From the street, this six-storey, 10,000 sq ft Georgian town house in London’s trendy Marylebone area sits quietly nestled between buildings of similar size and grandeur. But behind the polite exterior lies a highly original and quirky home, created to suit the personality and lifestyle of a private client (an international man of mystery!), by leading British architects and interior designers SHH.
Historically, these beautiful and unique buildings were often developed in the latter half of the 20th century and either broken up into smaller apartments or redesigned as professional premises for dentists, doctors and solicitors. Happily this house survived such drastic treatment and survived in tact as a single family residence it was originally intended to be.
The new scheme has an unusual backstory: SHH was already working with the owner on the refurbishment of his existing home, when he asked the practice to help him find a second residence to live in for the duration of the refurbishment. SHH came across and proposed a recently-redeveloped house in Marylebone, which the client immediately purchased and moved into, intending to sub-let or re-sell once his first home was completed.
However, when the first central London residence was ready, the client chose to rent it out rather than moving back into it, as he had fallen for the location, light and elegant proportions of the new house. In spite of its winning proportions, the style did not suit his personality and so, in Spring 2008, he re-commissioned SHH to create a brand new interior scheme for the home, under the direction of SHH’s Head of Residential Interiors and Company Associate, René Dekker, together with his colleague, interior designer Georgie Britton and team.
The overall brief for the project was to ‘surprise all those crossing the threshold’, using the client’s art collection of original hand-drawn and -painted cartoons to full effect against a classical background, that would fit seamlessly with the grand Georgian architectural features that define the house. The interior scheme, however, needed to be preceded by what seemed superficially to be rather cosmetic building works.
‘These started out with the intention of merely upgrading the house and attending to some of the more apparent mechanical issues’, explained René Dekker. ‘However, once the proverbial ’can of worms’ had been opened, it was clear that some of the original work that had been done, was not only faulty but potentially dangerous!’ A rather longer than anticipated period of time was needed for pre-works, but the structure was eventually returned to the high standards of the original Georgians and the new interior could begin to be implemented.
The house is elegantly proportioned over 6 floors, from lower ground to fifth and includes further existing extensions to the rear, made up of a very large family kitchen and an underground swimming pool. Entrance is at upper ground level into the ante lobby, which leads into the main entrance hall with an imposing original staircase. Off to the right are the study and guest WC, with the formal dining room and kitchen located just a little further on to the rear.
The requisite sense of surprise is instant on entry. Instead of the formality one would expect from the main entrance hall, guests instead see a stair runner in candy-striped wool in shades of red, claret and gold. Framed portraits, which line the stairs and the hall area, are not of distant relatives or ancient partriarchs, but of Daffy Duck, Batman, Tweety Pie and Catwoman!
The principal rooms on the upper ground floor are the dining room and kitchen. Both host a fusion of the classic and the comedic, with antiqued French commodes in vibrant colours, inspired by the framed artworks that hang above them. These are nonetheless classical enough to sit well with the existing carved marble fireplace alongside. The antique dining chairs in the room were designed to be discreet in this room of strong colours, upholstered in contemporary black damask velvet, whilst a new classical rug pulls the scheme for the whole room together.
Just off the adjacent hall is the enormous family kitchen, bathed in natural light flowing in from the skylight and the little garden courtyard. Originally this space would have been the garden and the back entrance to the adjoining mews house, but a previous owner had extended the property several years earlier.
Structurally, these areas needed little new intervention. On the decorative side, however, the kitchen in particular was changed to include some more ‘eccentric’ elements. The initial scheme derived from the fabric for the blinds: a sumptuous woven linen in a mostly turquoise paisley pattern.
This in turn led to the choice of wall colour and vinyl upholstery. As there were no artworks here, designer Georgie Britton came up with the idea of adding a trompe l’oeil of cartoon character Road Runner, audaciously framed in a two-dimensional, gilded classical frame. The final accessory came in the form of the faux cactus, a desert staple just like Road Runner himself!
The first floor is comprised of two principal reception rooms, both very different in style. The main reception room is grand with a capital G. Its high ceilings and magnificent fire place are as impressive to any visitor now as they would have been 250 years ago, when the house was originally built. This room was treated in a slightly more formal manner, again with the window treatment the influencing factor in the styling. Serious swags and tails in crimson charmeuse, contrast-lined in gold taffeta and edged in pom pom fringing, make a sumptuous and grown-up statement, with diaphanous chiffon under curtains completing the scheme.
The walls were hung in a luxuriant golden hued vinyl, whilst rich striped velvets (very much influencing the stair runner choice), with marron mohair and natural coloured satin all work together with contemporary antiques and traditional rug to create a stylish, elegant yet cosy atmosphere. Naturally, in any twenty first century home, the TV plays an important role, with this one being no exception. A large LCD screen, with top of the range speakers, completes this family room.
