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A Private View: from beige to beautiful in south-west London

“A finished room is a boring room,” says actress Octavia de Clare, who believes that creating a home is a never-ending joy. Her recent renovation of her Earl’s Court flat – from magnolia monstrosity to peaceful green “nest” – is case in point. Now on the market, the elegant apartment is still subject to this incorrigible decorator’s fondness for fine-tuning

Grace McCloud
A Private View: from beige to beautiful in south-west London

Some people are natural decorators. They know just what colour to use, which fabric should go where, how to make the most of the light and the height and the space. We put it to Octavia de Clare, an actress, that she is one such person. “I don’t think it’s necessarily always about just getting it right,” she says modestly. “It’s more about not being afraid to get it wrong – and being open to changing your mind.”

That said, her Earl’s Court flat is consummately decorated – and Octavia says she only changed her mind about a few little things along the way of its recent revamp. In her mind, however, it’s still in flux. “I know it might look done to somebody else, but it’s not to me. Home, to me, is a work in progress – and a finished room is a boring room. You’ve nowhere to go with it.” It’s why she’s constantly moving pictures and furniture, fine-tuning and, to the chagrin of her mother, buying more cushions. “She’s put me on a cushion-buying ban. I must have 50 at least. But I really think they’re such an easy way to change the feeling of a room.”

Looking around, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to change a thing here. Octavia herself admits it’s pretty perfect: “I’m such a homebody. When your nest is as lovely as this, why would you want to go out?” Of course, it’s a wonder she’s leaving but, bitten by the decorating bug, she’s a new project on the horizon. With the Redcliffe Street flat now on the market, Octavia looks back at its transformation.

“I remember viewing this place for the first time and being completely taken in by the light. The flat itself was very magnolia – beige carpets, beige walls. It was dull. But it was so much brighter than anything else I’d seen and the window had an uninterrupted view down Westgate Terrace – not a single building in the way. It’s so rare to be able to properly see the horizon in London, but you can here.

“I lived here while renovating. I was doing the project with my mother, who lives in Italy, so I was the person on the ground. We did a total overhaul – electrics, water, everything – not just cosmetics. It was fun and exciting, but it was challenging at points too – and not only when there was no bathroom and I had to wash from a bucket. Learning to stand my ground when electricians and plumbers had different ideas about how they wanted things to look was interesting – but I’ve got that experience under my belt now.

“I love how, having seen everything at such close quarters and having been involved in every conversation, I feel like I’ve really paid my dues. It’s so rewarding looking around and knowing what went into everything. I’m not against using an interior designer – and there are many I admire – but if you can do it yourself, the end result feels so worthwhile.

“Doing the kitchen was one of the biggest challenges. It’s a small space, but one that gets used a lot, so in order for it to work it had to be exactly right. One of my non-negotiables was having open shelving, as I knew that too much cabinetry on the top half of the room would make it look very cramped and dark. I’m so thrilled with it – not least as because you can see everything, I’m forced to be tidy. The rattan boxes are a dream too, with a kind of ‘countryside in the city’ look, which I love – and they’re great for hiding ugly bags of pasta.

“Another small space I feel quite proud of is the entrance hall. It’s such a tiny room that you spend no time in and has no windows, but I still wanted it to have an effect – space is precious in this flat. Originally, I thought I might paper it in something wild – like the loo, which has a lustrous William Morris print on the walls – but because some of the walls are so narrow, I would have had to buy an inordinate amount of rolls for such a tiny room, so that the repeat would match up. It would have been a bit if a waste.

“Instead, I leaned into the cosiness of the space and went the whole hog, painting everything in Farrow & Ball’s ‘French Gray’: the ceiling, the skirting boards, the mouldings, the doors… It works so well. It would be mad to try and make that room feel bigger or grander than it is, so instead I made it warm and welcoming. I love how, when you first walk in and all the doors to the other rooms are closed, you’re wrapped up in colour, before your next step. I don’t want a hall that gives you everything on a plate – I like a bit of a reveal.

“I really wanted this place to feel lived in, even though we’d just done it up. I hate the idea of everything looking like it’s come straight from the shop. And while some things I had to buy new, as much as possible I tried to use what we already had as a family – things my mum wasn’t using in her place anymore, or treasured furniture that had been in storage. They’re the loveliest bits about a home, I think.

“Home is where I’m happiest – and as a consequence I want to make mine the best it can possibly be. Even as a student, I’d properly zhuzh up my room to create my own little den. I even had throws I’d change with the seasons – my friends thought I was mad. But if the vibe wasn’t right, those essays weren’t going to be written!

“I truly believe that if you fill your home with what you love, you can’t go wrong. Some people might find that daunting, or might find they start questioning themselves, but I find if you take away any time limits, you can really relieve that pressure. A house is done when it’s done – or, if you’re me, it’s never actually done. There’s always something that can be tweaked or swapped around. Or you might have a baby! Or buy a dog! Or break something and need to replace it. Or your tastes might just change – stuff happens and our homes are a reflection of that.

“None of this is to say I didn’t worry about some of the bigger investments. My headboard was one of those. I spent weeks – honestly – thinking about fabrics then worrying I would change my mind and get bored of the print. I worked and reworked the shape of it. I even got close to giving up, thinking I would just buy a metal bed with a built-in headboard. Then I realised I’d probably get bored of that too – and it’s cheaper to re-cover a headboard than it is to buy a new bed! In case you’re wondering, six months in, I still love it.”

Redcliffe Street, London SW10

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