I have been dying to show you these images and tell you about this wonderful project I have been working on but I had to wait until the various press outlets had covered it. Now that they all have done that I’m free to share and I’m so excited to tell you all about it.
I was invited to work on this iconic (I don’t use that word lightly) London building a little over a year ago by Obbard who asked if I would consult on the concept, the colours and the look and feel of the apartments, which, at the time I first visited were run down and empty. Obbard had already redesigned the layouts to create five lateral apartments from what used to be a collection of small pieds a terre built for gentlemen to use when they came up to town to visit clubs or entertain women who possibly weren’t their wives. The Grade II listed building now belongs to the wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd and we all immediately agreed that we wanted to develop the apartments in a high end, sustainable and eco-conscious way, as far as was possible, for what was to become a collection of rental flats.
Obespoke, the in-house design team of Obbard, had already worked on the bathrooms, kitchens and flooring by the time I came on board and my first job was to come up with the look and feel for the bedrooms and living spaces. I put together a colour scheme and proposed that as far as possible the furniture should be eco-friendly and/or vintage.
In addition to specifying Vita, the eco sofa I designed in collaboration with Love Your Home, we were also able to visit the Berry Bros & Rudd archive from where we were allowed to choose furniture and artwork from their vast collection. This includes a letter from The White Star Line (dated April 16th 1912) addressed to the company informing them of the loss of a shipment which was on the Titanic. In the bathroom of the penthouse we framed original, handwritten drinks recipes and we were also given permission to use an original hand-drawn plan of the tea clipper ship ‘Cutty Sark’: the inspiration behind the original ‘Cutty Sark’ whisky which was developed by Berry Bros. & Rudd in 1923.
Many of the pieces we found needed restoring and mending but using pieces like this not only meant that each apartment is different, it ties the history of the landlords into the building and allows the continuation of that story.
As well as the BBR archive we also spent hours scrolling websites and apps in search of the perfect pieces of furniture. We bought pieces from Narchie, which I have written about before, from Vinterior and eBay as well as using companies like The Haines Collection (listen out for Jules Haines on the podcast soon) for leftover fabric for cushions, paint from Graphenstone and beds from The Cornish Bed Company, with mattresses from Natural Mat.
For Obbard it was a very different experience as they are used to big developments where they can order 17 lights in one go and move onto the side tables. Here it was about snapping up three lamps when they saw them and then having to look for some more that would work with what we had already sourced. It meant we had to keep the design very fluid as we didn’t always manage to get what we wanted when we weren’t quick enough off the mark. Patti and Jane, from Obbard, also got used to me rushing in and screeching: “Where did that come from?” whenever I saw a new piece of furniture. We found tired chairs that needed reupholstering, tables we could respray in different colours and lamps that we were able to rewire and clean.
On the day of the photo shoot having decided we didn’t have the right lamps for a side table, Patti took a diversion to a charity shop and picked up the perfect pair for £40.
As befits rental flats we couldn’t go too extreme on the colours. The Italian made storage units for the dressing rooms had already been commissioned by the time I arrived, but I was able to choose the colours for the doors. In the first floor master suite I chose a pale pink for the walls running from bathroom through to bedroom with chocolate coloured storage and then used a Tori Murphy fabric for the headboards.
The chairs, picked up from a vintage site, were reupholstered to suit the colour scheme, alongside vintage lights and artwork from the Berry Bros collection. We decided to go with a classic black and white tile in the showers and bathrooms as a nod to the building’s Victorian roots and picked the tiles to go with the main colours of each apartment. So in the first floor there is a Barolo red ceiling in one bedroom, which is similar to the tiles in the master bedroom shower. This was one of the many red threads that run throughout the development.
One clever design trick for which I can take no credit is in the bathroom below. Patti Patrick, head of design and development for Obbard, knew the bathroom would be at the end of a corridor from the bedroom and dressing room and have no door. She added a free-standing bath but created two cubicles – one for the loo and one for the shower. You can also see how the crittal-style glass doors are reeded in the middle for privacy but the panes top and bottom are clear. The loo is also wall-mounted so you see less of it when the door is closed. If you have a big bathroom, or an en-suite this is definitely one to steal.
Above you can see the bedroom at the other end of the corridor. The building is listed but it also needed all the modern appliances such as air conditioning, which a high end renter expects as well as wine fridges for each apartment. Berry Bros are also offering renters a special wine concierge service so if you’re having a night in with scrambled eggs you can ask for suggestions as well as if you are hosting a fancy dinner party.
Below is the dressing table or small desk at the end of the bed. This apartment looks over St James Palace so it’s a cool spot for sitting during the day and watching the world, and its kings, go by. The windows, which could not be replaced but needed a layer of secondary glazing fitted inside, have electric blinds for privacy and we dressed them with organic linen curtains to soften the look.
I knew the decor would have to be broadly neutral as the flats are to be rented out, but since the ceilings are so high I managed to persuade Obbard that we could go for a dramatic ceiling in one of the three bedrooms of each apartment. So below is the green with its green accessories on the bed. I will tell you more about the exact colours in due course.
This room below has a gorgeous vaulted ceiling so I picked a lovely sunny yellow for in here while below I found a deep red wine colour which felt fitting given the landlords.
I felt it gave each room just enough personality without swamping the space and making prospective tenants feel it was too much. Anne Ashworth, the property and finance writer formerly of The Times, wrote: “”Seldom when visiting any type of upmarket housing scheme have I heard the words ‘retrieved or repurposed’ used quite so often. The rooms are carefully curated to ensure that each thing, whatever its source or age, seems destined to be together. Quiet luxe is difficult to pull off but the effort is worth it. ”
Anne understood exactly what we have tried to achieve and I’m delighted by her words in The London Magazine.
The top floor has been given over to the penthouse, which has a different feel. Unlike classic penthouses, which seem to be all glass and steel, this is under the eaves with access to a roof terrace overlooking St James Palace.
The lamps on the hall table below were sitting dusty and neglected on a window sill on my first visit. They had been used on desks during a period when the building was used for as offices. This became the starting point for the design. They were rescued, cleaned up, rewired and given new shades and now take pride of place on a vintage marble topped table in the entry of the first floor.
Here are Patti and I ready for our close-up, as the saying goes. Although the project took longer than Patti envisaged we have both really enjoyed it and plan to work together again. I will, of course, keep you posted. I will revisit the apartments in more detail as there’s much more to talk about (including the paint) and the hidden room we found in the turret which has been turned into a games room.
You can see it here – the triangle roof top – the builders fell through a wall when renovating that floor and discovered a space that makes the perfect late night games room.
As I write three of the five apartments have been rented so it will be a long time before I can get back in to visit but I hope you have enjoyed this tour. All the photographs were taken by the brilliant Mark Anthony Fox, who shot the original Mad House a couple of years ago.
For all paint colours see picture captions. All paint by Graphenstone: These are special colours and aren’t listed on the main website. You can email [email protected] to order samples and pots or ring 01379 772940.
Off white – Bougie
Yellow – Lamplight
Wine – Barolo
Pink – Powder Jar