Househunter: Bella Freud and Retrouvius Decorate A Show Flat at Television Centre

9th November 2018

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.

bbc television centre image by Kate Watson-Smyth

bbc television centre image by Kate Watson-Smyth

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.


You Might Also Like


  • Reply Elaine Gwynne-Thomas 11th November 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Horrible in lts od ways, it’s like a joke 🙁

  • Reply Zoe 11th November 2018 at 10:28 am

    We had those dining room chairs as children. Possibly the most uncomfortable things in the world.
    I guess this flat would work as a TV location but I think it would give you a massive headache if you lived there. I find it all rather claustrophobic.

  • Reply Sarah 10th November 2018 at 8:51 pm

    These porn references are vile. How unbelievably insensitive. I’m all for provoking a reaction through design but really? Who thought it was ok to combine porn with a building and organisation that subjected so many to horrific sexual abuse?

  • Reply Home Arise 10th November 2018 at 8:50 pm

    The kitchen is so awesome! What is the flooring?

  • Reply [email protected] 10th November 2018 at 5:25 pm

    Always look forward to your Fantasy Friday posts. But these two obviously talented ladies appear to have been living A fantasy life for too long. Over themed. Extremely insensitive to the victims of the BBC and the porn industry. Crass. And typifies the sad social cleansing of our capital. Uncomfortable reading actually. Never thought I’d say that about your writing Kate……loving the pod casts though.

    It’s a no from South Wales.

  • Reply Laura 10th November 2018 at 9:41 am

    Not since the velvet fringed lamp has the comments section looked like this! But dare I venture that some interesting comparisons can be drawn. Perhaps what was “wrong” with the lamp is what reads as “wrong” to people here. Too much of the same theme concentrated in one place, perhaps.

  • Reply Antonella 10th November 2018 at 9:05 am

    Kitchen backsplash: any more details?

  • Reply Rebecca Vann 10th November 2018 at 12:01 am

    Oh dear, this makes me feel nauseous. Love Bella’s clothes so was excited to see the renovation. It is very claustrophobic cold and agree with everyone else on the ‘porn’ connection, creepy and bizarre.

  • Reply Vanessa 9th November 2018 at 11:41 pm

    The entire flat looks stolen from the 1974 edition of Terence Conran’s House Book, which i guess may have been the intention, but really, the lounge/dining room could actually be one of his photos! Definitely do not like. Homage is all very well, but where is the originality in this?

  • Reply hng23 9th November 2018 at 9:58 pm

    So. Much. Ugly.

  • Reply Mary 9th November 2018 at 5:10 pm

    It’s ok but feels dreary to me. The only thing I love is the dark bedspread with the dog illustration. Any information on that?

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 11th November 2018 at 4:14 pm

      It will be one of Bella’s designs which you can find on her website.

  • Reply sue luckin 9th November 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Are they serious?? Maybe the ‘porn’ references are designed to deflect from the awfulness of the design. I agree with everyone’s negative comments.

  • Reply Kim 9th November 2018 at 4:10 pm

    Interesting tour but I find this place pretty souless and to be honest kinda cheesy. The red bedroom gives me a headache just looking at it. And are we done already with the faux leopard skin print? As for your question, Kate “who’s buying?” Who indeed? I’m guessing it’s geared toward a foreign business person (or royalty or celebrity) who needs a place to doss and entertain while in London. Otherwise it’s hard to imagine someone with no history or stuff of their own who would want this for their actual home.

  • Reply Jade 9th November 2018 at 3:36 pm

    What an interesting place. I found it funny about the statement of “a slight twist of porn” but I get it after seeing the photos!

  • Reply Jade 9th November 2018 at 11:49 am

    I don’t even have much to say about the decoration but the constant use of ‘porn’ as a theme makes me feel a bit sick. Surely most educated people are aware of the exploitative nature of the porn industry by now? The ‘hilarious’ way it is casually thrown in makes me cringe. It sounds like something a teenager would say in an attempt at edginess.

  • Reply Charlotte Døssing 9th November 2018 at 11:45 am

    Not to my taste. Not sure I would be comfortable in any of the rooms…
    I had a great childhood in the 70s but is not a fan of the style or colours.
    Agree with others that putting together words like ‘bbc’, ‘70s’ and ‘porn’ bring up horrendous images and thoughts and it seems quite insensitive and inappropriate.

