CITY MANSION FLAT
Virginie did something and James quite unusual – they left the countryside to raise their family in the city. It was this flat’s high ceilings that allured them
Taking the road less travelled and moving from the suburbs into the cit y gave this family their urban dream
The denim colour of the ceiling spotlights the grand height of the room. Made of painted timber, the glazed doors allow light to flow through the space.
Ceiling in Kigali by Paint & Paper Library. Mirror, Novocastrian. Melange elongated wall sconces,
Kelly Wearstler. Chandelier,
Pure White Lines. Doors, designed by Frank & Faber and made by Builders by Design Group; painted in Railings by Farrow & Ball
husband James and their young family from outside London to the centre of the city. Keen to live within walking distance of the kids’ school and to see if urban life would suit, they began by renting a flat for a year. It was an experiment that worked. ‘The flat has very high ceilings – about 4.5m – with huge windows, so the feeling of light and space is amazing,’ says Virginie, adding that their garden and proximity to London’s beautiful parks adds to the child-friendly feel of the location. So when, after their year of renting, the flat came up for sale, they moved swiftly to buy it and begin a renovation to make it more suited to their style. ‘Initially, we just wanted to make a few cosmetic changes, because everything had been decorated in beige, and add new f loors and underf loor heating, but then it started to grow,’ she says.
Working with interior designer Sarah Ellison of Frank & Faber, who designed both their offices, the couple were inspired to take away the wall between the kitchen and dining room to make the space feel more open. ‘It was a load-bearing wall, so we had to put in structural steels to support the f loors above – and once we had started, we kept on going,’ says Virginie. They moved out whilst they refurbished the bedrooms and bathrooms on the lower ground floor and removed further internal walls to create a more spacious feel throughout the living spaces.
French-born Virginie believes that the open-plan feel is ideal for family life – ‘we can talk to each other, even when we are in different areas,’ she says – and for when her relatives come from France. ‘When we broke through the wall between the dining and family room, the first thing we thought was how well the space would work at Christmas,’ she says. Connecting the pool table, a spare table and the dining table together along the length of the space allows the family to seat 28 for the French-style Christmas Eve dinner. ‘We start with champagne and foie gras, move on to seafood, then a roast before cheese and Bûche de Noël, although James will sometimes insist on an English Christmas pudding,’ she says. It’s a very special occasion.
‘After living with all that soulless beige, we wanted to bring in some bursts of bold colour, which we felt would work well in such large rooms,’ adds Virginie. ‘We also wanted an easy-to-maintain home with lots of storage – open plan only works if there is a place for everything, down to where to keep the vacuum cleaner and stash James’ climbing equipment.’ As a result, there are storage solutions in every room, including tall cupboards that make the most of the high ceilings and even a built-in pegboard for hanging climbing ropes, tucked in a cupboard under the stairs.
Sarah encouraged the couple to restore original features, including bringing the classic marble fireplace in the living room back to life and adding cornicework in a style true to 1865 when the property was built. Combined with mid-century finds and clean-lined contemporary pieces, the individual mix of old and new is stylish and characterful, while layers of cosy texture and robust materials ensure it works well when three children and a muddy dog tramp back from a winter’s morning in the park. ‘It is a very happy flat,’ says Virginie, ‘and it’s been a great move.’
‘We did the opposite of what people usually do,’ says Virginie Charlès-dear, who moved with
CHRISTMAS TASTE SENSATION?
We saw a piece by Korean artist Chul-hyun Ahn at The London Edition hotel and really love his work.
Decorating the tree. James likes everything on it, I’m strictly no more than two colours.
Le Rouge et Le Noir by Stendhal is a beautiful French classic.
HOW DO YOU RELAX?
I’m learning to play the guitar and it helps me get into the flow.
FIRESIDE OR OUTDOOR ADVENTURE?
Definitely outdoor adventure! James’ love of climbing has got the whole family into it.