Autumn is a time of change and, I always feel, a time to simplify life declutter my home.
As someone who loves to collect beautiful and interesting things, my home has become a gallery of my art, antiques and artisan pieces gathered over the years on my travels.
I love my home — with layers of art, design and objets built up over the years with items found in antique markets, salvage yards, galleries, even pebbles I have picked up on beaches.
The joy of finding something that captures my eye — a treasure, a memory, is combined with memorabilia and photos I have collected whether it be awards or artwork by one of my four girls or needlepoint by my mother and antique pocket watches handed down by my great grandmother – they all have meaning, but the question is where do we keep this forever expanding and growing collection?
At one point I had run out of space and I felt it was time to take a step back and tackle the job.
The question is — how do you display these items without it looking like a junk or curiosity shop? At times I felt I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.
I decided it was time to try and come up with ideas and solutions on how to put items together into individual collections — displaying them as a grouping that was still aesthetically pleasing — yet up to date.
Time to become ruthless about disposing of items that were broken, damaged or no longer had the same appeal. Then it was time to clear the clutter.
Here are some areas to make a change:
I promise to myself I will be more selective going forward in collecting. It is has been hugely satisfying to have been through this exercise and my home feels like my home again.
Love, Alison x
It’s suddenly October with its crisp, sunny days and lengthening nights. Before I fully embrace the Autumn, I am still relishing the lighter, warmer days of Spring & Summer. This year in particular has been a special one, as I was finally able to go home and see family in New Zealand.
One early morning while battling the jet lag that comes with a long haul flight, I decided to walk the length of the beach near my Kiwi Batch a beach house near Tawharanui, a beautiful marine reserve.
The sun was just coming up over the horizon in the distance and the light glistened on the dark blue green waves like white dancing horses. As the sun made its morning journey over the horizon, the sea seemed to change from shades of blue and green to turquoise. I could feel the sand squishy and moist under my feet, smell and almost taste the salt sea air. It was a moment of stunning beauty that I hope to hold onto for years to come – a necessary reminder of how inspiring nature is, and how awakening to all the senses.
Back home in London, I am often awash in a different kind of sea – one of business and busy-ness, full of quotidian distractions. The news, social media, getting from a to b, the school calendar, the work calendar, the list goes on.
After this little NZ epiphany, my aim as we head into this winter is to make more time in nature, and when there, to be in the moment, and feel it with all my senses. To stand with my feet in the sea, cool waves washing over, feeling the sand moving between my toes – grounded again and again by the aesthetic epiphanies only nature provides.
Nature is my greatest source of inspiration, especially in my work. The movement and textures, the colours, the sculptural elements that I see in a tree, or an old piece of driftwood, the way light changes from place to place, the list goes on, its lessons endless. It encompasses all the senses, the way I like to build a room or a home.
And so, as I march into the madness of the Autumn rush, I do so with my feet grounded in the NZ sands, faraway as they may be.
With everything that is currently going on in the world, it’s times like these when we appreciate how lucky we are to have our family and a place to call home —where we feel safe and can escape from the world, taking time to relax and be together.
I like to think of my house as a place for family to gather especially as the children grow up and start to become their own people. I treasure moments around the dining table, hearing about what my daughters have been doing, about work, school, friends, partners and passions.
At our home, we are constantly surrounded by music and dancing especially as one of my daughters is a singer-songwriter and all the girls play the piano, guitar or ukulele. You’ll often find us all singing and dancing together in the kitchen whilst cooking. It brings us joy and this time together creates the best memories.
In these times I am quite determined to make these magic moments all the more memorable. I take great pleasure in decorating my dining table, always adding a hint of the season whether it be the flowers and foliage or with decorative pieces I’ve collected over the years. It’s all about creating a mood by stimulating all the senses.
It begins with ornamentation – maybe it’s a quirky pair of candlesticks found in a dusty shop in France, or a pretty set of China that only comes out in certain seasons, or a bounty of irresistible produce from the farmer’s market that just looks luscious on the table. It’s taken years of hounding tiny antique shops the world over to collect these pieces — some of them quite cheap and cheerful—they are so valuable as conversation pieces. They stick in your memory.
Of course it’s about more than just the visuals. I adore layering linens and textures on the table, the more diverse and “mix and match” the better. They give a real sense of comfort and coziness. Then, of course, there is scent, my great obsession. I always include candles but I also like including scented seasonal flowers and herbs, as these will also layer in a lovely way. Finally, and importantly, there’s music. Curating a playlist beforehand makes for one thing less to do during the meal. Plus, it gets you in the mood for the party, too.
And then there are the tastebuds to think of. I always love to pop gorgeous nibbles on the table — especially almonds dragées or pastel coloured macaroons. They look so pretty in the crystal bowls I’ve collected over the years. Most important of all is the meal itself; cooking for my family is a must. I try to always come up with a handwritten menu card, and present it in a fun way. It makes the whole mealtime experience all the more special.
With Easter coming up, I have just managed to get decorations out for display, but will also add scented spring flowers, lemons such as sweet peas and daffodils, and of course some hand-painted eggs.
Off to the farmers market for asparagus, jerusalem artichokes, broad beans, peas and then some rhubarb for a gorgeous crumble. Delightful!
No matter the size, a bar – be it a built-in or a bar cart – is such a jolly feature for entertaining at home. The size is dependent purely on the space you have available; the trick is in making it into a special feature, one that calls attention and sparks joy. Here are a few of the ways I take the home bar up a notch or two:
The Purpose-Built Bar
When you’ve got the room for it, a purpose-built bar is a worthwhile addition to the home, especially if you are serious about entertaining. The key elements are, of course, the bar counter & stools. From there, it’s always great to include a wine fridge for ultimate high-tech usability. It’s important, too, to consider dimmable mood lighting, to suit the mood.
