Living with museum-quality art in a London town house
Vera Farrants is at pains not to offend the previous owners of her flat, whom she knows and likes. All the same, it is clear that she wasn't impressed with their taste. "I don't want anything nasty said about them, but she had very different ideas compared to what I think."
The large double-height apartment is in an Edwardian town house on Great Portland Street, Westminster, London. Vera, who runs an interior design business, and her husband, Ronald, had lived in Richmond for 25 years but after their children grew up and their four dogs passed away, they decided that it was time to move into town. They acquired the Portland Street property in 2009.
Vera inherited an interior that was full of bright colours - red, pink and green paint and wallpaper - and stairs that were made of dark wood. The lighting was "almost zero", she recalls, with centre lights everywhere. The downstairs area had just bare bulbs and surface lighting.
"It's clear that she had thought about parts of it and wanted to make it homely, but I found it nondescript. Of course, these are all subjective judgements," Vera says.
After designing law offices for many years, Vera had a clear sense of what she wanted in her own home - something "diametrically opposed" to the previous owner's design: a sense of lightness, openness and breadth.
She drew back a dividing wall that was obscuring the upstairs dining area to create more flow between the living and eating areas. Then she installed a false ceiling in the living room to improve the shape of the room.
Downstairs, she transformed the dark, wooden staircase into an open, wide-treaded glass and travertine marble statement piece, which leads to a ceramic-tiled room. She wanted to make use of the unusually wide four-by-six-metre hall at the foot of the stairs, which let in plenty of light even though it was underground.
"When it came to designing the staircase and downstairs hall, I was inspired by the work of the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa. If you go to his Querini Stampalia museum in Venice, you can see how I paid tribute to his wide, flowing spaces. My style is more European than English."
Throughout the flat, Vera replaced the existing deep colours with whites and greys, against which she could display the wide range of arts and crafts pieces that she and Ronald had picked up during their travels around the world.
These wide and varied elements give visitors the sense of being in a very personal museum devoted to the love of colour. Objects range from the extremely precious - a large, 1780 mantel clock at the centre of the living room - to the personal - tapestries woven by Vera's mother and sketches and paintings by Ronald's father, an architect who was killed during the Second World War. "Whenever he found a particularly nice piece of wood, he used to make something for me," Vera says.
In between, there are large canvases, including one in the dining room depicting the Grand Canyon by the English artist Penny Wood, a blue 1930s balloon vase in the downstairs hall that was picked up in a sale, and a quilt from Uzbekistan in the spare room.
"It's a house for people who like art and know what they are looking at," she says, admitting that it's not "everyone's scene".
Vera is also aware of the design implications of each piece, and has created zones in which the tones harmonise. The blue balloon vase sits alongside other blue pieces, including Japanese vases, Islamic plates and a contemporary Carrera marble statue called Grace by the sculptor Paul Vanston. The colour is picked up in a rug on the floor, softened by a rug on the wall bought in Jaipur and carried through to the contemporary velvet upholstery on a 19th-century chair.
For the master bedroom, Vera kept things neutral. "Some people would point to it as an example of me being a winter person, but by having it monochrome you can change the colours of the cushions throughout the year. The bed is made by an Italian family and is beautifully made. The drawers are lined in tulip wood."
Meanwhile, Vera's dressing room / spare room is all bright reds and oranges, from the quilt to a Burmese peasant's dress to the more contemporary Kenzo fabric used to reupholster a pair of antique armchairs.
Throughout the house, innovative lighting from the Italian lighting designer Viabizzuno is its own form of art, from sculptural brackets that round corners or sit on walls, to square lamps that beam light on to the ceiling and intricate recessed ceiling lamps. "All of us have things that we love that we have picked up over the years," Vera says. "Well, why not display them and light them properly?"
Published: April 26, 2012 04:00 AM