Shortly after moving into his south London home, the homeowner took stock of his surroundings. He had a great many chairs. Fireside Edwardian armchairs, scallop-backed Art Deco chairs, Victorian nursing chairs and balloon-back dining chairs lined the walls like seats awaiting wallflowers at a Georgian ball. All had been inherited from downsizing relatives, and each one needed a new lease of life.
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So, too, did the interior. Built in the 1840s, the brick and stucco-fronted townhouse is tucked into a quiet, tree-shaded cul de sac that has a ‘proper community feel’. The architecture – ‘technically Victorian, but Georgian in style’ – also appealed to Michael, a financier with aesthetic leanings. Previous incumbents had looked after the Grade II-listed property: installing bookshelves, punching through small parlours. But the decoration, ‘in different shades of beige and yellow’, needed a re-think.
The homeowner began by painting the sitting room – cornice, shutters and all – in a wash of ‘ethereal’ blue; ‘not cold, not too green’. After that, inspiration, and energy, ran out so he turned to interior designer
Kate Guinness. A former set designer for companies including the Wexford Festival Opera, where she mastered the skill of ‘distilling interiors’, Kate had spent her Irish childhood in the historic houses of friends and family, learning to appreciate ‘the inventiveness’ of country decoration. ‘It all influenced the way I work. I like mixing prints and patterns but with a more modern, pared-back feel,’ she says.
This approach resonated with the owner. ‘I also grew up with traditional decoration, but I wanted this place to have more bite. Kate pushed me to take risks, throw different finishes and colours together,’ he says as we descend stairs, clad in an elaborate runner, to the basement. The previous owner, who ‘did things well and expensively’, knocked through from the kitchen to the dining room to bring light to the space. She also installed the handmade country kitchen. ‘It would have been wasteful to rip it out,’ so instead, a cabinet was repainted in a deep pink ‘for more punch’.
The colour is echoed in re-upholstered Victorian chairs in the dining room where an overscaled botanical wallpaper wraps around walls and beams. ‘We looked at lots of designs – tropical, chinoiserie – and came full circle back to this. I like the way it brings the garden inside,’ he says. Matching curtains, drawn at night, add to the jewel-box feel. A cabinet, another heirloom, houses a collection of gold-rimmed tableware used at Christmas and New Year.
Multi-hued and bright yet wonderfully relaxing, this judiciously balanced scheme encapsulates the decoration of the house.
Furniture with traditional ball-turned legs is a neat design theme in this enticing reading nook.
A fresh foliage motif brings the greenery of the patio inside.
A legacy of the previous owner, this handmade painted kitchen has been sympathetically furnished to evoke the feel of a country house.
The inherited fittings were retained but given an unexpected exuberance with bold contrasting patterns.
With its meticulous mix of soft textures and rich motifs, this cosy scheme epitomises the owner’s style.
Photography/ Simon Brown