At her boarding school, interior designer Charlotte Crosland had a single shelf next to her bed upon which to express her taste and creativity. 'I spent hours arranging things on it,' she says. 'And it got noticed. People liked my shelf.' Nowadays, Charlotte has several houses at a time to arrange and a rather bigger fan base. The owner of this central London flat particularly appreciates Charlotte's spatial awareness and colour sense. 'Charlotte can walk round once and instantly know what needs to be done,' she says.
When the owner bought the flat 10 years ago, some of it needed to be turned upside down, and all of it needed to be restored to its original Victorian splendour. 'It had been messed around with to make a typical swanky-but-bland interior,' she says. 'It had white carpet and internal, windowless bathrooms, and not much sign of any period features.' The flat comprises the lower and raised-ground floors of a five-storey 1850s semi-detached house. The main bedroom occupied the space that would once have been the front reception room, with the drawing room behind it on the same floor and a bathroom sandwiched in between. The kitchen and dining room, and a further three bedrooms and bathrooms were on the floor below.
Charlotte brought the kitchen upstairs to the room that had been the main bedroom, with its high ceilings and big bay window, kept the drawing room behind it, put the main bedroom where the kitchen had been and transformed the dining room into an adjoining bathroom. She removed several dividing walls, replaced the modern flooring with reclaimed oak parquet, installed chimneypieces and gave the rooms back their architectural dignity.
In the new open-plan kitchen, there is space for an oval dining table in front of the window. From here, there is a view of the tree ferns outside, bright green against the darker leaves of the substantial hedge that separates the house from the pavement. The drawing room has french windows opening onto a balcony, shaded by the elegant swoop of a metal canopy, with steps leading down to the garden. Next to the drawing room, and also overlooking the garden, there is now a study.
Like all successful reconfigurations, Charlotte's new layout feels right and proper, and it is hard to imagine why anyone would ever have wanted it otherwise. One of the delights of this flat is its garden, designed by Sean Walter of The Plant Specialist. While the front garden is a shady jungle, the back garden is an exquisite set piece of lush leaves, its focus a trellised and mirrored pavilion against the back wall. Along one side, a wooden pergola drips with lacy wisteria in early summer and provides shade and privacy for outdoor dining. The drawing room, study, main bedroom and bathroom all have views of the garden, while the french windows seem to welcome its freshness inside. The covered balcony is just big enough to feel like an extra room and becomes an extension of the drawing room on sunny days. The main bedroom's french windows open onto wide steps flanked in summer by pots of snowy geraniums and variegated hostas, which lead up to the lawn.
Charlotte's new layout for the Victorian reception rooms, with their high ceilings and generous windows, give a sense ofcomfortable grandeur and highlight the spatial awareness that the owner ofthe flat so admired in her. Equally apparent in these well-ordered spaces is her skill for colouring in the outlines once she has drawn them.
The impression in every room is of light and welcome. Wall colours are pale: delicately embellished in the main bedroom and a spare room by decorative artist Rosie Mennem, a gentle pink in the drawing room, and a misty grey in the kitchen. Floors are also pale, whether reclaimed oak, carpet or sisal. It isn't until you start to dissect the decorative schemes that you recognise how every room is shaken from its neutral repose by generous helpings of colour, in particular red. And not just any old red - a rich strawberry, more warming than warning. In some rooms, such as the drawing room, this edible colour is dominant. Here, the upholstery of the buttoned sofa echoes the red coat worn by the lady in the Persian painting hanging over the chimneypiece and the heavy fringing of the velvet slipper chairs. In the kitchen, the colour features on four buttoned chairs by Christopher Howe, which chime with patterned raspberry and cream cushions on the window seat and striped mugs hanging from wall shelves. A buttoned chair in the same style brings a further burst of red to the study, where it matches rows of files that almost glow on the lead grey shelving.
Downstairs, the flashes of red are quieter: a pelmet in the curtained dressing room; a cushion in a spare room; striped ticking lining the cupboard doors in the smaller spare room; and a gathered bed valance in the main bedroom. Introducing splashes of red into a room of quieter colours is an old decorating trick, designed to pull the eye to a chosen focus. Constable used the same ploy in his art - a red shawl or saddle cloth to catch the viewer's attention and direct their gaze. Charlotte has an artists's eye when it comes to arranging a room, working closely with clients to establish their own personal tastes and editing it down to a cohesive look, be it in classic country-house style or more modern for a newbuild. 'I like to adapt,' she says.
Charlotte Crosland Interior Design: 020-8960 9442; | The Plant Specialist: 01494-866650;