In terms of decorating, the home bar is ripe with opportunity. This is a place to boast a collection of beautiful glassware on glass shelves. These are a beautiful detailing, allowing light to shine through. I also always like to use mirrors as backdrops – they too add reflection and light and expand the space available.
Whether it takes up a room or a corner of a room, I think it’s fun to conceal it behind a panelled door. It adds an element of surprise to be able to open the panels into such a fun space, and it also means that they can be closed when it’s not cocktail hour, but tea time instead.
Finally, don’t forget to stimulate all the sense with candles and a great playlist.
The Drinks Trolley
When you’re low on space, a bar trolley can be just as exciting. The key is to truly make a feature of it and find one that suits your décor – whether it’s a piece of Mid Century Modern vintage or a more classically appointed piece.
My drinks trolley was custom-made by Soane with glass shelves and an antique silver finish for a touch of Old Hollywood glamour. I always leave it set up with a few crystal glasses, decanters, silver cocktail shakers, ice bucket, lemons, limes, mint, olives, nuts, and a couple of attractive bottles of spirits. The bottles are like little works of art, use them to bring the cart to life.
The other fun thing about a drinks trolley is that it can easily and quickly be ‘themed.’ It can in no time be transformed into a Martini Bar, with all the fixings or a Bloody Mary Bar should you be serving Brunch. Anything is possible and the effect is wonderfully festive.
And don’t forget, in the summer, the drinks trolley can easily travel outdoors for garden entertaining. My favourite summer cocktail is the Picante – with a twist. See my recipe below!
Alison’s Summer Picante Mezcal Margarita:
2oz/ 60ml Mezcal
.75oz/ 20ml Honey
1oz/ 30ml Fresh Lime Juice
Red Chilli Pepper
Top end of the Red Chilli Pepper
Cilantro leaves with a bit of stem
Your favourite heavy based glass – I recommend a rocks!
HOW TO MAKE IT:
Cut the small piece of chilli and press it with a muddler in your favourite cocktail shaker.
Smash the cilantro in your hand and drop in. Add the rest of the ingredients, then shake and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add chilli pepper top end and nestle it into the icey drink to garnish. And enjoy!
Having grown up for most of my life in Asia I have always been aware of the importance of Feng Shui. It is quite a complex philosophy that is ultimately about enabling the positive, harmonious energy in nature – or Chi – to flow through a space. When investing in a property of any size, Feng Shui is seen almost as a form of insurance, ensuring the health and wellbeing of those who inhabit the space. As complex as it is, when you spend enough time in Asia, it becomes second nature. Sometimes I walk into a building and simply get a feeling that there’s been some Feng Shui work done there.
I see Feng Shui as the ability to measure the invisible gravitational forces in your home. In a consultation the intention is to maximise the positive potentials of the occupants: Anything from good health and vitality, to luck, brainpower, and happy relationships for you and your family.
Over the years, I have worked with a number of different Feng Shui experts around the world in both my personal and commercial projects, including the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. The suggestions and predictions that come out of a session are often quite enigmatic, and invariably reveal themselves to be true over time – often in surprising ways.
The system is based on the 5 elements – Metal, Water, Wood, Fire & Earth – and the key is to keep these in balance to allow Chi to flow in all aspects of your life:
World: Your social connections, friends, industry expansion, marketing & long term results
Money: Your career, business, business assets, character, personal growth
Self: You, Your image, your brand, spouse, health, things closest to you
Creations: Happiness, actions, your investment, skills, dreams, children, short term results
For a Feng Shui treatment on a home, the process begins with an astrological analysis of those living there. This revolves around the Chinese astrological calendar and provides a year’s road map for everything from health and wellbeing to wealth, and auspicious and inauspicious things to do – things like travel, marriage, signing contracts, etc. This information is then looked at within the context of home in particular the orientation of the house front door. Below are some of the basics to keep in mind when making sure the Chi flows in a domestic space.
Placement really matters here!:
All rooms are divided into sectors which exert an influence on the people within. Therefore, whatever the energy in the sector where the bed is is what the person in the bed will be absorbing. Sleeping in the wrong place or room can cause no end of ills, from poor health to anxiety, depression and sleeplessness…never mind marital issues!
Top Tip: Make sure your bed is in a “Commanding position” – in sight of the door but not directly facing it. The belief is that you’ll be able to see anything that comes your way – positive or negative – quite clearly and be prepared for it.
Here the desk position can bear an effect on business and affect your decisions, acumen, focus and clarity, not to mention luck with money. Writers Block? If your desk is in the wrong position, it could block your workflow.
1) The ‘Commanding Position” comes into play here too. When we had our studio checked the Feng Shui Master Consultant recommended I sat “at the head of the dragon”… Make sure you can see the door so you can see all those big opportunities coming your way.
2) The Consultant also recommended that we paint the entrance door frames white, rather than the black frames I had already painted, otherwise he said the money wouldn’t come in the door!
We made the changes the next day and we got an amazing project with Mandarin Oriental.
The Personal Power & Regeneration Position
This is a space in the home where, according to an individual’s birthdate, they can tap into the most beneficial earth and heavenly energies for them.
Verticality is an important concept in Feng Shui and represents growth. To make this position especially advantageous, add elements that make the space feel taller – anything from a tall indoor plant to bookshelves to a tall, thin lamp.
Areas for spiritual growth, meditation studying and learning are also often identified within the home.
1) In your personal sanctuary as well as in the home in general, tidiness is a virtue. It is thought that Chi flows more freely in a clean, open space.
2) Indoor Plants like Calathea, Jade Plant and Philodendron are all thought to be auspicious for different reasons and to promote Chi, so use them to spruce your sanctuary space and your home in general.
Entrances are important as they are places where Chi flows into and out of the home.
Keep your main entrance area tidy and clean and make sure it doesn’t become a place where outerwear/socks/post/daily detritus can pile up as this will act as an obstacle to the positive Chi you’re looking to attract.
