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