We’re visiting a very distinctive first floor flat in London’s historic Clerkenwell district today to see a uniquely styled property that’s straight out of the vintage pages of Harper’s Bazaar.
Clerkenwell is one of the oldest parts of central London and has at times played host to London’s watchmakers and repairers industry, the medieval Mystery Plays, an order of Monastic Knights who gave medical aid during the crusades and, being beyond the city walls, was once notorious for its brothels and alehouses, but has been a very sought after residential area since loft and warehouse living got underway in the 1980s. It’s also been home to London’s first Italian community, Fabric nightclub, some world-class restaurants (Moro, St John), Sadler’s Wells and a host of coffee shops, media companies, architects and designers.
I want this place to look like a garden, but a garden in hell
The rich history and global connections of Clerkenwell are reflected in today’s home tour in a flat which pays homage to Diana Vreeland, noted columnist and editor of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Vreeland was behind Jackie Kennedy’s style when JFK took office, worked closely with Richard Avedon and regularly hosted Cecil Beaton and Cole Porter at parties she threw. Growing up amongst the rich, famous and aristocratic, Vreeland was said to have asked for an apartment she moved to in 1955 to be decorated exclusively in red, saying “I want this place to look like a garden, but a garden in hell’.
In the second of our features with Sarah Thomas Interiors, Sarah tells us how the redesign came about.
IDEALIST: Tell us more about the flat and the inspiration behind the scheme.
Sarah: My client recently moved into this first floor flat in Clerkenwell which required complete redecoration. We were working with a few key pieces of vintage furniture that she had already acquired, along with some pink velvet bespoke curtains she had commissioned previously that ran the length of the living and dining room areas. We collaborated to create an eclectic, glamorous, chintzy look using these pieces as our starting point. We worked on a lot of mood boards ideas together before we started work and finally decided on a look that was inspired by the great Diana Vreeland’s interiors. This project had a healthy budget, so really allowed for a lot of creativity and detail. My client was a big fan of animal prints and florals, so this was a great brief: I could get really creative with wallpapers and fabrics to create something really special.
IDEALIST: What was the design brief?
Sarah: There was a large open plan living room that was partly divided by a partition wall to the dining area, so we needed to design a scheme that would flow from room to room but still allow for individual looks. My client had already bought a B&B Italia bed which set the tone for the bedroom and this allowed us to elaborate on the décor with wall prints and lighting. My client is an academic and had a study area that needs to be functional, but also warm and inviting with a creative atmosphere. As well as decoration, I was asked to source artwork, taxidermy, interesting decorative objects, lighting and plants.
IDEALIST: Were there are restrictions on what you could do, since this is a flat in a historic building?
Sarah: The flat came with laminate floors and hardwood doors that we couldn’t change, so we had to work around this. I decided to use a large bespoke leopard skin rug to provide a focal point and overcome a not-great-looking floor.
IDEALIST: Where did you start with the work?
Sarah: We started by painting the main areas of the flat in a neutral Elephant’s Breath colour by Farrow & Ball. This immediately warmed up the flat and was the perfect backdrop for the rich wallpaper colours we’d chosen. We then started on the wallpapers to add some drama into the rooms. We chose a Cole & Sons palm wallpaper for the dividing wall between the living room and dining room and wrapped in both areas. The palm print really worked and added height and elegance to the rooms. A snakeskin wallpaper from Osborne & Little was chosen for the bedroom in a brown and gold which really added atmosphere and depth to the room and was a great contrast with the coral coloured credenza. The wallpaper in the study was very much inspired by Diana Vreeland’s living room wallpaper. Finally, painting the existing storage and radiators in the same red colour really gave the room a dramatic feel.
IDEALIST: How did the client deal with a total renovation?
Sarah: I was fortunate that she had to go on a six week business trip during the project as this gave me complete free reign of the flat. But she set a firm deadline for the work to be completed. I employed a team of painters and wallpaperers to get to work. I had to choose very talented tradesmen, as we were dealing with expensive materials.
IDEALIST: How did you source the interior pieces?
Sarah: Using my client’s existing red floral vintage sofa as a starting point, I sourced more vintage pieces, side tables, lots of lamps, rugs and an eclectic assortment of cushions, all with a floral or animal print theme. My client also loved birds, and I managed to find a huge taxidermy piece of 25 birds of paradise. To go with this I sourced some beautiful illustrations and paintings of other birds to hang around the taxidermy. I also sourced a large collection of corals and shells to fill a cabinet in her dining area against the backdrop of the palm wallpaper. Lighting was key in this project, so I sourced an array of vintage lamps and a huge beautiful wall light for her bedroom wall. It was really a great project for me and allowed me so much creativity, since I had the opportunity to really design and source almost every piece in her home.
IDEALIST: And how did the client react?
Sarah: My client was over the moon with the finished result: she really loved every piece and really enjoyed the collaborative process between us.
Get the Look
- Palm wallpaper: Cole & Sons
- Snakeskin bedroom wallpaper: Osborne & Little
- Chaise Longue – Atomic Antiques
- Bedroom wall light: Atomic Antiques
- Taxidermy Birds – Alexander Von Westenholz on Lily Road
- Bespoke Leopard print rug: Stark Carpets Chelsea Harbour
- Vintage leopard print screen: Criterion Auction House
- Coral Credenza: Fears & Khan
To find out more about Sarah Thomas Interiors, visit their website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Sarah is offering one hour’s free consultation to readers of The Idealist who are new clients.
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