Depending on the orientation of the house and how it was built there are areas that if disturbed by ground digging, renovation or even tree felling can cause issues to your health. Disturbing negative areas can also cause financial setbacks and sudden misfortunes.
“TO FULFILL YOUR VISION, YOU MUST HAVE HINDSIGHT, INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT”- Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha.
During this prolonged period of uncertainty we are living through, we have all had to make adjustments to how we lead our daily lives, including how we work from home. Without the physical commute to an office, it’s all too easy to let work slowly and steadily seep into home life – to the point where we’re looking at a screen from dawn till dusk.
To avoid falling into this all-too-common work trap I’ve become almost evangelical about creating a designated work space at home. Whether it’s an entire room or an unused nook in a forgotten corner, there are a few golden rules for making the home office comfortable and all the more productive.
First, the Basics
While the area doesn’t need to be large, you do need a space that can accommodate all the equipment you need for your work – whether its printers and scanners or pens and paintbrushes.
Think through storage and accessibility, too. The end goal is to have a fairly clean desk, with all the necessary equipment nearby.
While at the beginning of lockdown it was tempting to just slouch on the sofa or in bed with a laptop, my back has since thanked me for using a proper chair at a desk. Find a chair that encourages you to sit up straight (and at the right height) while working at a computer or laptop. I do love a Time Life “Lobby” desk chair by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller. Timeless and incredibly comfortable for those long calls on ZOOM .
Two kinds of lighting are essential – daylight and solid task lighting. Make sure you’re near a window as daylight will bring joy and a sense of wellbeing into the space while a good lamp or two make it possible to work comfortably into the evening. I always like to use mirrors either on the wall or on the desk (or both) to help amplify the light in the room.
One of the keys to making a space comfortable is making it your own. Decorate the space with a few items that inspire you – whether its artwork, family photos, a grounding quote, a personal collection, a cherished antique, a chandelier. I have a beautiful black & white photo of my daughter at the beach above my desk and a collection of shells I’ve found on my travels on the library shelves. I find them both soothing and inspiring.
A Room with A View
This goes with my thoughts on daylight. A good view of the outdoors connects us with nature and grounds us. If you’re lucky enough to have a balcony or garden you can also take the occasional break outdoors. On nice Spring days I sometimes open up the French doors onto my balcony and take a coffee and the phone outside to enjoy the scent of our ancient climbing wisteria and delight at the sight of the nearby London plane trees.
Creatures of Comfort
If you have pets, let them be a part of this space. After all, they do make wonderful company, especially after such a solitary year spent with Google and Zoom. I have a small dog bed in my study for our Maltese and she is thrilled to have the family working from home.
Peace and quiet is one of the things I’ve missed the most about working from home. I do find that adding a carpet or rug and thick curtains not only absorbs noise levels and improves acoustics for zoom and phone calls but also gives a sense of calm and softness to the work space.
The Great Escape
We all need to make time (and space) for ourselves, especially when we are spending so much time at home. Making the rest of the house comfortable and inviting is as important as getting the work space just right. Make the effort to create ambiance in the rest of the home, so when the work day is done, “escaping” to the bedroom or bathtub really feels like a special treat. Candles, bath salts and a good Netflix series certainly helps.
While it has been an adjustment, working from home does have its perks. You don’t necessarily have to dress up if you don’t want to, you can (technically) start and finish whenever suits, there are opportunities for escape like walks on sunny days, and you can do your online exercise classes anytime. I know that when I look back on this strange time in a few years, I will always treasure the time I’ve gotten to spend at home with family.
The Ballet Studio & Home Gym
Now more than ever before, it’s become a real luxury to have the option to be able to train at home, both indoors or in the garden (weather permitting). Our Studio space is a dream that I’ve had since childhood when I studied ballet as a little girl in Singapore with my wonderful teacher Miss Toh. I danced throughout school and took up jazz, modern – even tap dancing.
With timber floors, mirrors, a ballet barre and lots of space and light streaming in through the French doors, this, of course, is a very grownup dream come true. I never wanted a home gym full of bulky equipment, I just loved the idea of having a wide open space to dance and run around. And that’s what this room is – a place to be free. It’s amazing how being in it and giving time to those childhood passions can be so refreshing – a fountain of youth, even. The added bonus of having a bit of a “blank canvas” for a gym is that it serves the whole family. We have ballet, pilates, yoga, TRX and Peloton enthusiasts in the family and this room serves us all whether its for Zoom classes, private tuition or just a regular solo workout.
Dancing has also always been a great way for me to keep fit without feeling pressured to go to the gym and train. It’s also a way to relax using different styles of dance and music to escape with. Plus, as my mum used to say, it’s good for your “deportment” (not sure she’d say the same about my dancing late into the evenings at night clubs).
My four girls have all been encouraged to dance and have studied ballet to different stages. And nowadays I like to say to them that it’s good for their posture and deportment.
My youngest daughter has been part of the The Nutcracker with the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum as a mouse age 8/9 and more recently age 10/11 as a Candy Cane and a Snowflake. It’s an unsmissable Christmas treat: exquisite dancing, beautiful sets and Tchaikovsky’s popular score played live. It’s always quite moving for us as a family to watch, especially after the time and dedication that’s required with rehearsals, dress rehearsals and the final productions. I am a very proud Mum.
My older three girls still like to dance but are more concerned with keeping fit and healthy. They enjoy Ballet Barre Core classes and Pilates as well as spinning via our Peloton bike – a lockdown treat. They too still love to dance, though – we are not shy of having done more than a few family Tik Toks over lockdown.
Love, Alison x
I write this during London’s 2nd lockdown in the face of the Covid Pandemic. It’s safe to say it has changed the way we live forever, permeating every aspect of our lives. Home has always been a place to retreat and find solace, but now its purpose is all the more imperative.
