A real live tour for you this week: the penthouse flat at BBC television centre which has been done up by the fashion designer Bella Freud and Maria Speake, co-founder of Retrouvius. There are around 400 flats of which four are penthouses. Each one was designed by a different firm of architects and each one finished by a different designer.
The star of them all is undoubtedly this 2,202 sq foot, three bedroom, three bathroom apartment which was done, said Bella “with a slight twist of porn.” Which seems to be what everyone references when they look back to the seventies. Which is odd really because I think – although I was a child – that it was mostly about dreadful food, everyone on strike and the lights going out every afternoon rather than rampant porn.
Anyway, enough of that. For now. We will return later. Let’s go and have a look around. So the apartment is in the listed part of the building approached by this seemingly endless curving corridor behind which the BBC executives use to sit. I’m sure I walked along one of these corridors before as, when I was about 22 I was desperate to be a Blue Peter presenter and managed to get a meeting with the producer of Hangar 17, which wasn’t the same thing at all. Anyone one thing led to another and I left the building and went to journalism college instead.
I do love that spotty carpet though. That wasn’t there in 1990.
Now, the apartment is arranged on two levels with the bedrooms on the ground floor. There are two doubles with dressing areas and bathrooms and the third, much smaller just off the hall.
Bella and Maria have dressed it as an office with a corduroy daybed. “It’s a place to work and flop and think,” said Bella. “But it would work for a friend who was coming to stay too.”
As far as an estate agent is concerned – and this is on with Strutt & Parker, for £3.9m fully furnished – it will be a third bedroom though. It’s not formally listed yet so I can’t give you a link to more pictures but I have used almost all the ones I have so you are getting the full tour.
Aside from the fabulous daybed Bella and Maria have also pulled off a clever trick with the wardrobe, which, like the kitchen and bathrooms, was already done by the architects, Piercy & Company, by the time they were called in.
“My world is one of salvage and old pieces,” said Maria. “So we had a dilemma here because it was all so new and we wondered how can we bring soul. Yes, you want to put in old things but [in a new build] that can go wrong – it has to be the right old pieces. Then we found this fabric and it was the right thing so we re-did the wardrobe doors and made them padded. And then we added suede doors upstairs. And a hessian wall in the sitting room.”
“But come to my bedroom,” interrupts Bella, who has clearly mentally moved in. And that was kind of the point behind the decor. Maria has worked with Bella before on her own home and west London store, and this project was a continuation of that partnership which treated it as an extension of Bella’s house.
So much so that there are a pair of her knickers on the bed. Well not quite, but they were designed by her as part of a collaboration and have been used to dress the space. The knickers are tiny. Bella is tiny. So are her pants. I think this might be a territorial move by Bella. Certainly it’s not helping me to envisage myself living here.
“It’s very cosy down here,” she says, pointing to the deep, dark red walls. “And a low bed is a really good idea in a small space and glass tables which help with the translucency. One of the issues we faced is that having everything new is an issue because in your own home you have things from different moments in your life to add depth and you layer them up.”
Which is why the partnership with Retrouvius was so perfect. Maria recounts how the bed came from a house that the company, which she co-founded with her husband, Adam, was doing up in Umbria.
“It was the complete and polar opposite to this and Adam was over there taking everything out of this old building and he came across the bed and he strapped it to the roof of the hire car – with a couple of jumpers to stop it banging – and we saw him driving over the hill with this bed on the roof and he just said – thought this would be good for Bella’s place.”
The other bedroom has neutral walls and a vibrant orange carpet. Bella says it’s marigold. Either way it shows off the specially commissioned pieces from her collections rather well. The wardrobes are filled with her knitwear, the chairs with her cushions and the tables with her candles. There are even specially commissioned rugs on the walls. It’s all for sale with the flat although you can purchase without if you wish.
Upstairs the flat is largely open plan with a kitchen, dining area and sitting room with a roof terrace and balcony on either side. There is a small snug off to one side set behind a heavy beaded curtain. This is the smallest room (literally – it’s much more compact than the generously-sized bathrooms) and has the biggest television I have possibly ever seen. It also has a cork wall, which is good for acoustics.
Bella credits Maria with this idea. “She has done this a couple of times. There was a room that wasn’t working in another project so she just cut it in half and made a tv room and it worked so much better like that.”
Both agree that a tv room should actually be small and intimate with a big screen. “It’s a bit more porn that way,” says Bella.
And there we go again. It’s a theme that comes back with each room. Although they do also talk about referencing the seventies for this project because that was when they watched the most television – not porn necessarily – they were children – but certainly that does seem to be the cultural reference of the period.
“We didn’t want to be slavish to the building but we wanted to think about television and what it meant to us,” says Maria. And that was also something the developers were keen on. There are 400 apartments in television centre and everyone was keen to move away from the developers’ classic greige and marble.
Mind there is marble. And it’s, in my book, pretty much the star of the show. Instead of a row of book matched marble tiles, the architects have created pillars of fluted marble columns for all the bathrooms and the kitchen splashback. And also the wonderful kitchen island. It’s also echoed in the cream wool curtains in each bedrooms, which I have to point out are totally necessary for privacy reasons – the apartments on either side are not that far away.
This, then, is why the pair chose this flat to renovate. The columns are reminiscent of Bella’s shop. And, of course, it calls to mind the corduroy on the sofa in the “porn” tv room and the daybed downstairs.
So that’s it. Corduroy is the new velvet – and while you might have read that here first I didn’t say it first – that was Claudia Baillie who had a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago.
But we’re not finished with the seventies yet. That sofa and chairs in the sitting room, which are large and comfortable and hmm yes either a bit Bond or a bit porn. Well, says Maria: “They are brilliant for dancing on. The wide arms – not for resting a gin and tonic – but for dancing.”
They wanted to create something British and fun with a sense of heritage and they totally have. Now what do you think and who’s buying?
All images by Michael Sinclair.