Pic: Adam Luszniak

Bare-Faced Chic

6th April 2018

Venetia Dearden stripped an East London apartment back to the brick, creating a perfect showcase for the ethnic designs brought back from her travels…

By Natalie Flaum

As an award-winning photographer, Venetia Dearden has a great eye for design, which manifests itself both in her work (her first solo show in London was held at the National Portrait Gallery in 2010, and her books are internationally acclaimed) and in her home. Most houses have a story to tell and Venetia’s is no exception. Located in a conservation area in the dynamic melting pot of Hoxton, East London, this 18th century building with a single storey addition built as a Victorian shop front, has a long history, and was recently featured as a film location.

“I’ve travelled a lot – particularly to Africa – and have collected many special things,” Venetia comments. “I was looking for a balance of different elements and this place ticked all the boxes. I love its location, quirky character and the roof terrace with private outdoor space.”

Although the decor and layout were not to her taste, Venetia knew that with some minor structural alterations and stylish furnishings she could put her stamp on the property and create a unique space. She enlisted the help of a friend, Ollie Steel Perkins, who managed the renovation and who recommended architect and interior designer Sue Cambie.

“As I was working in America, it was great having two experts on the ground,” says Venetia. “We completely gutted the place from top to bottom. Sue came up with some great ideas and was instrumental in helping me design and visualise the space. She was incredibly knowledgeable and made suggestions of where to go for lighting, mirrors and antiques which was really great.”

The kitchen was relocated and the original dividing reception-room wall was demolished to create an open-plan, loft style kitchen incorporating a living and dining space. The carpets were removed to reveal original floorboards, which were sanded and re-varnished downstairs and painted upstairs.

“We exposed wooden beams and original brickwork, which was in quite a bad state and turned out to be rather an expensive task with Ollie’s team sourcing local reclaimed bricks,” explains Venetia. “Sue designed a simple yet effective kitchen with a moveable island so the kitchen can be L-shaped or galley style. Ollie also found a carpenter to craft the units using ash given to me by my father from a felled tree from my family home in Somerset. I love the fact that I’ve been able to use beautiful wood from my family home.”

The idea for the kitchen was to keep the floor space flexible with a minimum of fixed units so the washing machine was relocated under the stairs on the upper floor.

“It really helps to spend time considering lighting as once everything is painted you can’t go back and redo the electrics. We fixed three industrial pendant lights on a rail so that if I were to relocate the moveable kitchen island I can create light where I need it. We also selected industrial fittings and sockets to complement the lighting.”

Sue also designed two fire resistant sliding doors that have been crafted from the same ash wood and fixed on a timber post located near the staircase to open up the entire ground floor when required.

“I fell in love with the oxblood wooden dresser as soon as I saw it at an antique shop,” says Venetia. “It’s a very special piece of furniture that I use as a drinks cabinet… it fits perfectly on the landing by the ash wood sliding doors.”
Providing contrast, wired gym lockers found in an antique shop have been cleverly refashioned at a metal yard and are now used as a kitchen larder.

The floor above incorporates the bedroom, study bathroom and attic space. Venetia’s aim was to create soft, simple bedroom schemes with ample light and built in storage. As there was no fitted storage in the apartment previously, Sue designed two wardrobe spaces covered with a floor to ceiling ‘floaty curtain’ into the dividing wall cavity that separates the two rooms.

“I love the hidden surprise element that from the bedroom a few steps lead up to a 6ft-square room, with a tiny window, that I use as a walk-in wardrobe… and adore, right at the top of the apartment,” says Venetia.

Sue also redesigned the entry into the bathroom, allowing further space to house the boiler in a storage cupboard accessed from the landing. The theme for the bathroom was ‘decayed warehouse or loft style glamour’.

Sue’s design concept was to mix ‘rough and raw’ materials with older more romantic style fixtures including a chandelier and Venetian glass mirror. For the ‘rough and raw’ surfaces she exposed the brickwork walls, replaced the ceiling with recycled floorboards and created a faux-concrete floor by using a thin latex screed to make it look weathered with traditional-style fixtures and fittings.

“The faux-concrete floor is lightweight and more homogenous and real looking than using concrete effect tiles,” Sue explains. “Unlike concrete, it can be installed over ply on timber joists.”

“To me, everything in my home has a story. I rely on my instinct for my work and select items for my home quite sporadically and non-planned,” says Venetia. “I love colour and light and spent quite a while choosing quirky details such as the doorknobs that I came across in Portobello Road Market.”

With the renovation work completed in four months, Venetia was able to move in with her partner, events producer Ollie Stroud, in January although not everything ran as smoothly as the building work.

“The new fridge arrived in the wrong colour so I sent it back to the supplier,” says Venetia. She was without a fridge for three months, storing cold items in plastic bags packed with ice hung up outside. But the trials were worth it.

“Now my home is comfortable and peaceful and I’m always amazed at how adaptable the space is; whether it’s just the two of us having some quiet time watching a movie or when we’re throwing a big party,” concludes Venetia.

For info on Venetia Dearden’s books & prints: www.venetiadearden.com

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