It feels very personal and made with love.’
- Take a look at our festive foliage ideas here
At Christmas, Skye loves the house to feel cosy, ‘but also really over the top and extravagant,’ she says.
The pink textured plastered walls of the sitting room – ‘perfect for hiding bumps and scratches’ – provide a softening contrast to the deep gloss red of Skye’s study.
The deep red gloss paint on the floor-to-ceiling shelves in the study evoke an extravagant jewel-box feel. The shelving was one of the few original details that the couple kept in place while renovating.
Walls were removed and floor layouts reconfigured to create a flow of practical but light-filled family spaces.
This includes a long, open kitchen and dining area on the ground floor – ideal for Skye to throw the many lunches and dinners she loves to host over the festive season, adding trestle tables to the dining table to seat up to 30.
An antique dresser alongside the dining table displays Skye’s favourite plates, glasses, jugs and bowls, collected since she was at university.
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For daily life, the couple wanted nothing in the house to feel too precious, so Ben encouraged them to think about ‘colors we wanted to live with and textures that would wear better with age,’ says Skye.
The three-toned yellow kitchen was inspired by the 1950s kitchen in the house they rent in Venice (the city where Skye grew up and returns to regularly).
- Read all about Skye's second home in Venice here
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The master bedroom
A floral wallpaper and decorative bureau lend an eclectic, maximalist touch to the master bedroom.
‘The only details kept were the floor-to-ceiling shelves in the study and the staircase because it felt too big a project to install a new one.’
A riot of vintage florals by GP&J Baker, Jean Monro and Antoinette Poisson, and a mural of hand-painted birds and vines stretching up through the stairwells, team sympathetically with new and antique finds, from Murano glass and tolle metalwork chandeliers to big squishy sofas and ottomans.
There are three Christmas trees – one each for the kitchen, sitting room and the boys’ top-floor landing, decorated with vintage Venetian glass baubles and gilded birds in cages bought years ago at John Derian in New York.
Her son's bedroom
Skye and Anthony's son, Aeneas' bedroom features an 18th-century-inspired wallpaper as a classic backdrop to his collection of toys and books.
The master bathroom
Above the mantelpiece, a portrait of Skye’s paternal grandmother presides over this elegant room. The deep copper-lined bath was the starting point for the timeless decor.
‘I love old things with a sense of history, partly because they’re really beautiful but mostly because they feel unique,’ says Skye. ‘I don’t mind if it’s a bit chipped or cracked, that just adds to the story. They feel like special treasures.’