On the other side of the hall is the snooker room, with dark walls and opulent silk damask curtains. This room, like all others in the house, has an imposing ceiling height and an original and retained marble fireplace but, as a games room, the ambience needed a lighter note. Here, the client’s collection of smaller original cartoon artworks creates the focal point and features well on a plum brandy background. The pool table dominates the room, well-lit by a contemporary and specially-commissioned ceiling pendant. The furniture is completed with ‘poseur’ tables and leather bar chairs, combining to create a warm and relaxed atmosphere.
The entire second floor is occupied by the master suite, consisting of a bedroom, dressing room and bathroom. For the bedroom, the client requested ‘sunshine’ as a theme, with his partner requesting an injection of the colour pink to balance the scheme! As with the rest of the house, the bedroom’s décor has a theatrical edge.
Heavy silk satin drapes frame the external London backdrop, whilst the two dimensional design on the headboard behaves like a prop in an almost theatrical manner and dark brown antiques meet playful pink ottomans, all supported by a cast of gilded frames on a backdrop of distressed golden wall paper. ‘The leading roles here are definitely played by the harlequin commode and the classical daybed’, commented René Dekker. ‘One is a new, but artfully distressed piece, looking almost like a jester theatrically holding court next to the fire place; the other an elegantly gilded heroine, resplendent in fuchsia! This is a sumptuous room, rich with a tapestry of styles, opulent with its creature comforts – the perfect boudoir! ‘
The next floor houses the children’s bedrooms, each one unique and representing the personality of the occupant. The younger of the client’s two daughters chose apple green as the dominant colour, accessorised with bright complimenting elements. The soft-flocked wallpaper and lightly creased voiles balance the strong, grounded furniture with an array of scatter cushions binding this ‘candy store’ scheme.
A hint of the young lady now merging in this teenager is seen in the ethnic beaten dresser and mirror, which are just a little more grown up. The client’s second daughter, a little older than her sister, has chosen a more restrained scheme with limited colours and cleaner lines. This is the room of a young adult, someone with a more defined idea of her own aesthetic. Gorgeous Italian-styled furniture dominates this room, upholstered in mature fabrics including mohair, leather and linen.
Classic 60’s posters and bright colours, combined with modern lamps, create a sleek impression. Georgie Britton cleverly used lines from the daughter’s favourite English poem on a distressed mirror to finish off the room. As with the rest of the house, these rooms are dominated by the original Georgian fireplaces but, even in these contemporary schemes, they do not look out of place.
The final two rooms, located on the top floor are for guests, both again unique and different. The room to the rear, which receives most of the sunshine, is grounded with taupe and lifted with umber and sienna. Although an uncluttered and simple room, it is warm and inviting. The front bedroom is a little more grand. A sober off-white wall plays blank canvas to the strong tones of gold, black and khaki. Classical architectural prints, antiques and up-to-date furniture round off this oasis of calm.
On the lower ground floor the usual back of house amenities are housed – such as the laundry room, staff rooms and storage, with the addition of a steam room, sauna and a recording studio. ‘Apart from these areas, there seems initially to be little on this floor that would make it stand out from any other similar home – until that is, you enter the pool area! Here, more than anywhere in the house, the client indulged his love of the fantastic’, explained René Dekker. The client’s all-time favourite comic book writer was Frank Miller (of Batman fame), who the designers used as the ‘thème de la salle’. A story of intrigue and deception is played out on the walls, in the form of one and two dimensional artworks, all of varying sizes and depths….
A young secretary is given the task of delivering important papers to the government. She is followed and accosted by two villains, who steal the documents, planning to hold the world to ransom. The hero, a dark knight in costume, saves the day with his skilful use of the discus, captures the villains and puts them in jail.
The story ends with an illuminated backdrop of the Vitruvius man and a cityscape with the comforting words…’the city sleeps a peaceful sleep’. DKT, the specialist decorations studio who realised this scheme, made full use of the existing mirror on the wall to enhance the 3D visual aspect of the scenes.
A quarter of a frisbee, pasted into a corner appears as a full one thrown by the hero. Further tricks are played using the fibre optic downlights, whose unfocused lenses create an almost streetlight effect on the stone surround. The dark humour has been completed with the addition of inflatable sharks, a crocodile and an over-scaled revolver.
‘This beautiful house with all its eccentricities has been truly designed with the clients in mind, with no restraint applied in creating exactly what they wanted. It pays tribute and respect to the word ‘home’, where the upgrade was not necessarily done with resale in mind but rather with a long term view to providing a perfect and very personal environment for a very particular client,’ concluded René Dekker.
Location: London, UK
Photographer: Anthony Parkinson