The front door painted a beautiful shade of blue gives a clue to the predominant colour within Julie Simonsen’s house in Holland Park. “I gave the painter my favourite French linen apron in that exact same shade so he could replicate it,” says the Danish-born interior designer, whose recently renovated home, delicately coloured with shades of sea and sky, is her own blue heaven.
“I think the love of blue is a Scandinavian thing,” she says. “My house in Copenhagen is surrounded by water. The colour blue, in all its many shades, makes me feel at peace with myself, serene and happy.”
Six years ago, Simonsen was looking for her next challenge: a home in central London that she could create from scratch. Thanks to a tip-off from a local antiques dealer, she found it in a run-down, Grade II, four-storey Georgian house that needed major renovation.
Living in a cottage down the road, she set to work with the help of Studio Indigo, a west London multidisciplinary practice that offers a total refurb service.
Memories of home: Danish-born Simonsen says shades of sea and sky remind her of Copenhagen (Clive Nichols)
“I knew this was going to be a big project, and Studio Indigo has everybody from architects to specialist painters,” says Simonsen. “The space was all there in the house but it had to be reconfigured, so we gutted the whole place. The side wall was collapsing and had to be rebuilt and the kitchen was a tiny galley, completely inadequate. Also, the entire lower level had been cut off and made into a flat that could only be accessed from outside.”
Planning permission took two years. The renovation itself, which involved adding an extension and an internal staircase to link the downstairs flat to the rest of the house, as well as precision details such as copying the decaying shutters and replicating original cornicing, took over a year.
It was more than worth the wait. With softly shimmering azure walls of polished plaster that extend through the stairwell right through to the top floor, even the narrow hallway breathes light and vibrancy, and together with the faux-marbled console table, filched from a Swedish castle and craftily set on stilettos to hide the wall radiator, sets Simonsen’s unique decorating style.
The extension, given an urban edge with the original exterior wall left as bare brick, has a glazed ceiling and glass doors that lead directly to the garden, and give Simonsen, she says, a sense of being outdoors when she is sitting at the breakfast table.
Urban edge: the extension with the original bare brick exterior wall (Clive Nichols)
The spacious kitchen alongside is kitted out in ready-to-go units from kitchen company Laurence Pidgeon. “By coincidence, they were in a lovely grey-blue colour,” says Simonsen, who splashed out on a La Cornue oven in another lovely shade of blue, although she insists she bought it primarily for function.
Her Scandinavian heritage shows in her choice of pale blonde wood on the floors: extra long and wide timbers of Douglas fir. “They take a bit of looking after,” says Simonsen. “You need to wash them with special white soap. Weekends might find me scrubbing on my hands and knees.”
The basement level is now a self-contained flat with outside steps that lead up to the garden, and makes a spacious bolt hole for Simonsen’s son when he is home from uni. With no doors to enclose, the ground floor flows easily from breakfast room to living room, and has a work station in between of a tall Swedish bureau that Simonsen fell in love with at Chelsea’s Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair.
In the living room, she retained one of the two original fireplaces and gave it a simple sandstone surround. A vintage leather trunk that her mother passed on to her serves as a central coffee table, and the compact but extra-deep sofa, upholstered in pale powder blue linen, she found at new London decor shop Caravane.
Home office: a roomy Swedish bureau makes the ideal workstation (Clive Nichols)
The two pretty-as-a-picture bedrooms, with their adjoining bathrooms, each took their decorating lead from two pictures. The soft shade of powder blue in the main bedroom was driven by the painting of a little boy blue playing a flute, found at the flea market in Nice, that now hangs over the bed, while a painting of a girl in a pink silk dress that Simonsen found at a Parisian antiques shop dictated the colour of the guest room. “You can go really wrong with pink,” she says, “but if it’s right, it can be lovely.” The chosen wallpaper of faded flowers from Colefax & Fowler was happily available in both shades and so were the outsize tubular resin handles on the built-in wardrobes that bring the rooms bang up to the present moment.
A metalwork chandelier hangs in the palatial pink bathroom, which has a marble floor and an entire wall of antiqued glass mirror that, says Simonsen, has the unexpected bonus of not needing a clean every five minutes.
One of Simonsen’s equally personal projects is doing up a property just a mile away that she recently purchased. “I want to make it into a small hotel with the idea that everything that is on show, all the furniture, everything the guests can see, they can buy. It’s my way of linking in with the local shops in the area, so that we all benefit.” Call it blue-sky thinking.
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