House

A London mansion flat by a grande dame of decorating

A striking hall makes a big impression in this London mansion flat, in which interior designer Jane Churchill has created detailed rooms with a focus on modern living 


Jane Churchill opens the door of the flat she has designed for Russian owners, then stands back to watch, smiling at the reaction that greets the entrance corridor. 'Rather good, isn't it?' she says with typical understatement. It is punctuated by three large opaque-glass panels, with a pattern in stainless-steel tracery, which sit in front of the mansion flat's original windows. Daylight shows through the panels from the windows behind them; at night they are backlit to shine brightly, or dimmed to a gentle glow. Stroll along - and with a passage of this length, it is quite a stroll - and you see the scale of everything here is in proportion, with a sizeable blue-and-white charger and vase, tall lamps and two large marble consoles.

Down three steps at the end you reach an anteroom that creates a pause between the hall, the main reception rooms and the kitchen. This utilitarian space has been given great character, with a blue-and-white feathery George Spencer Designs wallpaper, hung with plaster plaques of the busts of Roman emperors. 'Paintings would have looked ghastly,' says Jane decisively. 'And I'm not a chandelier fan, but this one I love,' she says of the slim and elegant Forties Murano glass one hanging here. 'All the "candles" you see on chandeliers were far too short and stumpy - very ugly, so we had these ones specially elongated.'

Attention to detail has been Jane's watchword over a 42-year career in interior design. She has been called the grande dame of British decorating, but she moves with the times, and her ever-evolving tastes and originality make that too stuffy a description. The owners, who use the flat as a pied-à-terre while visiting their son at school in the UK, say they are thrilled with the results.

The drawing room is dominated by a large painting of a sunflower by Sarah Graham, with its colours subtly echoed in the cushions on the two sofas, one in blue and another in beige silk velvet. The wide horizontal stripes of the curtains, with their simple headings, match the wall colour, while burnt oranges and golds of the handsome 1890s Mahal rug are repeated in the dining room next door, this time in a modern striped rug and curvy velvet-covered dining chairs. Here a display wall with antique plates, mostly in blue and white, interspersed with cream vellum books, provides a quirky focus for this elegant, formal room.

The kitchen posed a dilemma. 'I wanted the sink and dishwasher on the left of the room, but the water was on the opposite wall,' says Jane. 'Luckily, our brilliant architects, Form Studio, solved it by suggesting we put in two steps and raise the floor, so the water pipes could run underneath.' The panelled cabinets, designed by Jane, are modern, but without the sharp corners and plasticky feel that she decries in some space-age kitchens. A round table in the bay window is perfect for informal family meals. Life, even for the denizens of these handsome mansion flats, has become more informal since they were built in the 1890s, and kitchen dining is the new norm.

We like more bathrooms these days, too. 'I don't mind if the bathroom is a shoebox, as long as I have my own,' says Jane. She likes to design gently comfortable bedrooms leading to bandbox-smart modern bathrooms, like the one here, though it is far from being a shoebox. A zigzag theme appears on the marble floor, the glass doors to the shower and loo and the stainless-steel pattern of the opaque window. Here, as in the hall, Jane has overlaid utilitarian windows that give onto the building's light wells with a glamorous opaque glass and steel finish. Practicality with a dash of glamour is Jane Churchill's style.

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