The designer Jane Gowers discovered her London house by chance, but its restoration and decoration have been the result of good judgement and a sympathetic approach
It all began with a stroke of luck. The interior designer Jane Gowers chanced upon a tiny picture of a beautiful but dilapidated house in a magazine. And, luck again, it was for sale just as she and her husband were house-hunting. They viewed the house, in one of London's loveliest terraces, just as a deal with a developer had fallen through. 'We were told that if we could complete in a week, the house would be ours,' said Jane. 'We didn't bother with a survey - we could see it was a wreck.'
With a husband working abroad, homes in Dubai and Jerusalem to run, and three children then at school and university in the US, Jane's life was more than busy. She needed builders she could rely on - and this time it was good judgement, rather than luck, that guided her to . Jane and her husband had noticed the person-size hole in the drawing room floor, the room piled with broken bottles and the wildly sloping floors, but it was Broseley that revealed that one of the rooms was clad entirely in asbestos.
Jane decided to gut the place until only the roof and the staircase remained. 'It was very tempting to leave it like that - it looked amazing!' she says, only half joking. 'Or to just put in two floors with double-height ceilings.' But, in reality, the family wanted more space, not less, so they dug down, adding a basement and increasing the ceiling height of the lower ground floor by a metre.
The building work took two years and, although it had been Jane's original intention to decorate the house in a very modern way, once the shell was complete, she had a change of heart. 'It's about the place speaking to you,' she explains. 'You have to respond.' Another major consideration was providing a sympathetic background for the modern Indian art that she and her husband started collecting during a seven-year stay there from 1994. 'In the past decade, I've noticed museums abandoning white walls for darker colours,' she says. 'A white background is so draining for these pictures.'
So it is a subtle palette of olive green walls with woodwork in Farrow & Ball's 'Off Black' that confronts you as you walk in the front door on the raised ground floor. On the left, the dining room, with a handsome walnut directoire table and Thirties French chairs, is painted in soft earthy tones, as is the adjoining kitchen with its La Cornue oven island - which is so heavy that the floor had to be reinforced to accommodate the cooker. From here, double doors lead out onto a small roof garden, where pots of herbs stand on rustic - and rusted - shelves.
As you walk upstairs to the drawing room, a pause on the half-landing reveals the previously asbestos-blighted space, now a light-filled study with its original windows remade, furnished with a mid-century desk overlooked by a Serge Mouille wall light. There is more Indian art and twentieth-century furniture in the drawing room itself, where two Jacques Adnet glass and metal tables, so alike they could almost be called a pair, stand between the elegant sofas found in New York. A more elaborate pair of Twenties circular tables by Raymond Subes, with onyx tops on a waterfall of curvy ironwork, flank one of the sofas. These are among the few exuberant touches in the room, along with a splendid Louis XV crystal and gilt bronze chandelier, the chimneypiece and the new leafy cornice, but the overall effect is very calm and understated. For the walls here, Jane asked the specialist painter Sean Oldham, who also painted the hall, to emulate the worn patina of an old Italian palazzo. 'I don't like rooms where the hand of the designer lays very heavily,' says Jane. 'And I love working for myself - you really understand the client!'
There is a fine Iranian carpet here, one of many that the couple collected during their time in India. 'The maharajas often had carpets made for them in Persia, which were then put into storage, never used and later sold,' says Jane. There is another such carpet in the main bedroom on the floor above, in the mix with mid-century armchairs, modern wildlife photography by Nick Brandt and another pair of Subes tables, all in a restful palette of greys. In the marble-clad bathroom next door, Jane's mixing of eras continues, with an 1830s cut-glass and bronze lamp hanging above a Thirties-style freestanding ceramic bath.
Three floors down, another bedroom on the lower ground floor, with its exposed brick walls, has a very different outlook. The tranquil garden room opens onto the all-green garden on one side and the charming spare bedroom on the other. The bricks, tiles, and colours from the garden link all three spaces. Luck played its part in the house's purchase, but so did good judgement. For its restoration, Jane chose the right builders, she mixed eras judiciously and she has created a great background for their art collection.
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