So I present my Bathroom Guide 2.0 with all of this in mind.
One of those lockdown days when I was stressing over the many things on my plate, a friend gave me an amazing analogy that clicked instantly. They asked me to think of myself within a box sharing the tight space with all my worries and tasks. Then they asked me to imagine taking the lid off… it’s a perspective shift that continues to make my fears and frets feel somehow smaller and more manageable.
I perceived a similar sense of liberation when we were finally able to remove the ceiling in the master bathroom and create a glass ceiling over it. My new bathroom has quickly become my personal sanctuary.
Here are a few takeaways from the recent bathroom renovation to create that sense of wellness at home:
Open it up
This is one of the most important tenets of my design philosophy: bring the outdoors in. Extend the windows, knock down the ceiling. Our bathroom is basically a glass box that opens up to the sky and overlooks our garden with its lovely London Plane tree and our glorious old wisteria as it changes through the seasons.
Give it the love it deserves
Treat this space like any other well-loved space in the home and invest in beautiful materials and finishes. For me, that’s where a bathroom brand like drummonds comes in, with modern detailing and classic shapes, not to mention strong scale. From their “shamrock” showerhead (3 round showerheads, fused into one, standout shamrock shape) and cast iron tub with claw feet, down to their heated towel racks, which sport a hefty radius, everything about their collection makes a serious statement in scale, which i absolutely love. In their bespoke silvery “antique nickel” finish, they elevate the room with pretty details and flounces, giving the whole space a sense of value and importance.
Make use of light & air
A freestanding tub will give the room a sense of space and movement. Meanwhile, white marble walls, sinks, etc., bring in the light and lend airiness. I tend to go for “white statuario” for my own home with it’s subtle grey veined texture as i like to keep it bright creating a gentle sense of serenity and balance.
It’s all in the lighting
The bathroom has many uses – makeup in the morning, spa time in the evening, etc., – It should have just as many lighting options. I tend to go for a lighting system with at least four options, bright for getting ready to go out, medium for a quick check in the mirror, low & romantic for a relaxing evening in the tub, night lighting, and more. I also recommend suggest a pir light movement sensor for night lighting for those who don’t want to have to think in the dark.
Create a space for reflection
Mirrors aren’t just key in making a room appear more spacious, they also reflect the light from outdoors and make the room sing. In the morning, the room is showered in daylight. In the evening, on starry nights, the space twinkles.
They also work to reflect and amplify the mix of textures and finished in the room. The brushed nickel hardware and textured white marble dance across the room when reflected in the mirror.
Treat the senses
Whether the tranquil sounds of the ocean or classical music, the inclusion of an aquavision television in the bathroom is a good choice. For the morning news or to watch netflix whilst relaxing in the bath surrounded by low lighting and candle, it’s a great addition. I often watch TV in the bath with a good glass of wine. I’m currently hooked on “The Undoing” with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant.
Shower in positive energy
A room can be beautiful but it’s nothing if its function is lacking. In my renovation project I made sure we got the nuts and bolts just right and so I was delighted with my first shower under Drummonds Shamrock head, not just because of its standout design, but because of the truly simple advent of great water pressure.
They say the negative ions from splashing water can have a profoundly beneficial effect on mental health. When I shower in the morning I feel as though I’m under a glorious waterfall, and it’s all down to the rather unglamorous but oh so necessary water pump!
Create an escape
Bath time has forever been my most treasured escape, even more so during lockdown. And so I’ve made an effort to make it all the more luxurious. At night I make sure to set the mood with scented candles, and spoil myself with a special blend of bath salts, bath oils and body creams. Making the seemingly small effort to incorporate a few special treats in the bath tends to pay back two-fold, resulting in a good night’s sleep and a spring in my step the next day.
In my quest to treat the bathroom as any other room in the house, I’ve found it the perfect spot to place a small but meaningful collection. My mother gave me a shell heart from our home in New Zealand, which I proudly display along with pieces of green glass and special shells I’ve collected on my travels.
I also like to set the mood to that of the season using small accessories such as candles and decorations. For example, I choose musky scented candles for the winter-time and softer, sweeter scents for the sunnier months.
Finally, don’t shy away from a bit of grandeur for this space. I chose a large and ornate floral chandelier for our master bathroom to give the room the gravitas I believe it deserves.
Love Alison x
We’re thrilled to announce that we have been shortlisted as finalists in the ‘Residential House Over £1M’ category in the SBID International Design Awards 2020.
The house – situated in beautiful Belgravia, London, in walking distance to lovely, village-like Elizabeth Street and the magnificent Eaton Square, this stately Georgian Villa was built in the 1830’s, the era of British master builder, Thomas Cubitt.
Cubitt was a true innovator, notable for his role in developing many of London’s historic areas like Belgravia, Bloomsbury and parts of Buckingham Palace.
The Georgian Villa boasts an abundant, leafy charm, hidden away behind a wall of yew hedging, is a delightfully private front garden – an unusual perk for the area and an enticing hint of what’s to come. Enter further into the property to discover a wonderfully grand, lush private courtyard garden that then connects the main house to its corresponding Mews house.
The gardens, large entertaining rooms, sumptuously appointed ensuite bedrooms, the gym/ballet room, and the cinema/family room all reflect AHD’s classic sense of laid-back glamour. Playing with an almost monochromatic white scheme, I wanted to bring in characterful layers of texture with white oiled oak floor boards, white chalk finished walls, pale grey silk rugs, handpicked antiques, bespoke crystal Murano chandeliers, French style carved marble fireplaces, and more.
The ground floor entrance hall has French doors that open into the dining room and then into the family room/kitchen. There lies a wonderful surprise: a double height Crittal window and roof, which makes one feel as if they’ve just walked into a palatial orangery, lush with climbers and ancient urns holding camellias. The interiors embrace the beauty of outdoor living, letting these green visages and the lovely London light stream in.
