Personality Please

    23 June 2012

    Working for House & Garden, I meet interior designers on a regular basis and see new interior projects daily, either in person or in photographs. This is usually a huge privilege, but there are times when it can be quite demoralising. A few weeks ago I met one such designer, who shall remain nameless and who runs an impressive team of 20 or so, working for clients worldwide. She said that in one of her latest projects she was aiming to create a ‘classic London look’. Intrigued, I probed further and was shown some pictures of a house that, while being undeniably smart and modern, lacked any kind of soul — to my mind anyway. With its plush carpets, silk curtains, bespoke joinery, monochrome palette and carefully chosen accessories from designer catalogues, it was sadly the kind of interior I’m shown all too often. The overall effect was reminiscent of a hotel. I’ve heard the phrase ‘classic London look’ used several times since. Although it describes a look and a level of comfort that is clearly in vogue, I’d like to make the case for eclecticism and patina, for faded charm. It’s not huge originality or serious wow factor I’m after — most of us don’t want to live with that kind of statement day in, day out — but characterful interiors, whether modern or traditional: contrasting colours and patterns, art and objects, old things and new things, and a bit of individuality.


    Will Fisher
    Filled with fine antiques and curiosities, this London drawing room perfectly reflects the style and idiosyncrasies of its owner, Will Fisher, inveterate collector and the antiques dealer behind Jamb (; he specialises in antique and reproduction fireplaces. A stuffed French fighting dog sits in front of a chimneypiece that was the inspiration for his ‘Oxford’ fireplace. The Regency lantern is the Windsor from Jamb’s lighting range.


    Chairs & Table
    Eero Saarinen’s iconic Tulip chair and table, designed 1955-56 for Knoll, are still in production today. Prices start from £1,068 for the chair, available to order through Liberty (020 7734 1234, Or try ebay for vintage versions.


    Tribal Art
    Tribal Gathering London (020 7221 6650, specialises in striking pieces of tribal art and artefacts, mostly from Africa. Once just a stall on Portobello Road it now has a Notting Hill showroom, open by appointment. For a large bowl like the one on Upton’s table, a household bowl from Northern Kenya, expect to pay around £150.


    Antiquarian prints
    Dealers Isaac and Ede (020 7629 9040, not only have a good amount of stock but will also source specific objects and assemble a collection if required. Pictured top left is an aquatint printed in sepia and published as part of J&J Boydell’s History of the Thames, 1795-1796. It measures 13½ x 22 inches and costs £250.


    African springbok cushions, from £75, at Mufti (020 7243 4444,

    This unusual 18th-century housekeeper’s cupboard (left), with its original varnish, measures 210cm x 186.5cm x 51cm, from Arcadia Antiques (07768 666 833, A similar piece would cost about £3,770. Decorative Collective (, a website set up by a group of antique dealers, also yields good finds.

    Interiors photographer Simon Upton travels the world picking up pieces for his home as he goes. Here in the dining area of his west London flat, a former warehouse, he mixes inherited pieces — the Welsh dresser was his grandmother’s — with pieces found on his travels and in local antique shops. He opted for white walls throughout and the wood floors are limed ash — as close in colour as possible to white — to enhance the feeling of space and light. Pictures are all black and white, allowing the textiles and objects to add colour. Monochrome it may be, but the mix is quirky and entirely personal.


    Hugh Leslie
    This is the sitting room of a 1970s London mews house by designer Hugh Leslie ( The room had little architectural merit and the idea was to give it a studio-like quality; a dining area with glass roof leads off to the left. Leslie ripped out ugly cornices and downlights and the decorators replastered using a wooden float rather than a steel one, which gives the walls a less flat, more handmade quality. They were also asked to round edges with their thumbs. A marble or stone fireplace was eschewed in favour of something more ‘modest and friendly’ to suit the room, hence the horizontal tongue and groove painted boards with a simple marble slip; the timber will move over time, adding character. Mixing periods and styles, the furnishings are designed to be comfortable and informal, emphasised by the loose cover on the banquette sofa.


    The 19th-century chair in the main picture is from Howe (020 7730 7987,, upholstered in natural linen from Nicole Fabre (01485 576 200,, with red piping. Leslie designed a stool to match, with the same square tapered legs. As well as a selection of interesting antique chairs, Howe has a range of its own designs to be made to order, like this Beagle Chair (left), from £2,160.

    The French cherry-wood standard lamp is from Guinevere (020 7736 2917, on the King’s Road, a treasure trove of decorative antiques and textiles. The 1950s oak coffee table is French and came from Gallery 25 (020 7730 7516, on Pimlico Road, a good source of 20th-century furniture.

    The Aalto Vase by Alvar Aalto was created in 1937 and is an icon of modern design. It is available in several sizes and colours from Skandium (020 7584 2066, from £74.


    The ‘Peloponnese’ carpet by designer Sandy Jones (020 7498 2717, anchors the room. Jones will design something bespoke or tweak a design from her archive. All her carpets — flat pile or kilim — are woven in Turkey, where the wool is dyed by hand, adding distinction to the final product. The carpet pictured at the top of the page is called ‘Oppède II’. Prices start from £950 per square metre.

    Wood floor
    Chestnut was chosen for its colour and open grain. The boards are solid rather than engineered, so they will shrink and move, adding character. The waxed polish will also mean patina is added over time. Try Walking on Wood (; boards cost £156 per metre square, supply only.