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A Private View: putting the mark of modernism on an attic conversion in Richmond

Having moved into the top-floor flat of a red-brick Victorian townhouse in 2016, designers Sharon Bowles and Edgar Linares were determined to preserve the historic feel of the building while putting their signature contemporary stamp on it. Now, as they prepare to sell, we catch up with Sharon to discuss the bringing together of old and new

Rosily Roberts
Kristy Noble
A Private View: putting the mark of modernism on an attic conversion in Richmond

Minimal modernism is the order of the day, every day for Sharon Bowles, one half of design duo Bowles and Linares, makers of simple, well-crafted furniture and lighting pieces since 1997. And the top floor-flat Sharon designed with her husband and business partner, Edgar Linares, stands as case in point.

After they bought the flat with their son in 2016, the couple set about refurbishing it with the minimalist treatment that has become a trademark of their design business, crucially without compromising the integrity of the spaces themselves. The Victorian house in which it lies is situated on Sheen Road, part of the historic route that ran from Richmond Palace to that of Westminster, once the royals’ thoroughfare into London proper from their more rural residence. Tall and handsome, the house was the first to be built on this stretch of road. While renovating, it was important to Sharon that the design was as respectful of the past as it was contemporary. “Our design philosophy at Bowles and Linares is to mix old with new,” she says in explanation.

As it comes on the market, we speak to Sharon about creating a flat that strikes the careful balance of old and new while feeling entirely singular in its style and scope.

“In early modernism, a period we love, everything was handmade, meaning the the mark of the craftsman was always visible. Inspired by that, we like the materials we use not just to be visible, but celebrated. We don’t want things to be squeaky clean with perfect straight lines – and the same is true of this flat. We didn’t want to straighten it too much and, in doing so, lose the charm. It is, after all, in the eaves.

“Some of the furniture here is from Bowles and Linares, but we also made some simpler designs that felt right for the space; the result is some slightly more pared-back spin-offs of our pieces. We then mixed in some other designer pieces – such as the Ercol bed in the main bedroom, and the table and chair in the sitting room – as well as some found or vintage items. The armchairs in the sitting room, for example, are reclaimed; we reupholstered them. They work perfectly here and, even though they’re small, they’re very comfortable. Bowles and Linares has a code of ethics, and sustainability is an important part of that; we brought that home with us too, trying to use as many reclaimed elements as possible. The floorboards have had a previous life, for example.

“There was no fire surround when we bought the flat – during the building’s conversion, all the original fireplaces had been removed and replaced with central heating – but we wanted to restore things to their original state. We actually found the ‘new’ surround, on the side of the road. It wasn’t in the best condition – it been stripped right back to its original pine and was in need of full restoration – but it had a rather elegant Regency look to it that really suited the period of the house. We added the terracotta quarry tiles – the same ones we used in the bathroom. The result is mix of old and new that nods to the 19th-century history of the house.

“The walls in the sitting room and bedrooms are pigmented plaster with a waxed finish. In our business, we often pair our objects with very simple, neutral backgrounds, so we applied the same principles here. During the renovation, our first job was to strip back some of the alterations that had been made when the building was converted into flats, taking it back to the bare structure. When we were doing that, we uncovered walls of iron-oxide distempered plaster in a beautiful deep-pomegranate colour. We left several panels of it on the staircase exposed, framed by old white dead-matt paint, to reflect colour in the sunlight and warm the space.

“I have a slight obsession with terracotta quarry tiles, as you can see in the bathroom, where they’re paired with natural white waxed plaster. Their particular reddish-orange tone speaks to the building’s external brickwork. That room is central to the apartment – it’s a warm, welcoming space – and the light is also lovely, thanks to the skylight. Our son has a collection of hanging plants, which he hung from the ceiling in there, which added to the almost otherworldly quality of that room.”

“Because the kitchen’s footprint is quite small, we had to be very exact when we were designing it, not least as we wanted to open it up as much as possible and make use of the light that comes in. As a consequence, we left most of the shelves open, storing everything in jars. In a small space, we feel everything should be in use and so our things have become part of the design too. The idea is that the kitchen works in tandem with the sitting room, where an orange unit – which was also made from reclaimed materials – is used as spill-over storage for the kitchen. Then the dining table is for entertaining.

“When we were designing the flat, it was important to us to think about different ways of using the space. We avoided the traditional, as we wanted to take it out of its comfort zone. It would have been easy to go down a more familiar route, but then it wouldn’t have had our signature style.”

Further reading

Bowles and Linares

Bowles and Linares on Instagram

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