The kitchen within this show stopping light box is a collaboration between myself and Officine Gullo and it makes home cooking and entertaining a totally glamorous affair.
Matte white cabinetry, nickel detailing, antique wooden floors in a herringbone pattern, and plenty of white marble to tie it all together are just a few of the elements of this extraordinary space.
The garden itself has the feel of a living room within the home, appointed with classical metal furniture topped with soft buttoned cushions, a low lounge seating area around a carved gas fireplace, sun loungers, a breakfast area and an Officine Gullo X AHD barbecue set up in keeping with the kitchen’s design.
When I began this project, it was clear to I wanted the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ gardens – ancient Wisteria included – to be saved. From there, we stripped the buildings down to their bare bones and then rebuilt and reappointed them in handsome, historically relevant detailing.
In this way we remained true to the original building’s history, while bringing it into the 21st century and making it a family home. Grand fluorishes like the Crittal casing for the kitchen/family room bring light
and a sense of airiness into this historic home.
It’s both a place for relaxing en famille and for gathering friends and family for serious entertaining.
It is modern and dynamic while remaining true to its proud historic roots as a classic Belgravia home.
Glorious Outdoor Dining
Now that summer is in glorious full swing, my family has taken to dining almost exclusively al fresco. I’ve accommodated this lovely habit by turning the garden into a true extension of our home. I consider it not just a space for housing greenery and standard garden furniture but truly as another room. As such, I’ve decorated the area with classically appointed metal furnishings topped with prim, white buttoned cushions, low lounge seating around an antique stone carved Italian fireplace, a breakfast table situated directly outside the kitchen that catches the morning sun just perfectly, and a formal dining table for twelve. The centrepiece might just be my custom Officine Gullo BBQ, designed in keeping with the Orangery Kitchen scheme indoors with bright white surfaces and nickel trim.
In all truth this is more than a BBQ, and together with Officine Gullo we’ve again elevated the dining experience, making the possibilities of outdoor cooking almost as limitless as indoor. Officine Gullo provides high-tech gadgetry and awe-inspiring artisanry while my studio has helped to create a thing of beauty inside and out.
An avid home cook myself, I had a hunch that I wouldn’t be the only one interested in possessing properly functional, properly beautiful equipment outdoors. We made this BBQ with everyone from the serious foodie to the professional chef in mind, whether for a small gathering or a large-scale event. Integrated halogen lights, a brilliant blue night light system on the control panel, and soft close doors that reveal interior lights on storage shelves are all groundbreaking when it comes to serious evening cooking. And then there are all the storage features that a truly tidy chef will adore including tool hooks and generously proportioned shelves to rest plates and store sauces and rubs upon. The list goes on. To top it all off, the Officine Gullo X Alison Henry BBQ is available in three sizes and in any colour and finish to suit absolutely any space.
Having had a few weeks of lovely summer weather, my family has had a chance to truly road test our new outdoor dining situation. I’ve been busy developing recipes for a new project, and spoiling both family and guests with Kiwi favourites like scallops cooked in their shells or butterfly of lamb and grilled vegetables. Whether dining en famille or entertaining friends we are all treasuring our summer spent outdoors.
How is it that Spring creeps up on us each year and feels like such a joyful surprise each time? This year’s show of blooms feels particularly splendid, though maybe it’s just that we have a bit more time on our hands to take notice…
Our wonderful (and ancient) wisteria is in full bloom now and sends the sweetest sheath of scent wafting through the windows.
It’s literally bringing nature indoors, which is one of the core tenets of my design ethos.
Open up your doors (or Crittal windows) to nature and in turn, make sure your outdoor space embraces all the seasons.
That means finding plants that perform at different times of the year so there’s always a joyful reminder of the season just outside your window.
In the Spring it’s bulbs, wisteria, magnolia and more. In summer, hydrangea and long wispy grasses.
Autumn leaves in russet tones and then it’s the little winter miracles like hellebores make all the difference. Enjoying the seasons is about noticing nature and the easiest way to do that is to make it part of your home.
Make a list of a few of your favourite plants and find a trustworthy gardener who can make it work for your outdoor space.
There’s no place like your Home
Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere: this is what any interiors expert worth their mettle is out to create. Colour, texture, lighting, materials, composition — these elements all play a large part, of course, but nothing triggers the brain and transports us quite like fragrance. Just like Proust’s famous madeleine, scent has an immediate, overpowering and instinctual effect on our memory. And thus, it is one of the essentials in my toolbox. Here are a few rules to live by when it comes to creating an evocative ambiance with scent:
1) Plant-based wax candles tend to be better for your health as they do not contribute to indoor air pollution in the same way paraffin-based candles might. Do read the ingredients list as many of the big name manufacturers still use toxic ingredients as a base.
2) It’s not about one signature scent but about many. You don’t want your entire home smelling exactly the same. It destroys the narrative of the journey from one room to the next. The kitchen should have a different scent to the bathroom, the dining room to the living room. Perhaps you’d like to create a spa-like feel in the bathroom in the evenings with the scent of tuberose & jasmine; in the kitchen, the scent of fresh herbs; etc. Think of how the room should function and choose fragrances accordingly. Is it a place to relax? A place to be productive? A room in which secrets are shared?
3) Think of the seasons and even the time of day when choosing your scent. It’s good to have an arsenal of “flavours” at the ready to use accordingly. In the summer I like light fresh, natural scents like fig & citrus. In the winter, I go for stronger, more woody scents. The same can be said for the progression from day to night. Each moment has its mood!
4) There are many ways to scent a house but there’s something to be said for the romance of candles. As much as a diffuser might be efficient, nothing is as evocative and romantic as a lit candle. So hide the diffusers (or dispense into an elegant piece of statement glassware) and always highlight candles. They can be part of a coffee table display, on a shelf in a vignette with some other evocative accessories, on the mantle in a pair or a trio, etc. Think of candles as decorative accessories.