  • Reply Nicola P 9th November 2018 at 9:55 am

    As they say in US, I’m cosigning Elaine’s comment!
    While the apartment is beautifully finished, it’s too rooted in the 1970s to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved to see some white/light rooms in a space before. The only spaces that I like are the bathroom and the kitchen/dining room.

  • Reply Gerry Rust 9th November 2018 at 9:46 am

    I had to do a double take when I got to the last picture, it looked so much like an illustration from an old interiors book (the kind you sometimes see in charity shops). I guess this could be classed as a result for the designers, for me not so much… However I don’t think this penthouse is meant to appeal to people like me, and I’m not just talking about the price here! As for the ‘porn’ theme, I doubt if it’s nearly tasteless or bling enough to qualify – not that I am a connoisseur of seventies porn of course 😀 On a more serious note I do agree with Elaine that to be so flippant about an industry that is anything but frivolous and was particularly exploitative in the 70s makes me uncomfortable.

  • Reply Julia 9th November 2018 at 9:33 am

    Nope, not for me. I remember those dining chairs being in the Habitat catalogue in the 70s. (As a child, I used to love it when my dad brought the latest Habitat catalogue home, I’ve loved interior design since then.) Whilst I do quite like those dining chairs, I’m not a fan of 70s interior design.
    Also, 400 flats, bet there aren’t any that are properly affordable. As an ex Londoner (I grew up in Earlsfield) it makes me sad to see what’s happening there with the social cleansing.

  • Reply Amanda 9th November 2018 at 9:20 am

    If I was in charge of their PR I would be advising them to drop the porn referencing like a tonne of hot bricks. Given the inescapable link between Jimmy Saville and the BBC (at its height during the 70’s) I think it is not only inappropriate but insensitive to all those who were affected by it.

  • Reply Gill 9th November 2018 at 9:15 am

    Not for me either. How odd to put a porn spin on a building where harassment and worse took place on young girls by the likes of Jimmy Saville etc.

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 11th November 2018 at 4:12 pm

      As I said below (or it might be above – not sure how this show up on the feed) I think it was more of a reference to a style rather than a deliberate theme but I have accepted all the comments in the spirit of allowing everyone their point of view on here.

  • Reply Elaine Fraser 9th November 2018 at 8:42 am

    Sorry but really not impressed with the ‘porn’ theme. In fact a real turn off! An industry where women are ritually humiliated, treated like objects and worse wouldn’t be my choice for inspiration on creating a home with ‘soul’.

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 11th November 2018 at 4:10 pm

      It’s a fair point and this certainly touched a nerve this week. I reported what I found there and I think that perhaps they were making a casual comment on a decorating idea rather than trying to create a theme.

      • Reply Elaine Fraser 11th November 2018 at 6:30 pm

        Out of 400 flats this one is the ‘star of the show’. The word ‘porn’ appears throughout. There are knickers…tiny knickers .., the designers own pants left on a bed ….what’s that all about? Who is this aimed at? You mention the need for heavy curtains in bathrooms for privacy, sofas and chairs that are ‘a bit porn’ for dancing on etc etc I’m sorry but looks like a deliberate theme to me.

  • Reply Beverley 9th November 2018 at 8:40 am

    The 70’s – a design era I’d hoped never to revisit. The apartment is completely hideous. Orange carpet – really just no.

  • Reply Heather Dyer 9th November 2018 at 8:33 am

    Sorry meant to say I second Claire’s comments
    Too retro for me and could never sleep in an all red
    Bedroom but maybe that’s the point!!!

  • Reply Jane 9th November 2018 at 8:32 am

    Nah, I’ll keep my millions in my pocket this week. The bathroom makes a nice photo, and I do like the idea of the stripes of mirror in the marigold carpet room, but apart from those I’m not thrilled.

  • Reply Lesley Keir 9th November 2018 at 8:28 am

    Apart from the knock-out fabric wardrobe doors this place is souless. The hessian walls and the cork walls are great 70s choices but they call out for large, atmospheric and individual art. The framed “pictures” look far too polite as do the cushions. the dining room chairs look cheap. It’s as if they were scared to let go. Maybe they experienced a repressed 70s.

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 11th November 2018 at 4:07 pm

      The wardrobe doors are gorgeous and I like the kitchen very much too but I understand what you mean.

  • Reply Claire 9th November 2018 at 8:23 am

    Hmm. It’s beautifully done, but I’m not sure I could live there. It’s a bit too much of a time capsule. I think I’d feel like I was on a film set every day.

  • Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: