Returning the dignity to a historic Georgian house in London proved no mean feat for British architect William Smalley and interior designer Sophie Ashby. After its various former incarnations, from a rooming house filled with studios to a bland ’90s redevelopment (where “all the character had been taken out of it,” Smalley says), the six-story stucco-front terrace house was in much need of love and appreciation. Smalley’s aim was to meticulously restore the scale and proportion of the building’s original bones, now owned by a young couple—one investor-entrepreneur and a fashion executive who have recently welcomed a baby girl—so that it could evolve effortlessly as the family grew.
A major flood before the couple began building proved a blessing rather than a curse, surprisingly. The fact that so much, from furniture to floors, had been destroyed by water pouring down through the walls from a tank on the top floor, afforded Smalley and the owners the opportunity to start fresh. They removed outdated contemporary details such as the ruined walnut floors previously installed by the developer and instead focused on “revealing and reinforcing the scale of the rooms,” Smalley explains. “We wanted it to have the feeling of a palazzo.” Ceilings and walls were restored using traditional lathe and plaster and then limewashed—“lending an incredible weight and depth to the house that has stopped it feeling flimsy,” he says. Nearby, cornices were recast from what remained of the original. Doors warped by water were exactly matched, skirtings replaced, and fireplaces in the kitchen and dining room—as evidenced by old photography of the original house—reinstated.
Structurally, permission was granted to change the openings between the kitchen and the dining room and also between the first-floor drawing rooms “to stop them feeling so pinched and to flow better,” the architect explains. On the upper floors, where the building’s bones were still sound, only one internal bathroom and a central wardrobe dividing the primary bedroom were removed. “We tried to reveal big spaces which could take big works of art and furniture, and to create long views from front to back on every floor to lend clarity to each space,” Smalley says.
With the house’s architectural soul returned, Ashby then worked with the couple to curate a dynamic collection of art, antique, and contemporary furniture pieces, as well as bespoke rugs to resonate against Smalley’s sophisticated, streamlined backdrop. The art, including both the couple’s existing pieces and those bought specifically for the house, provided a key starting point in “dictating the mood and feel of each room,” Ashby says.
“If we’d put the Kyle Weeks photographs in the drawing room as opposed to the garden room, for example, it would have become a completely different style of space,” she adds. As a starting point for the color palette, Ashby drew on the couple’s works by Los Angeles–born, Paris-based young artist Mattea Perrotta to inform the swathe of gentle hues, from silvery blues to rosy pinks, she subtly swept throughout the house.
A sense of rhythm and movement was imbued in myriad ways. Smalley deployed a wildly veined marble throughout the house—from lining doorway architraves, hearths, and bathroom floors to the kitchen worktop—to “thread the spaces together,” Smalley says. Meanwhile, Ashby combined tactile textures, such as watery moirés, shimmering velvets, sumptuous silks, and nubby jacquards, with furniture pieces fashioned from materials such as recycled glass, travertine, and polished resin. “A home should really feel comfortable as well as beautiful,” Ashby muses.
Eclectic touches lend an element of surprise: a customized snake-and-pomegranate rug, designed by Studio Shamshiri for Christopher Farr, winds its way seductively around the edges of the dressing room floor. Elsewhere, a jolt of orange enlivens the jewel-like guest bathroom (cleverly tucked away behind a door incorporated into a shelving wall of the basement cinema room). Notably, the pink showscreen intimates the glass-box works of American contemporary artist Larry Bell.
Ashby also favored mixing different silhouettes of furniture, like the sharp geometry of an Utrecht chair by Cassina and the rusticity of midcentury rattan with the soft voluptuousness of an Arflex Marenco sofa, to “consciously create contrast,” she explains. “A dynamism between the shapes of things allows them to play off each other, and it makes each piece sing a bit more,” she enthuses.
“We’ve done the house proud,” Smalley concludes. “When I walk in, I can feel the house’s gratitude because we’ve not only given it back its true identity, but also moved it on for future generations.” Ashby agrees. “There’s something peaceful and calming about being in a historic property which has been made to feel so contemporary and fresh.”