5) Always choose a blend. Straight, single-element fragrances such as a rose, jasmine or tuberose scented candle can be overwhelming and boring at the same time. Lacking nuance, they don’t trigger the brain in quite the same way or evoke that sense of mystery that makes a truly memorable fragrance.
With all of this very much in mind, we’re excited to present our studio’s latest scented candle, Ebene, inspired by the rare and precious wood ebony. As the name implies, the scent, with its woody undertones, evokes a sense of depth and mysticism. And of course, this being an interior designer’s candle it is also an object of great beauty. Developed in the scent capital of the world, Grasse, France, and hand poured in Normandy and housed in a diaphanous black glass container, it is made to grace the most sumptuous interiors.
Alison Henry Design and bespoke Florentine kitchen maker, Officine Gullo, unveiled their latest design collaboration and Officine Gullo’s kitchen creations at Decorex 2019. Alison is also proud to announce her Brand Ambassadorship with the kitchen company. Last year the World of Interiors Award was given to the partnership for their collaboration at Decorex 2018 for the design currently being installed into Alison’s own home (Green House Project).
“It’s a great honour to work as a Brand Ambassador for Officine Gullo with such a brilliant team with vision and talent to create the most incredible kitchen spaces. The kitchen has increasingly become the centre of the home and the most important space for sharing your family’s time and memories.”
Marrying the innovative technology more often found in professional kitchens with the comfort of a residential setting, Alison Henry Design and Officine Gullo’s latest, completely bespoke, creation will set a new standard for the domestic kitchen, prompting us to reconsider the nature of craftsmanship in its truest sense. The key is to suit the unique lifestyle of each client.
“During my own home renovations, I was surprised to find that what I envisaged for my house kitchens just did not seem possible. From the minute I began collaborating with Officine Gullo it was clear from our very first meeting that its ‘bespoke’ service was genuinely, and unusually, just that: complete customisation designed for the client, with the client and with an artisanal perfection that is simply second to none. I am so incredibly proud of what we have achieved, and I can think of nothing that really competes. It is a project that really stands out from the crowd.”
Green Spaces and Getting Closer
I’m overjoyed to share there’s been quite a bit of progress on the home renovation front. The house is coming together down to many of the fine details – the custom ceiling rose is in, gorgeous slabs of Statuario marble are down in the bathrooms, bespoke ironmongery is installed at the entrance gates, the towering, floor-to-ceiling Crittal windows are up. I can see the light. Pun absolutely intended, as capturing light and bringing a sense of the outdoors in is one of my signatures.
The biggest highlight and most difficult challenge of this project has been conserving the ancient wisteria that has gracefully adorned the courtyard walls for decades. Perhaps the most well-known shade of wisteria flowers is lavender blue, but wisterias come in white, pink and violet, as well. The flower gives off the most delicate scent in spring sunshine, and delightful when positioned around a bedroom window letting in the light fragrance.
This ‘original feature’ was one I would have been heartbroken to lose as it is so central (literally and figuratively) to the flow of this home. I’m sure the builders would have been happy to see it go, however, having had to build walls around it, scaffold around it, install windows around it, and much more: A true construction nightmare! I’m certainly glad I persisted, though, and I’m sure that now they can see its value for it is a thing of majestic beauty.
Not only does dappled light stream through the picture windows into the house, but being able to see the wisteria bloom and change from season to season—from indoors, may I add—only adds to the open, airy atmosphere I wanted to convey throughout the house. Marble, mirrors, textiles and bespoke fittings certainly do provide texture, but nothing makes a magical interior like the outdoors.
LET’S DRIVE THE CHANGE
Working with charities and fundraising is a huge part of my life. Over the years I have been involved with the charity Cash & Rocket – the world’s only all-female charity-fundraising car tour.
Cash & Rocket was set up to bring inspiring women together for the ultimate adventure of a lifetime, uniting them all through female empowerment and solidarity.
As a woman and mother I really believe that it is so important to help all women and children to give each of them the opportunity to grow and thrive.
Each year, forty red cars and eighty influential international women from the worlds of fashion, film, music, art, design and business are handpicked to join the Cash & Rocket Tour Crew.
During the 4-day Rally from London to Paris to Geneva to Monte Carlo, through female solidarity, they aim to raise money for charities around the world which provide life-changing support to women and children in need.
Julie Brangstrup founded Cash & Rocket in 2011 with a vision to change the world through the creation of a platform that inspires, motivates and supports women from all walks of life.
“If you don’t try you can’t fail. I can’t make a meaningful change on my own. But with the support of our incredible ladies and partners we can make a huge difference to thousands of lives”. Julie Brangstrup | CEO of Cash & Rocket.
Together on this journey we laughed, we cried, and we drove.
To learn more, please check out the website www.cashandrocket.com.
With the house renovation still in full swing and the big, architectural decisions made, it’s time to get down to the details. Currently I’m working on the bathrooms. I am not of the philosophy that these should be seen as accessory spaces – cold and purely functional. Quite the opposite, to me the bathroom must be a fully-fledged room in the house, deserving attention and even admiration.
When I design a bathroom I like to think of it as a home-spa or private sanctuary, and accordingly, it needs the right treatment, including upgraded amenities. That’s where a bathroom brand like Drummonds comes in for me, with modern detailing and classic shapes, not to mention strong scale. From their “Shamrock” showerhead (3 round showerheads, fused into one, standout shamrock shape) and cast iron tub with claw feet, down to their heated towel racks, which sport a hefty radius, everything about their collection makes a serious statement in scale, which I absolutely love. In their bespoke silvery “Antique Nickel” finish, they elevate the room with pretty details and flounces, giving the whole space a sense of value and importance.
