Notes from a Home Critic: Travels in Design - Anything Goes
From the importance of nature and time to colour and light, here's a glimpse into our home critic's design journey through London's homes.
Being able to travel and stay in beautifully designed homes is an enriching experience. It’s impossible to know when travel might become a regular experience for any of us again. Rooted to our homes for now, it has perhaps never been more clear just what a well designed space or a great travel experience can add to our lives. I feel lucky to have a mind stuffed full of the memories of wonderful experiences from all the homes I have visited. There are homes that have lingered in my memory long after I’ve visited them. Homes I can crawl back into in my imagination, and still feel that elusive sensation that they create.
Each city has its own character and it’s own identity, shaped by so many things. Although I only test homes in London, I am constantly amazed by the huge variety of great design I encounter. Stepping through the front door of yet another white stucco fronted townhouse is never a repetitive experience. Sometimes, it leaves me feeling a bit like I’m Marco Polo in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities - travelling the world without leaving my home city. So let me tell you a few stories from my journeys in design through some of London’s best homes….
Homes & History - Conversations through time
Old doesn’t have to mean old fashioned. But old can definitely bring a feeling of stories and conversations into homes. There are homes that have modern interiors, riffing off the history of their architectural shells - like an industrial chic interior in an old dairy barn. And then there are homes with antiques and vintage pieces, inherited from family or collected, that expand the sense of time from the present moment and invite other times and places to join in.
I took a trip around the world condensed into a single home. London now the resting point in a lifetime of travels for its owners - a place that they can finally unpack and lay out the treasures they’ve been collecting from vintage markets all over the world for so long. All now beautifully arranged on a white backdrop, creating a welcoming atmosphere of curiosity and a stimulating celebration of travel and conversation.
And there was a rare special home I visited - like a beautifully preserved museum of design. The owner was a prolific interior designer, and this was her home. Designed 25 years ago, it remains in immaculate condition and is a celebration of a life’s work and a moment in time. There are collections - of books, shells and Chinese cork dioramas. Walking around, you are both absorbing the inspirations for her work whilst experiencing the outcome of her creations at the same time. And the host is a current designer, her subtle touches added to keep the conversation going, to keep it living. It’s a step away from the ordinary, a more subtle delight to experience.
Homes & The Sky - Light takes centre stage
It seems obvious to say that a desire for light has been the driving inspiration for a renovation. But I’m always fascinated by how unique and specific to each home that interpretation is. There’s a lot of white walls in these homes. Colour, objects and furniture take on a supporting role to that one single feature of light. In these homes, the overwhelming feeling is of light and space made almost tangible.
Raising ceiling heights, turning walls to glass or knocking them down altogether - every choice made is about letting light into the space. I’ve visited a penthouse that feels like you’re perched on a cloud in the sky. And a home with uninterrupted lines of site running from the front door, through the ground floor and out to the garden, so you feel the rare sense of a melting horizon line in the city. And with raised ceilings, enclosed spaces feel breath-taking in their scale, almost verging on the sense of being in a large public building rather than just a house. But there really isn’t anything ‘just’ about these homes.
Homes & Youth - The colour of play
Chromophobia seems to be a very real thing when it comes to design. Many homes stick to a neutral palette, with an occasional or tentative touch of colour. But then there are homes that are masters of colour. They understand the energy each colour can bring and how they can converse with each other. More than that though, they are confidently expressing all this and engaging you in their playful conversations. There’s a sense of unashamedly youthful abandon vibrating through these homes. More often than not the kids’ bedrooms are wonders of design and playful imagination too - indoor tents and swings, blackboard painted walls with scribbles galore, dolls house bunkbeds (and a door in the skirting board for Mr Mouse too).
Homes & Contemplation - One step from nature
There are homes that are architectural, that feel like sculpted space. In London, I see very few newly built architectural wonders. So it’s mostly homes in older buildings that have been stripped back to their bare bones. Consideration is given to every wall, tap and ceramic mug. Each is placed with purpose, for a specific reason, and in considered relation to everything else. These homes have an idea of a way of living embedded into their walls. The materials tell the story - there are no excess frills here - and they are crafted with the trace of their route from nature to home still lingering. Like furniture and worktops from the wood of a single, locally felled tree. And any colour added, like the copper or rust of a velvet sofa, feels like it’s grown out of natural materials, uninterrupted. These homes exude a quiet sense of calm and order, and a sense of contemplation akin to being in nature.