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Perfect Ten: the most inspirational interiors of 2021

We went around the houses last year – quite literally – affording you the chance to snoop in the most splendid schemes in Britain. Here, we’ve rounded up the top ten, as chosen by you

Perfect Ten: the most inspirational interiors of 2021

In Bath and Brockley, Sussex and Spitalfields, Inigo’s Almanac spent the year doing what it does best: knocking on doors and snooping round Britain’s most beautiful historic homes so that we can share them with you. And we’re pleased as punch that you love them all as much as we do. In fact, so much so that we’ve collated a list of the homes and interiors across the country that captured your collective imagination the most. Read on, before taking a peek at our top ten listings too…

Georgie Stogdon on creating a perfect first home in north London

Georgie Stogdon, an antique dealer and founder of Curios, had quite a task on her hands when she moved into this Victorian flat in London’s Kentish Town. Saying goodbye to its dated lino floors, sticky worktops and some questionable crimson gloss, Georgie went for a peaceful pale palette, which allowed her favourite bits of furniture to sing. It also helped celebrate the (very fine) bones of the place, from its high ceilings to its pretty period features. It worked – when she put it on the market with Inigo, Ospringe Road was soon snapped up. It’s no surprise – after all, according to Georgie, Kentish Town “is the perfect place to live”.

Artist Russell Loughlan on how he used colour to reconnect with the history of his Georgian terrace house in Deal, Kent

There’s something about Deal that seems to get under people’s skin, as Russell Loughlan well knows. When the artist and his husband visited this charming Kentish coastal town in 2005, they fell in love with a house on Deal’s Dolphin Street and moved in sharpish. And while they’ve moved house, it turns out Deal’s the real deal for them – in 2021 they were back on the same seafront street – albeit in a different house.

Built in 1768, the house needed a lot of love when the couple moved in, having hardly been touched for half a century. Stripping it back – quite drastically in some places, on discovering lurking woodwork – Russell looked to the house’s Georgian history when coming up with the colour scheme, which veers from puttyish hues to moodier greens and drabs. “It’s probably the boldest I’ve been with colour,” he says, “but it gives the space character.” It’s gorgeous and grown-up, we found, and it’s an exercise in restraint, too, with only one picture per wall downstairs. “I wanted the house to speak for itself,” he told us. Well, chapeau, we say, for it surely does.

Berdoulat’s Patrick and Neri Williams on their artfully reclaimed live-work space

Getting their home in Bath to its current state wasn’t easy for Patrick and Neri Williams, the couple behind interiors studio Berdoulat. They might be specialists in historic buildings, but even this one was a challenge, made up as it is of three buildings from as many periods – one Georgian, one Regency, one Victorian. A perfect patchwork, it needed a bit of unifying before it became the serene studio/home for the couple and their children that it is today.

The building’s “eccentric” history – as unearthed by Patrick and Neri in the extensive research they did for the project – is a rich and varied tapestry. It’s been a pub, a grocers’ run by three eccentric Victorians and a bottle shop, memories of which live on its mouldings and mahogany furniture, including the old shop counter. Such layers are clearly cherished by Patrick and Neri, who are keen to add their own too. “I think any good house is never finished… it needs to be lived in and acquire patina,” Patrick told us. “It’s like lines in a face… The wrinkles are beautiful.”

Embracing a slower approach to decoration at interior designer Carlos Garcia’s 17th-century manor house in Norfolk

It’s a familiar story: cosmopolitan urbanite buys a cosy rural retreat – strictly for weekends, of course – and then finds, to their surprise, that the city has lost its lustre. Interior designer Carlos Garcia knows all about this, having been the protagonist in such a tale. At first, his manor house in Norfolk was a ‘lock-up and leave’, but – cue the pandemic and a hankering after space and greenery – he found he couldn’t quit the countryside.

One thing Carlos loved about pastoral life was being able to take his time over his interiors. “I could embrace a slower approach to decoration,” he told us. Together with his husband, Carlos reassessed how they used some of the rooms in the house, rather than having to do anything structural. In doing so he was subscribing to a general truth of decorating: that the best schemes come about when you really understand the room itself.

Cassandra Ellis on creating a tranquil and timeless home in a listed Georgian building in East Sussex

As the founder of an independent paint company, Cassandra Ellis really gets colour. It’s no surprise, then, that the ones she chose for her house in Lewes are quite so right – by turns subtle, elegant, atmospheric. “In everything I do,” she told Inigo when the house came on the market, “I always try to find grace and beauty.”

