Chris Clarke - Deputy Creative Director at The Guardian - and partner Isobel, a cake designer, saw the potential in the rundown building that would become their home the moment they stepped over the threshold. Beyond the burnt-out sockets, filthy carpets and the fact that it had been messily carved up into bedsits, they saw a future home - for the two of them in the upstairs floors, while the lower levels would become a flat for Chris’s sister and brother-in-law. Two years after they began their renovation project, we took a tour of the couple’s passion project - a welcoming space full of artistic details and oodles of personality.
“Wherever you go in the house you're sure to see an object with a face."
Isobel says,“I always like a lot of ‘stuff’ because I really like to make somewhere homely. My dad was in the army so we used to move every two years. Every new house that we went to, Mum used to go first and fill it with things, so we’d move there and feel like it was home. Everywhere I go I take a lot of things; I think I got that from her. A lot of the pieces have come from friends who are artists. Our friend Hattie Newman did the cut-out. It was actually for a friend and I just fell in love with it, so she gave me this one for my birthday. She mainly does sets for advertising.”
Chris says, “My work as a creative director has filtered through how I approached the house, more in terms of the design principles I align myself with.
I’m into utilitarian stuff, and referencing Bauhaus, with its form and function being pure and clean, that’s informed my decisions about a lot of things and also the colour schemes.”
Isobel says, “We saw the cork flooring at 2 Willow Road in Hampstead [a National Trust property] and really liked it. We watched a video of people putting it in and thought it looked so easy, we couldn’t wait to have a go. Two days into laying it and I was in tears - it’s a nightmare when your floor isn’t completely straight and the walls are wonky."
Chris says, “What we got from a lot of art galleries is that you paint a room a very neutral grey - it’s a trick in photo editing as well - it means that the colours bounce off it. You always want the ‘things’ to be the brightest pieces in the room.”
Chris says, “The best decorating advice I had came from my father, who told me early on to make it 'eyeable' - pleasing to the eye. In both our jobs we strive for perfection, which really can't be the case when working with materials that won't allow it, in a house that isn't straight.”
Chris says, “The tiles were supposed to be put in house-brick style, but we got home from work one day and the builder had done them like this. But we actually really like them.”
Isobel says, “I have a lot of bowls and plates and things that I’ve collected - my mum and dad have a place in southern Italy and I’ve got the most beautiful speckled bowls from there. I never want to put them away in a cupboard, so we went for the open shelves. They make me smile and think about where I got them from..”
Chris says, “The neon light was a 30th birthday present from my oldest friend, Alex. We grew up together in Torbay - the English Riviera. The palm tree neon is a reference to that.”
Chris says, “We do entertain quite a lot. During the winter, the kitchen works best for us, but we all gravitate back to the lounge to listen to records or congregate around the piano.”
Isobel says, “I love the rise and fall lamp over the dining table. We had a red one when I was little and I used to pull it up and down. We kind of made our own one first with a wire and and a white enamel factory shade with a hook in the ceiling, so when we saw this we thought it was a perfect replacement.”
Isobel says, “The grey paint is called Callisto by Valspar. It’s a nice shade as it makes all the colours pop. Initially it was white in here and it felt quite cold. When we first painted it grey, it was in the summer, and we were like, ‘what have we done?!’ But then as you live with it, you see it change throughout the day in the different light, and it somehow becomes less dark.”
Chris says, “Even our cats Frida and Oskar are grey. We love colour, but through objects and artwork. Colours bounce off grey, drawing your eye into the pieces.”
Chris says, “Our front door was our biggest indulgence. It’s the first thing you see when you enter the home and a lovely thing to invite you back after a long day.”
Article written by: Ellen Kirkpatrick
Photography by: Ben Anders