It’s hard to be­lieve this spa­cious, light-filled Lon­don haven was once a dark base­ment flat

25 Beautiful Homes - - CONTENTS - Fea­ture SERENA FOKSCHANER | pho­tog­ra­phy ROBERT SAN­DER­SON

which en­hances the scale of the room, or a Chi­nese silk paint­ing in the bath­room. dec­o­rat­ing ad­vice‘ If you can’t af­ford an ex­pen­sive paint­ing, try hang­ing a piece of un­usual fab­ric in­stead. I use steel tubes bought from an iron­mon­ger and cur­tain hoops and clips to cre­ate in­stant show­pieces’

For most of the year, home for So­phie Garnier is a rooftop apart­ment in hec­tic, colour­ful Yan­gon in Myan­mar, where she col­lab­o­rates with lo­cal ar­ti­sans on de­signs for her home­wares brand, Kalinko. But ev­ery few months she jumps on a plane and heads back to Lon­don to her apart­ment in the base­ment of a stucco-clad town­house.

re­laxed at­mos­phere

‘As I slide the key in the door I breathe deeply, be­cause af­ter Myan­mar, Lon­don feels so peace­ful,’ says So­phie. From the pi­geon-grey hall with its cheer­ful prints, the light-filled cor­ri­dor draws your eye to the green­ery of the gar­den, which, at 60 feet long, was the rea­son why So­phie and her hus­band Ralph (who also works in Myan­mar) bought the place. The gar­den aside, there were few re­deem­ing features. ‘The ceil­ings were too low and the lay­out was im­prac­ti­cal, with a small sit­ting room at the front and two poky bed­rooms,’ says So­phie. ‘The kitchen was a dark gal­ley and the con­ser­va­tory leaked. And yet, de­spite all that, it had a good, calm feel­ing to it.’

Start­ing from a shell, the cou­ple trans­formed the set­ting from a hud­dle of rooms into a home that feels as light and tran­quil as a coun­try house. ‘One of the main things we did was to raise the ceil­ing heights through­out,’ says So­phie who en­listed A& A ar­chi­tects to re­design the space. In­stalling taller doors, some with glazed pan­els, was an­other de­vice: ‘They’re a clever way of mak­ing you feel you’re on the ground floor rather than the base­ment,’ says So­phie. A util­ity room is hid­den be­hind doors in the hall where an­other door leads to a cloak­room, and ev­ery­where, mir­rors bring light to even the small­est rooms.

im­prov­ing the lay­out

The floor plan was re­ori­ented so that in­stead of two bed­rooms, there is one large bed­room at the front where space was stolen to cre­ate a walk-in wardrobe and gen­er­ous bath­room. At the back of the flat, walls were jet­ti­soned to cre­ate the flow­ing, open-plan liv­ing and eat­ing area. So­phie de­signed the navy-blue kitchen where a mar­ble-shelved larder sits be­hind doors. In­stead of an is­land, the fo­cus is on the so­cia­bly long ta­ble, made from scaf­fold­ing planks.

Pale floors and co­he­sive paint colours – from moon-grey to warmer sand in the bed­room – are the back­drop for heir­looms and fur­nish­ings gath­ered dur­ing the pair’s back­pack­ing trav­els. ‘I’m drawn to one-off, hand­made things,’ says So­phie, point­ing out the Uzbek­istani Suzani above the bed,

in­spir­ing de­signs

The red pais­ley-clad sofa in the sit­ting room, do­nated by So­phie’s mother-in-law, sits well with her Myan­mar pieces like the cush­ions, made from in­tri­cately hand­wo­ven fab­rics. ‘Ev­ery re­gion has its own pat­tern – as you ar­rive in a vil­lage you of­ten hear the ker-chink of a shut­tle mov­ing across a loom.’

So­phie de­cided to start her on­line busi­ness af­ter friends be­gan ask­ing where they could buy the pieces she had found on trips to re­mote re­gions. Now she works with glass-blow­ers, rat­tan-weavers, jade-carvers and wood­work­ers, fine-tun­ing pieces for a wider mar­ket. The col­lec­tion in­cludes 250 de­signs and the busi­ness is solidly eth­i­cal: ‘There are no mid­dle men so all our mak­ers are paid a fair wage,’ says So­phie. ‘Our tar­get is to help 500 fam­i­lies achieve a monthly wage that’s enough for them to af­ford health­care and ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren.’

Spend­ing time in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, where clean running wa­ter or elec­tric­ity are still lux­u­ries, has made So­phie ap­pre­ci­ate her ur­ban haven even more. ‘As soon as I ar­rive I’ll run a bath, drink a glass of tap wa­ter.’ Small things which, she says, make this a ‘true home from home’.

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