Neither quality is in short supply in this mid-17th-century cottage in the East Sussex town – though when she and her partner bought the place it was, in her words, “pretty derelict”. Though quite major, the renovations they did were incredibly sensitive to the history of the building. In fact, listening to houses is something Cassandra is keen on. When it comes to choosing colours for clients, she says she is “always informed half by the house and half by the person”. In our Almanac feature, she told us about how this particular house’s ancientness informed its scheme – and how she snuck a few more modern touches in too.

Charles and Romilly Saumarez Smith’s art-filled 18th-century townhouse

That Charles, one of the founding members of the Guild, and his wife, Romilly, have made it on to this list comes as no surprise. Their house in Mile End, east London, is a delight. A Grade II-listed Georgian building bought from a conservation trust in the late 1990s, it has been gently coaxed into its current state over the intervening years, layers of “the original and the preserved, and then the revitalized” all visible in its fabric.

With its dark palette and old barge-board panelling, the house acts as a foil for all the things Charles, a writer, curator and art historian, and Romilly, an artist, bookbinder and jeweller, treasure, from pictures and objets to ceramics and furniture. Of particular note are some very fine chairs designed by Romilly’s grandfather with tiger-print upholstery. When we spoke to the couple, Charles admiration of his wife’s creative touch was clear. “I made the house in the same way as I would make a book or a piece of jewellery,” she answered – with exquisite care, a brilliant eye for beauty and a curiosity about the unusual and the unexpected, it would seem. Just look at her glittering gold creations.

 

How artists Eliza Hopewell and Theodore Vass handcrafted the bedroom of their first flat together

Decorating as a couple can be tricky – particularly when both parties are artists. “We definitely come from different places aesthetically,” Eliza Hopewell told us, talking about her partner, Theo Vass. Thankfully, it didn’t cause too many problems as they embarked on the decoration of their first flat together, in south-east London. Eliza’s approach? “I let him make the weird shelves and he’ll let me paint weird colours!”

Their bedroom, which they invited Inigo to look around, is testament to their creativity as individuals. It also demonstrates – despite their different approaches – the compatibility of Eliza and Theodore’s craftsmanship, her loosely painted frieze finding a friend in the lithe sense of line in his wooden designs, for instance. Both joyful and deeply personal, this room is an advert for collaborative creation. The key to success? Playing to your individual strengths.

The sensitive renovation of interior design duo Clarence & Graves’ Victorian townhouse

Doing up your own house seems like the smart thing to do if you’ve just launched your own interior design company – and smart is exactly the word that sprung to mind when we looked around Chris Graves and Jolene Ellis, the founder of Clarence & Graves’, house in Chiswick. Here, old and new mix merrily against a palette of plaster, salmon, stone – the brief (or rather, Jolene’s), was “Provençale meets Wes Anderson”. It’s laid-back, but not without a bit of kook. Ultimately, the couple wanted this house to be “a sanctuary” – and they came good on their plan. With its multiple living spaces, the house is incredibly spacious. To have so much room for a family of four is, Chris admits, “really indulgent”, but with all the chaos family life brings, it affords everyone the opportunity for solace. What more could you ask for, among the hustle and bustle of the city?

Ben and Rosie Broad reflect on youth, adulthood and coming full circle at Hunston Manor

Norfolk’s 17th-century Hunston Manor House seems to sum up so many of the things we love about old houses, from the building’s stately history, writ large in oak and stone, to its quieter shaded corners. Above all, as our conversation with brother and sister Ben and Rosie Broad taught us, it’s one of those places where memories seem to hover in the air. Having inherited the cherished house from their parents, the siblings haven’t drastically altered the place. There have been a few cosmetic changes, a bit of fiddling and upkeep, but nothing major. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, given that they’d lived there for 30 years with their parents, who clearly had excellent taste (we’re lusting after all those rugs). “We’ve been caretakers,” Ben told us, “as opposed to owners.”

A Room of One’s Own: how Skye McAlpine brought open-plan living to her Victorian kitchen

Oh, to have a kitchen like Skye McAlpine’s! Of course, she’s a cook, so its splendidness is to be expected, but it’s the details of the place that got your (and our) hearts aflutter. The vintage copper jelly moulds! The bright yellow fridge! The candy-cane curtains and that wallpaper-lined dresser!

Having moved to south-west London from Venice, there were a few things from her vita bella in Italy that Skye was insistent on keeping hold of. One was the colour scheme (hence those chirpy hues and splendid stripes), the other was having a flexible kitchen/dining space. To help her with the open-plan layout, Skye drafted in her friend, the architect Ben Pentreath. He was, she told us, “a good sport” – not least when she said she wanted a huge Lacanche cooker installed. “We got the largest one they make… But he understood how important it was to me.”

And while having a sympathetic architect helps, Skye’s own attention to detail is admirable. It’s no wonder: “I spend so much time in here.” It needed to be perfect – and we think it might be.

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