During the 18th century, gentlemen of means built houses that encapsulated their wealth and taste. Renaissance paintings, lugged back from Grand Tours of the Continent, adorned their saloons where Italian craftsmen perched on ladders to perfect the crispest of stuccowork.
Lavish, hand-woven silks festooned walls. Graceful furniture, lighting and flooring were fashioned from costly materials using cutting-edge techniques. This statement of cultural intent extended to the landscaped gardens dotted with temples and follies: symbols of their owner’s status. Fast forward to 2013, to a similarly ambitious project.
The setting this time is a tranquil London street rather than a sprawling country estate. But the house, wide, handsome and 18th century, has been restored and transformed by its owner, with an energy and imagination worthy of those Enlightenment entrepreneurs. Bespoke, that much-abused word, has real currency in this home where every object – hand-painted wallpaper, exquisite lighting and furniture – has been specially made to exacting standards.
The listed house, built in 1785, was sympathetically extended at the back to include a larger kitchen and a terrace on the first floor, where new Portland Stone stairs link ground to floor to the garden.
In summer, the garden is transformed in to a party venue under specially-made marquees where hundreds of guests meander, Gatsby-style, quaffing Champagne. Not from ordinary high street glasses mind you, but hand-blown flutes. ‘We tested six different glasses with maker Michael Ruh: the bubbles react differently in each style, so it was important to find the ideal shape,’ says the owner, sounding every inch the 21st-century patron of the arts.
Concealed smart lighting in the ceiling allows the sitting room to be transformed into a home cinema by night for vintage film viewings.
In keeping with the 18th-century spirit of the house, everything – from the wall coverings to mirror – was commissioned for the dining room.
In the lower-ground floor of the house, the kitchen was extended to add a small informal dining area overlooking the 360 foot-long garden.
In the first-floor study, computer and printer are cleverly housed in a custom-made desk so that modernity does not intrude in to the classical setting.
The dividing wall between hall and former garage was removed to make a suitably spacious entrance within the 18th-century building.
Bold antiques and neutral walls were chosen to highlight the owner’s collection of rare vintage posters, each chosen for its artistic merit.
Tired schemes of blue and green were replaced with neutral tones and natural textures to offset the owner’s art collection.
The owner is always on the prowl for new artists’ work, and artworks like this faux Caravaggio by Matthew Stone, and the Bone Sculpture by Moss Bittner, have all played their part in inspiring the design of the house.
Complementing the 18th-century architecture of the house, specially commissioned hand-painted papers were chosen as a bold backdrop for a mix of new and 1940s designer antiques.
This contemporary bath has a sculptural line that perfectly reflects the house’s ethos.
The homeowner, a precociously successful software developer with aesthetic leanings, cheerfully describes himself as ‘opinionated, difficult and obsessed with detail’. But he met his match in Philippa Thorp, a similarly single-minded interior designer who admits that she ‘never goes to trade shows or follows trends…I suppose the way I work is a process of osmosis; I absorb ideas and influences from different sources: travel, books, galleries.’ Most importantly, ‘no two projects are alike for me; each one is about the individual’, she muses as the owner laughingly interjects; ‘Philippa understands that I like my toys’. At this point they swivel round to look at the pair of giant black speakers, looming over the otherwise decorous drawing room. ‘I call them the Daleks,’ says Philippa with a long-suffering smile.
Photography/ Alice Taylor