It’s the story of many a home buyer’s journey. You’re renting. You’ve got hipster coffee shops on your doorstep and you can’t move for pop-up boutiques, craft ale breweries and great schools for your kids. But you have a dream and will trade in convenience for the chance to buy and renovate your own haven. In a dusty corner of North West London, Mallika Chaudhuri, founder of conscious fashion brand, Indoi, and her Irish architect husband, Sean Ronnie Hill, have done just that and created a striking family home.
Hill’s architectural practice, Rise, has been changing the guts of what a Victorian bay-fronted house can look like. Vast experience with the council planning department and a wealth of knowledge in juxtaposing different materials, meant for his own home, he knew just how much he could get out of their two-bedroom, ground floor apartment.
Developing a property from its bare bones gave Chaudhuri and Hill the chance to use the materials they love and, particularly from Hill’s perspective, ones he has a profound respect for. “Sean’s all about the honesty and beauty of raw materials so things like painting walls were not an option; he likes things in their most natural state,” explains Mallika. “So we did a materials board and plywood, tadelakt and clay were our must-haves.” These wall treatments did allow Chaudhuri to introduce colour, however. Hill says, “Left up to me, the place would have been quite austere. Mallika has this incredible eye for colour and worked on a scheme that could flow through each room and the flat as a whole, whilst remaining true to the materials’ innate qualities.” Chaudhuri’s lifelong love of Yves Klein Blue punctuates the flat, complemented by shades of pink and terracotta as a nod to their roof terrace in Barcelona, where they lived for ten years before returning to London. “Fifty shades of white” give depth to handmade tiles in the kitchen and laminated panels in the cabinetry, which would have otherwise remained bare-faced ply.
Five and a half months after starting work, they moved in. “We couldn’t afford the joinery and lived with breeze block walls for quite some time,” laughs Hill. Despite being disruptive, running out of money did provide unexpected benefits, giving the family time to live in the space and to realise small additions that have made it work better for them. “When you live in a flat that has neither a basement nor a loft space, you need to think of ways to house your stuff, that doesn’t encroach on the footprint of your living space, or dominate in its decorative design,” says Hill. “Planning the placement of storage in advance and having it made to our spec was the only way to go in getting the max out of every nook and cranny.” Often architect’s homes feel precious and, by their own admission, Chaudhuri and Hill would have clashed more had this been a home for them as a couple rather than as a family of four. As it is, the kids that have become the unwitting tool of compromise; their influence softening the architect’s aesthetic. For all its striking and unique angles, the space is most definitely a family home first, design statement second; a playful home that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The living room is where the family spend all their time. “We spent ten years living in Barcelona and we were massively inspired by the lightness and brightness of the city.” Huge skylights and floor to ceiling sliding doors connect the indoors with out. “Our rental in Kensal Rise was very inhibiting – the living spaces were separated and pokey and weren’t big enough to entertain in, so when we came here we felt very strongly about open plan living, but making sure the space was completely adaptable, so it could get bigger and smaller as we required it,” explains Chaudhuri. Sliding, pocket doors allow the side return extension to be entirely closed off. Chaudhuri says, “We have family and friends all over the world, so it helps to be able to create a third bedroom; but instead of it sitting empty when no-one’s staying, it returns to being part of our living space again when they’ve gone home.”
The kitchen was made bespoke from birch ply – another material Hill loves. The kitchen island is on lockable castors and further highlights the flexibility of space, “Whether we’re having a party or the kids are having a playdate, we can move the island to a nook under the oven and literally create floorspace from nothing.” The work surface looks like concrete but is actually made from porcelain and can tolerate a pan straight from the hob, proof that good looks can also be practical. The wall-mounted lighting was designed by Hill and has become his favourite feature, “We didn’t want to pierce the living room ceiling at all to avoid compromising the acoustic barrier we’d installed between here and the upstairs flat. So I had an idea for some long armed, wall-mounted lights which could pivot to illuminate different areas: the dining table, the movable island in two locations and the sofa area. We went through three metal workers and it took six months to get them made but I love them.”
On moving in, Chaudhuri and Hill couldn’t afford the joinery and saved up to do each room one by one. The floor to ceiling wardrobes in their bedroom are a vortex of storage, including bespoke drawers designed specifically for Chaudhuri’s collection of statement jewellery. The window seat is hollow and is used to store bedding for the third bedroom they can create in the side return extension. To avoid drilling holes into the bare plaster walls, Sean designed a picture rail from which they can hang their art. Chaudhuri’s influence as a textile designer is all over the flat; the bed throw is actually a “drop cloth” – the fabric used to protect a table top during block printing – from The Society for the Rehabilitation of Children in Karachi, a charity which Indoi supports.
It was daughter Freya’s love of whales that inspired the bathroom. “Ideally we would have continued the clay used in the hallway but, as it’s porous, we chose tadelakt instead and matched it as closely as we could to the darkness of the corridor. We all love the sea and wanted the bathroom to feel like we were diving into a deep ocean.” A courtyard was created outside the bathroom and provides a beautifully flat light which adds to the moodiness of the room. Hill would have loved a traditional wooden Japanese bath but, with two young kids, practicality won over, “That’ll be an idea I take to our next home.”
The children’s bedroom is a masterclass in plywood joinery. It has had a couple of redesigns to get it working perfectly for the family, “Originally there was a central ladder providing access to the top bunk, but this proved to be slightly kamikaze for the kids. So we redesigned a side staircase instead.” A happy accident resulted when the joiner read the measurements incorrectly and made the top bunk much higher than planned, but this has proved to work better as the girls have got older … and taller. Access to the room is either through the standard sized door or via a hidden, kid-sized doorway. “It was really fun to think about their perspective and the way that they would grow up in the flat. The motivation was: what can we do for them? How can we create a playful space that they can enjoy and ticks the boxes of what they want?” explains Hill. “Like most young girls, Freya was desperate for a pink room. Using bare plaster means we’re all happy,” says Chaudhuri.
The garden has allowed Chaudhuri to fully exercise her love of Yves Klein Blue, painting her studio doors in this hue and establishing a statement backdrop for the garden. “The porthole windows in the studio doors were designed to mark the heights of each of us when we moved in, so there’s an adult height window, a Freya height window and an Indi height window. I love that, whilst the property is pretty modern in its design, we’ve had a pop at creating our own history here,” explains Chaudhuri. While most of the garden is laid to brick, a corridor of pink and terracotta tiles leads to an oriel window at the end of the side return extension. “It’s our little piece of Barcelona in Harlesden.”
Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.