A Room of One’s Own: Stephanie Barba Mendoza’s delightful decorative experiments
The interior designer treats her home – and in particular her living space – as a place to test looks and play with boundaries. But there’s nothing sterile about this laboratory. It’s blue, for starters…
Stephanie Barba Mendoza is talking about the road not taken. Growing up she’d imagined she was going to be an architect, but then, as a student, she had an epiphany. “My course was very focussed on big buildings. I suddenly realised: I just did not want to design skyscrapers. It wasn’t me.” She left university in her native Mexico after less than a year and came to London, where she’d once lived for a year learning English. She enrolled at KLC School of Design and never looked back. “My whole career has basically been here.” Lucky London.
Her first jobs were high-end residential projects, but she cut her teeth at Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, the firm best known for waving its maximalist wand over super swanky restaurants, hotels and private members’ clubs around the world: Soho Beach House in Miami; the Bellagio in Las Vegas; Scotts, J. Sheekey’s and the much-fêted Annabel’s in London. She worked for Brudnizki for a decade before starting up her eponymous business in 2019; she now has clients of her own all over the world. And while some of them are comfortable with a bit of ritz, perhaps not all of them go in for drama in the same way as Stephanie, so it’s at home that she’s most able to push and play with boundaries.
But for all the flamboyancy, she’s also keen on keeping things comfortable and family-friendly. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in her sitting room in Kilburn – part of what she calls her domestic “laboratory” and a room-as-portrait of this experimental interior designer. Tortoiseshell mantelpiece? Yes please.
“When we first moved in, four years ago, this room was a blank canvas – almost literally. The previous owners had painted everything white – and white is not something I usually go for. I think you can tell! My initial thought was that I wanted something a bit more dramatic, with more character. I built it up slowly. Firstly, my husband and I chose the colour – this room has been done in ‘Blue Gum’ from Paint & Paper Library. I like using punchier colours in drawing and dining rooms because they’re rarely used during the day; they’re night-time places. And with candles and lights, they look quite romantic, warm and inviting.
“I wanted to keep the architectural features that came with the house, like the fireplaces. We’ve changed them slightly by installing gas fittings, but we haven’t removed any of the Victorian tile surroundings. As with everything, the mantels were painted white when we moved in. At first, I just couldn’t work out what to do with them. I didn’t want to paint them the same colour as the room, but I didn’t want to replace them either. I thought I needed to get creative with them. I ended up commissioning some decorative artists to work on them and now one is chequered, festooned with ribbons, foliage and stars, and one is tortoiseshell, which goes so well with the tiles. One thing I was really clear on is that I didn’t want to do a Charleston thing with it. Charleston’s brilliant, but I wanted it to look more grown-up, somehow.
“Before here, we lived in a flat, so we had to buy most things you can see now. That said, not everything here is new. The sofas, for example, are both antique, as is the chaise longue – I had them all re-covered. My husband is very proud to have found the coffee table, which lots of people comment on. Large coffee tables are hard to come by, but he found this on eBay. It was perfect; at the time we had small children so we wanted something with no sharp edges. I really didn’t want to have to use those foam bumpers.
“Normally, though, when it comes to buying things, my husband is like my client: I send him three options to choose from – all of which I like – and he then makes a decision. I mean, I suppose it’s fair enough. He does live here too.
“I have a bit of a thing about not wanting to have what everybody else has. That’s why re-covering antique furniture is so great. It’s wonderful to feel like you have something special. It’s important too, from an environmental aspect – you don’t always need something new and disposable. A 19th-century chair, properly made with horsehair, is probably going to be better than one with foam. Sometimes these things just need a bit of love, but then they may well be good for another hundred years.
“Originally, this space was two rooms, but at some point someone removed the partition walls. I suppose I could have used one of the spaces as a dining room, but I like eating in the kitchen. Instead, we’ve now got a larger, more open living room, that feels semi-divided into two – there’s the sitting room bit, and then the emptier bit, which just has a rocking chair and a desk by the window, which is the best place to write a letter. I love that one of us can be at one end, another at the other, and we’re close – but not.
“We’ve got two children, so the house has to be child-friendly. They have to feel like it’s their house as much as ours and that they can use all the spaces, but I want it to feel grown-up in parts too. They have a playroom upstairs, so they know that down here is not the place to chuck a ball, but it is the place to read a book.
“My home is definitely more of a reflection of me than my projects are. I tend to go brighter, bolder and more experimental than I would for clients. My own house is where I can really push it; it’s like my own little laboratory. Luckily, I haven’t done anything here that I’ve really hated and had to get rid of. I’m not sure I’ve finished this room, though. I’m always adding to it. And the more you add, the more you need to add, to find the balance. That’s part of the process of living somewhere, I think: adding, changing, moving things around. There’s always a bit of trial and error – though I try to avoid the error!”
Stephanie Barba Mendoza on Instagram
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