A few more of my essential tips for creating bathroom atmosphere:
1) Make use of Light & Air
A freestanding tub will give the room a sense of space and movement. Meanwhile, white marble walls, sinks, etc., bring in the light and lend airiness. I tend to go for “White Statuario” for my own home with it’s subtle grey veined texture as I like to keep it bright creating a gentle sense of serenity and balance.
2) It’s all in the Lighting
The bathroom has many uses – makeup in the morning, spa time in the evening, etc., – it should have just as many lighting options. I tend to go for a lighting system with at least four options, bright for getting ready to go out, medium for a quick check in the mirror, low & romantic for a relaxing evening in the tub, night lighting, and more. I also recommend suggest a PIR light movement sensor for night lighting for those who don’t want to have to think in the dark.
Whether the tranquil sounds of the ocean or classical music, the inclusion of a Aquavision Television in the bathroom is a good choice. For the morning news or to watch Netflix whilst relaxing in the bath surrounded by low lighting and candle, its a great addition.
4) Water Pressure
This may seem like an obvious one, but there’s nothing that will take the pleasure out of a shower like low water pressure. With 5 busy females in my house, I know this to be an absolute essential. Make sure your water system can cope with the number of people in the house and their water habits from the outset.
Don’t be afraid to add homey decorative/ornate touches that go beyond the basics. After all, as I said before this is not a room to sideline. I love a sublime chandelier in the bathroom, giving it weight and importance. Consider a decorative feature such as an antique Venetian mirror to surprise and delight. I also tend to add elegant side tables near the bathtub, with candles and other spa-like accessories to underline the room’s purpose. Crisp linen hand towels contrast soft luxurious bath towels and oversized robes.
In my designs I like to consider all the senses – from scent to touch to temperature to audio and visual enhancing the complete experience.
Officine Gullo Update
Because you asked, here’s the latest from my collaboration with the brilliant Officine Gullo. (See ‘An Invitation to My Kitchen’ story below to catch up) For one, we were over the moon to win World of Interiors’ Best in Show for our ‘Officine Gullo for Alison Henry’ kitchen for Decorex.
During my own home renovation, I was surprised to find that what I envisaged for my kitchen just did not seem possible. I discovered Officine Gullo and it was clear from our very first meeting that its ‘bespoke’ service was genuinely, and unusually, just that: complete customisation designed for me, with me and with an artisanal perfection that is simply second to none. I am so incredibly proud of what we have achieved, and I can think of nothing that really competes. It is a project that really stands out from the crowd.
And, after Decorex’ success we’re discussing the possibility of my expanding my role within the brand beyond that of a collaborator. As much as I would love to while my days away designing their kitchens – so finely engineered and crafted that to me they rival a Bentley or an Aston Martin – that’s not what this new role would entail…
Along with continuing to design my own series for them, I am also looking to open doors for the brand here in London. The idea is to bring more attention to the unparalleled OG, whether it’s finding a showroom space, providing connections with other high-calibre designers, or sniffing out new collaboration opportunities.
My role, as I see it, is to open doors to other designers allowing them to let their creativity flow with what is perhaps the best kitchen brand of our time.
Together, we are currently looking at spaces where Officine Gullo and other artisan brands of the same calibre could show London the wonders of its craftsmanship. A modern home design gallery concept space, if you will. Definitely watch this space.
A Home in the Making: Chapter 2
The Hardest Part…
In home renovation, you would think coordinating with a seemingly endless line-up of contractors, plumbers, chimney experts, flooring specialists and more would make for a full plate, but that, I’m afraid, is the easy part. In fact, working with the London Projects team has thus far been, dare I say, breezy. My job as the designer is the easy part; the rock hard part is the politics.
Just a few weeks ago our project came to a grinding halt when we were served a Section 60, aka a “stop and search” by the Westminster Property Association, the most dreaded of all the infractions in the building world. We were asked to come to a full halt. The builders were asked to hang up their hats and go home. This after spending countless hours, days, weeks following all the rules and regulations like a good school girl, going by the book, crossing my t’s and dotting the i’s down to the last CTMP (traffic control). Suddenly the proverbial goal posts had moved a few feet forward according to the council’s whim. Suddenly our site was in breach of brand new timing and access rules.
Down I went to a community meeting to plead my case to my fellow residents, local retailers, the Belgravia Society and the Westminster Property Association only to find that mine was not the only project on hold, but one of four. There were those who suggested the building sites should pool funds together as financial compensation for our patient neighbours’ mental health. I was crestfallen and saddened to hear this. Our neighbours have been amazing and I would hate to cause them any trouble.
So I stood up and made my case. How had it come to be that 4 sites were going at the same time? Isn’t this an error on the estate’s part, to allow four projects to move forward simultaneously? Surely it’s not on us, who pay dearly for our permissions and go out of the way to follow the rules?
After a long talk and some reasoning by the London Projects team, my message was heard and the Section 60 lifted. Onwards and upwards, and a big thank you to our wonderful neighbours for letting us move forward. We will not disappoint.
Photo: Vasselletti Italy
The Magic of Henraux
As you may have gathered, I have a penchant for craftsmanship that goes above and beyond. I search the globe for it and try and incorporate as much of the very best exemplars in the spaces I create. The Italian marble masters Henraux (http://www.henraux.it/) are right up there among my favourites.
There’s the fact that from this Italian quarry come marble creations of an almost divine perfection. Think of designer Michael Anastassiades’ “Miracle Chips, ” large, impossibly thin, impossibly curved cuts of marble from Henraux’ sister design brand Luce di Carrara (http://www.lucedicarrara.it/uk/index.asp). I’m dying to commission a slightly oversize marble surfboard for my next beach house project. Oh, but there’s so much more!
