The very opposite of try-hard or ostentatious, that’s designer Bella Freud’s London pad …
“I was born on Ladbroke Grove in North Kensington and I have been in this part of London for most of my life, not counting a blip in the 1980s when I moved east. When I was growing up, I never felt that we had a place of our own. My mother and I did not live with my father, and I always seemed to be in other people’s houses. During my teenage years, I went to fashion school and worked for Vivienne Westwood in her shop, before creating my own label.
I started with knitwear and accessories and have never stopped. I have always shopped around Portobello Road where there is a good clothes and antiques market on Fridays. I would often go down there ‘just looking’. Sadly, most of the vintage shops along the Golborne Road have long since gone, but what is lovely is that the stall-holders all recognise me because I am a regular. There is such a great sense of community in London.
My now ex-husband, James, and I discovered this building through a connection with the original owners, casting director Camilla Arthur and Mark Lebon, and we bought the flat above this one some years ago. It was quiet, tumbling down and needed a lot of work; James still lives upstairs. I eventually bought this site out the back, which is where the interior designer Willie Nickerson used to live. It was literally all asbestos! We had to demolish everything and then design what is fundamentally a landlocked site from a series of makeshift studios. I turned to Maria Speake of Retrouvius for help. Maria and I work really well together – she always has great ideas and is the only interior architect I have ever collaborated with.
The main problem was the total lack of windows, as it meant we had to put in skylights, which determined how the design came together. Since the only way to get light in was from above, we put in lots of internal ‘windows’ in order to create a visual connection through the building. Maria is incredibly good with proportion and flow and suggested a kind of interior courtyard using layers of different greens to create a garden-like living area, something I would never have thought of.
I knew the design was fancier than I had first imagined but I didn’t have any other ideas at the time and the result is fantastic. What is also great is that although I am living in the centre of West London, I cannot see my neighbours and the only view I have is of the sky.
As a fashion designer, I like to think that I am good with colour. This flat slightly reminds me of a New York loft and I wanted to paint it in a kind of 1970s white instead of the Empire Grey I have been eternally obsessed with.
From the many shades of white we tried, the one that actually looked grey was the one that worked with the London light filtering in from above! The idea of home has always been a really big deal for me. This is the nicest place I have ever lived in – I am surrounded by walls, which is comforting and safe, and I have made it just how I want it. Good design can change your life!”
London Living by Simon Upton is published by Vendome Press.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY SIMON UPTON