A house built around an extraordinary art collection

This Victorian house in London was almost doubled in size to make room for its owners' dramatic collection of contemporary art, with architect and designer Shalini Misra creating detailed yet large-scale spaces that allow the art to shine.

A Victorian house built in the Italianate style in a smart conservation area of London is
an unlikely setting for provocative contemporary art. Yet architect and interior designer Shalini Misra has created a dramatic space every bit as bold as the owners' collection of art. Just inside the front door, visitors are greeted by a sculpture called Almech (2011), by the Polish artist Pawel Althamer. Its bone-white face is revealed as bandages mummifying the female form are peeled away. This could be seen as a metaphor for the house itself - its Victorian past stripped to face the future. Step further inside and it becomes obvious that this is not a house for a timid designer. 

That is surely why Shalini was commissioned. Her projects, which include the interiors of Regent's Park penthouses and an apartment in New York, are bold, exciting spaces that bear the hallmarks of a designer with expertise in finish and detail. In 2016, for a pop-up exhibition with the Milan-based Nilufar Gallery and Mehves Ariburnu, Shalini designed a chic Mayfair apartment. Dramatic glossy black timber and marble flooring, an exaggerated sense of scale, contrasting textures and an eye for mid-twentieth-century design classics were themes she explored in the impressive project, which was then sold for over £10 million. When she was asked to design the Champagne bar at Decorex in September this year, she took inspiration from the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace, recreating its glass dome in voile and replicating some of the filigree ironwork patterns and Victorian colours.

In this house, though, everything was on a bigger scale. Having been familiar with Shalini's work, the owners knew not to expect plain white cubed spaces. An essential part of their brief was to make the house, which they share with their three children, bigger, in order to display their art collection. Working in finance and also owners of a gallery in Istanbul, the couple have a collection that includes pieces by some of the best-known artists of the twenty-first century: Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, David Hockney, Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin, to name a few. 

The basement was dug deep to create an extra 418 square metres for a swimming pool, gym and spare rooms, making the house nearly 900 square metres across five floors. Weighing up the artworks, Shalini determined where to place them and, in some instances, had to create new spaces. In the basement hall, a Pedro Reyes Los Mutantes mixed-media series of photographs and paintings is hung vertically, column by column, creating a narrative. To recreate the installation as the artist intended, Shalini designed a curving wall, painted a deep mushroom colour. 

The relocated staircase now moves clockwise between all floors, a choice inspired by vastu shastra principles - a traditional Hindu system of architecture meant to bring harmony into the home. Shalini, who read architecture at New Delhi's School of Planning and Architecture, followed by an MSc in virtual reality at University College London, adheres to the system's basic principles, and it appears to work. There is also a concealed lift hidden behind bronze doors with hand-embroidered panels. It is just one example of the decorative detailing that Shalini likes. 

An open-plan kitchen-dining area on the lower ground floor is arresting in its use of exaggerated scale, with an outsize chandelier hanging above an island unit almost as long as the room. A huge photograph by Marina Abramović, entitled The Kitchen I: Levitation of Saint Theresa (2009), shows the saint in flight above stacked pots and pans; it too hangs on a wall that Shalini created specifically for its size and dimensions.

In the open-plan living space one floor higher, the floors and walls were specially reinforced for more large-scale paintings and life-size figurative sculptures. Antony Gormley's robotic figure, Build (2010), stands guard on black and white marble floors, facing a painting by Anselm Kiefer. Doorways widened for glimpses of artworks beyond open into a reception area where the family entertains. Overscaled cornices wrap around the french windows to double as pelmets for velvet curtains. A black chevron timber floor leads to an ornate inlaid marble floor, which defines a more formal dining space around a curvaceous table by Massimiliano Locatelli from Nilufar Gallery. Bespoke furniture is mixed with modern design classics, in contrasting textures of leather and linen, velvet and wool, and a smoky palette of deep blue, grey and charcoal. There are golden accents in the curtains and bronze-topped tables. 

Ascending to the first floor, to the main bedroom and bathroom, the palette - and materials - soften. The flooring combines tan leather tiles laid in a herringbone pattern with timber boards. Clad with wooden slats, the ceiling holds the warm tones of the faux suede and leather wardrobe doors. David Hockney's painting, Study for the Emperor's Palace (1981), from his opera set for Igor Stravinsky's The Nightingale, is displayed above the leather headboard. 'Headboards should never face north,' is another vastu shastra principle. On the top floor are two further bedrooms.

'The scale of this home could be intimidating,' says Shalini. 'But we have achieved an interior that is warmly welcoming, with communal areas where the family loves to spend time, along with great spaces for entertaining. The artwork is a connecting feature that tells a story throughout the house.' 

: 020-7604 2340.

more from Interior Design

More from House

Go back up

Haven't found something you were looking for? Try searching...