Established in 1821 in Quercata, Italy, Henraux happens to own and operate the quarry where Michaelangelo himself used to handpick his marble cuts. Later the Modern greats including Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Joan Miró tapped Henraux exclusively for their sculptural works in marble. What’s more, when it comes to more contemporary projects, theirs is the intricately patterned marble found both at the Mecca, which was restored in 1992, and the more recent and absolutely ethereal Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Mind blown? There’s much more to come from this astonishing brand. Their list of design collaborations via Luce di Carrara is growing – just recently they’ve released a set of surfaces and tables with Dutch superstar duo Scholten & Baijings. Moreover, they are busy quite literally carving away at a new space to establish their museum and foundation.
With a heritage that spans centuries, they’re not only invested in finding the technology to modernize the marble trade, but also the sculptors, designers and architects of the future. In fact, the Fondazione Henraux (www.fondazionehenraux.it) funds an annual award for masterful artistic and design projects in marble. On my visit, I was blown away by 2016 winner Daniele Guidugli’s piece, ‘Moby Dick’ a set of monumental whale vertebrae cast in marble.
This is a brand I’m watching and working closely with. I urge you to add them to your little black book.
I have some exciting news to share.
As you may know, I’m currently deep in the proverbial architect’s “trenches”, building my family’s new London townhouse. Today I’m able to share a sneak peak of the kitchen – in my eyes, the heart of any home. Not only am I sharing it here, but I’m very excited to invite you to see it in person, at this year’s Decorex fair in September. I’m proud to say that my personal design for the wonderful Florentine kitchen makers, Officine Gullo, will be available as one of their new models from then onwards.
ALISON HENRY DESIGN X OFFICINE GULLO
I first approached Officine Gullo, a family-run business of fantastically skilled artisans who create professional kitchens fit for palaces and restaurants to work on a design for my own home. I love the artisanal quality of their work, the classic motifs, and the endless customizability (not to mention sky-is-the-limit gadgetry) but wanted something a tad less palatial in size, industrial in feel, a bit more refined, and a lot more inviting for friends and family.
The team at Officine Gullo really took to my ideas for my dream residential kitchen concept – matte white cabinetry, nickel detailing, a splashy chandelier for a touch of elegance, antique wooden floors in a herringbone pattern, and plenty of white carrara marble to tie it all together — and the result was so lovely we decided to collaborate and make the designs available to others. And so Officine Gullo for Alison Henry was born!
The kitchen in my home is very much the social hub and to emphasise it all the more in my design, I added barstools at the end of the kitchen island. While no less refined, this subtle addition makes the space much more of a spot for relaxing and winding down together at the end of the day.
For even more authenticity (and a bit of fun), my home kitchen will open onto a leafy courtyard, for which we’ve also gone ahead and designed a professional grade barbeque in the same white and nickel theme.
I’m so pleased to be able to share my dream kitchen with the world —Officine Gullo for Alison Henry—and hope to see you at this year’s Decorex.
Decorex International 2018
16 – 19 September, Syon Park, London, Decorex stand No. D36
Tickets can be purchased here: https://www.decorex.com/register
Times and transport options are here: https://www.decorex.com/travelinformation
I’ve spent much of my career scouring the planet for unique antiques and treasures to add a sense of patina and a sense of history to my interiors. Of late, however, I’ve realised that all that time spent sourcing those special finishing touches, could easily go into making them instead. Why not make the antiques of tomorrow, today? I’ve decided to launch a small collection of statement pieces that will add glamour and a bit of magic to any interior. These are modern day heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation and home to home.
There are many to come, but the first in the collection are mirrored wall sconces inspired by those of the legendary French design house, Maison Baguès. I originally fell for their Art Deco-inspired lighting fixtures from the 1940’s that mixed mirrored glass and gilt metal elements in intricate floral designs. Inspired by these, I worked with skilled artisans to create a modern version incorporating all of these elements in a romantic, floral motif. I’m proud to present these as the first in my series of modern day collectables, as they’ll add just the right amount of romance and timelessness to just about any setting.
Watch this space for more launches and feel free to get in touch [link to contact page] for more information on this and any other bespoke pieces.
Some of you might be surprised to know that I am currently in the midst of a home renovation of my very own, and am about a year away from a move in date.
I thought I’d use this blog to occasionally share my personal renovation journey tips thus far in case they might be helpful to you.
Let yourself fall for it
Back in 2013 when I first toured the Belgravia townhouse that my daughters and I will eventually move back into, I fell in love with its “Alice in Wonderland” feel. For one, the entrance to the house was covered in vines and greenery and felt like a secret opening carved out of a hedge. Once inside, through a pair of ornate French doors, the property opened into yet another enchanting garden filled with charmingly overgrown trees and lovely white rose bushes. I was smitten from the get go and willing to turn a blind eye to the interiors, which felt a little trite and traditional for my taste.
Move in, then Repair
I knew from the beginning, too, that there were some serious structural repair works that the house would eventually have to go through, having not had a renovation in over thirty years. Rather than dive into renovation right away, I chose to move in first for a spell and discover all of its quirks, thus making the eventual repairs all the more well thought out.
Start with a Blank Canvas
In the meantime, to make the place more livable to my taste, I stripped out all the tired fabric wall coverings and whitewashed the entire space. I kept the furnishings neutral, too, to let the house’s garden assets become the real focal point throughout. In a way it became an almost blank canvas allowing me to reflect on the house’s potential. Here’s what it turned into…
Get to Know the Space
After a few years living in the house and getting to know the space, I not only understood what needed some serious repair (electrics, boilers and more!), I also had a clear idea of what structural changes needed to be made, and what additions (or subtractions) might add value to the space. I developed the design and found a contractor I could trust to completely gut the space and then rebuild. Which brings us to where we are today.
In the meantime, I’ve taken over an apartment nearby decorated in a similar neutral vein. This allows me to check on the builders often, and make sure all is going according to plan.
Follow along over the following months as I detail my finds for the house, from the best marble cuts, to my favourite flooring finds, to the ideal social kitchen, and more.