We look inside interior designer Harriet Anstruther’s Georgian London townhouse, which is the perfect showcase for her eclectic, witty style.
‘I start by looking at the building: where it is and what are its secrets,’ says interior designer Harriet Anstruther, before pausing. ‘Then I ask a client the same questions.’
She is, of course, semi-joking, but it does sum up the bespoke, personal approach she brings to all her projects.
‘I’m not living there, the client is, so I need to find out what makes someone smile, what makes them tick. Most people who are not in the design world aren’t used to explaining what they want. They might say they own lots of books so they need bookshelves but that doesn’t mean that they actually read. They could be novels they’ve inherited or belong to their kids.’
As is so often the way, Anstruther honed her skills doing up her own home – an 1840s Georgian London townhouse that she shares with her husband photographer Henry Bourne, 23-year-old daughter Celestia and their two dogs – at the same time as setting up her multi-disciplinary architectural interior design studio in 2011.
‘I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do,’ she recalls of the house, which was previously split into three separate flats.
‘You only need to look at the architecture to understand what the interior should be like. In this case, I was lucky enough to be able to find the original drawings by the architect, George Basevi, in the library, so I could identify what the mouldings and fireplaces should look like.’
Key to her home was creating different zones for different times of the day, from the grown-up drawing room with an upright sofa to the plush master bedroom, which has pink silk damask satin curtains, distressed furniture and a rug at the end of the bed.
‘I love reading in bed: that feels like the height of extravagance to me, so I used very traditional plumes of silk in that room,’ she says.
‘Downstairs is much more minimal but the point is that you feel differently at different times of the day. Sometimes you want to be cosied up; other times you want to be surrounded by contemporary white walls. That’s why the idea of decorating a home entirely in one style is very odd to me.’
Reclaimed furniture and flooring can be seen throughout but Anstruther has given each space a playful twist. ‘I don’t want the work to be earnest or showy; I’d much rather it was witty or surprising.’
Anstruther has always been creative: she studied fine art, then worked in fashion, set and costume design before doing an interior design course at the Inchbald School of Design.
‘It wasn’t so much the decorative side I wanted to learn. I was confident in my own ability to create spaces but I wanted a better understanding of the marriage between architecture and interior design.’
Downtime is spent at her weekend home in Sussex.
‘It’s a real sanctuary, completely different to London,’ she muses. ‘The Sussex house is Tudor, so it’s all limewashed beams and York stone floors. Life there is all about gardening, dogs, cooking and mud.’
So just as her London home tells one story, Sussex tells another and it’s this idea of injecting personality and individual expression (see her book, Reveal: Interior Design as a reflection of Who We Are) that she returns to again and again.
‘The job of an interior designer is to uncover layers and find out what makes someone want to be in a space. It has got to be a pleasure to live somewhere otherwise what’s the point?’