This week a collection of beautiful rooms that all belong to the same house. The home of the interior design studio Run For The Hills, owned by husband and wife team Chris Trotman and Anna Burles. I have long been a fan of their work and am thrilled to be able to share their newly renovated (during lockdown) property which they converted from two unmodernised flats.
Anna began her career as a journalist before deciding to retrain at the famous KLC School of Design in Chelsea and Chris, a graphic designer known as Dex, is also an artist who exhibits widely across London and has a shop at London Art Prints. The couple knew, as designers, they could push their ideas, but the result, far from being one of those high falutin “designer” homes that feels a million miles away from what you or I might be able to achieve, is homely, cosy and, I don’t want to say cluttered, but pleasingly full, of real things and personality. This is a house you could come in and sit down and feel relaxed not one where you’d panic that the mug cost so much money you’re scared of dropping it.
“We’d like to say that we have an original tone of voice when it comes to our style,” Anna told me last week. “So even though each room has its own vibe and character and colour palette, it all hangs together as a visual narrative. It doesn’t conform to any single look but people who know us said it feels very ‘us’.
“We don’t like to be defined by one style and our tastes change regularly as you might expect from two creatives bouncing off each other. We love industrial rawness but we also love antiques and lashings of colour and pattern mixing one-off vintage pieces with modern design products to create something original.”
And, as you can see it is a clever mix of old and new. The back of the house is one large open plan kitchen/living diner with the kitchen in traditionally the darkest part of the house – the middle – and the sunshine brought in via Earthborn Paint’s Humpty Dumpty on the cupboards and Tom’s Bakery on the wood panelled walls.
This is another way of using the dark middle room common to so many terrace houses. Traditionally that room is knocked into the front sitting room to create a large living space that rarely feels like one large room and often struggles to find its purpose other than as a passage to the kitchen at the back.
Instead, Anna and Chris kept the front sitting room small (we’ll come to that shortly) and opened the space up to the back to create this large room. They extended into the side return too to make the room as wide as possible but if your budget doesn’t permit you can still move the kitchen back to the middle and have a light-filled dining area next to the garden rather than the other, more traditional dark middle dining room and kitchen at the back.
For anyone who has wondered about zoning open plan spaces, this split flooring idea (between kitchen and living) is perfect. Yes you can keep it the same throughout but if you want, or need, different materials in different areas then don’t assume it has to be done in straight lines. This zig zag echoes the herringbone pattern of the parquet but keeps the two spaces separate. This is the concept of broken plan living rather than open-plan – using furniture and flooring to divide spaces rather than walls and creating distinct areas rather than one room with lots of functions jostling together.
This is the dining area in the middle of the space and there are so many beautiful and clever ideas here that it’s worth pulling up a chair for a moment. Firstly, this area is defined by a large plain rug that clearly defines the space and zones it as the dining room without the need for walls. Its shape, midway between an oval and a circle, is also a good counterbalance to all the straight lines so often found in buildings and helps to soften the space.
The rug also matches the darker walls, supporting beams and storage cupboard, all of which helps to further zone the space while making it firmly part of the whole. As you would expect from a pair of designers, nothing has been left to chance and we can all learn from this masterclass which looks natural but has clearly been considered.
Now those chairs. Who has patterned dining chairs? Exactly! I have pointed out many times how a patterned rug under a table will hide a multitude of spills and splashes and patterned chairs will be no different. Note also that there is a bench and a pair of chairs and while it’s not a set, they have all been covered in the same material to bring it all together.
We can’t leave this space without pointing out the brass picture rail. Yes of course they could have just hung the pictures on the wall but how much more fabulous is this brass rail with the pictures hanging down from it? Like the chairs and rugs, it’s all part of a carefully thought out design and attention paid to all the details which is the key to a success. Sure a gallery wall is great. But this is greater.
Finally the back of the room where the seating area is. Perfect for being close to the garden on days when it’s too cold to be out there but you still want to see it. The cane sofa is upholstered in a floral pattern to link to the garden and the glass coffee table allows the light to pass through and keep the space feeling open and light. Did you notice the brass covered dining table too, which will also bounce the light around.
Finally, before we go upstairs, the sitting room. The whole house has around 15-20 different paint colours but, says Anna, the spaces where the whole family and/or their two children go tend to be lighter while the adult rooms – notably in here – are darker and moodier. Many of the walls are painted in a breathable limewash from Bauwerk and in some cases the lower half of the walls is a wipeable emulsion with the limewash above as it’s harder to touch up and can take a beating from family life.
This room is small and cosy and a masterclass in monochrome pattern matching. The sheer cafe curtains are from Rose Uniacke, the lamp is by Pooky and the curtain fabric from Travers. While black and white can seem a cold choice for a sitting room, when mixed with the warm bronze walls – note how the while plasterwork is highlighted when sandwiched between the matching ceiling and walls – the varieties of textures and patterns have led to something that is both grown-up and fun. And goes to show the power of a black and white stripe.
Anna and Chris spent a long time designing their house and working out how to make it work for themselves and their two children. One lesson – how ever much storage you build it’s never enough.
“We factored in acres of storage and joinery down to an apothecary style under-stairs unit with labels for ‘bike lights, small tools and school bags’ – all that stuff which often ends up in a chaotic special drawer or just strewn around the place. We thought of nearly everything – except a tall cupboard for the mop and hoover so they need to be folded down to fit the space we allocated. It’s not the end of the world but on the list for the next house.”
Upstairs to the master bathroom, which the couple say is their favourite room. “We angsted over the design to create something really special,” says Anna.
“We love the fresh zig zag tiles, the quirky high rise WC with fittings that Chris designed, and the large crittal style shower. We also love the oak apothecary style vanity unit we designed which has acres of storage including an integrated laundry basket and towel storage. It’s such a pleasure to find everything without having to rummage at the back of drawers and cupboards.”
The key to their success was not just creativity, says Anna, but time spent planning and and drawing and re-drawing and really thinking about every detail. If you are overwhelmed by your own scheme it can be helpful to just visualise yourself using a space to work out what you need. Which hand reaches for the towel when you come out of the shower, is there somewhere to rest the plates while you scrape them into the bin before putting them into the dishwasher? Visualise yourself cooking a meal, or going through your morning routine from getting out of bed to using the bathroom and getting dressed. Once you have a sense of that you can start to understand what you need from your interior design to make it work for you and the way you live.
Below is a view through to the dressing room. The crittal doors provide a design link to the dark framed window and, of course, the glass doors allow more light to pass through. Glass doors fell out of fashion for a while but they are supremely practical in dark period houses. The key to bringing them up to date is to paint them a colour other than magnolia – doesn’t have to be black, a fabulous green or blue will also look great, anything that ties in with the rest of your colour palette, and if the budget permits swapping plan glass for a fluted version which allows both light and privacy.
Below is the dressing room from another angle. Note the two tone paintwork (Bauwerk seaweed and Earthborn chestnut) with the picture rail used to actually hang pictures (these are by Chris).
I feel so inspired by this house I’m off to find a brass rail and some chain to hang my pictures from. I hope you have found something to take away for your own places and spaces. If you want to see more of Run For The Hills, or to hire them for a project you can find them at the link.