At Home With… Hannah Cecil Gurney
Lose yourself in the transcendental hand painted de Gournay scenes covering Hannah Cecil Gurney’s walls, as the designer shows C&TH behind the doors of her Battersea home
At Home With Hannah Cecil Gurney
What’s the story behind your home?
My husband Eddie and I bought our house, a late Victorian property near Battersea Park, in 2015. It was in a perfect working condition so we decided to spend at least a year living in it before beginning any work. Time allowed us to have ideas, dispel ideas, and have new, better ideas. The concept phase is so much fun as you build your dream home in your imagination.
What was your inspiration when it came to designing it?
I’m lucky that my job brings me into contact with incredibly talented interior designers across the globe, whose work has been an endless source of inspiration. My constant travels also allow me to meet and get to know amazing suppliers around the world. I oversaw the interior design myself because I realised it would be a wonderful experience to gain insight into being on the other side of the equation. I also wanted to work slowly over several years, allowing the place to evolve, making happy mistakes along the way. I would have made a terrible client!
Do you have any interior brands that you love and always go back to?
Collier Webb is an especial favourite. Their exquisite hardware and metalwork have such a sense of majesty. I used their beautiful shell handles for the cabinetry in my son George’s room, which pairs beautifully with the hand painted underwater scene spanning the walls. Catchpole & Rye was also a go-to. Their bathroom fittings remind me of old country houses, but don’t seem out of place in contemporary settings. They add a gravitas that I like, especially in my whimsical flamingo-covered bathroom.
What’s your favourite room in your house and why?
Probably my bathroom; it’s the one room that the children’s toys don’t seep into. I love having a hot bath at the end of the day; mine is a double width from Laufen that I can almost swim in. It’s so relaxing to lie there, surrounded by flocks of flamingos set against distant mountains. You would never dream you were in Battersea on a grey and rainy evening.
Does your house in any way reflect your business?
Every single room in the house incorporates de Gournay’s hand painting and hand embroidery in some capacity. I wanted to show people this is a plausible way to decorate – much as we fawn over wallpapers from 300 year old historical installations, de Gournay specialises in antiques of the future. I also wanted people to see our designs used in a relaxed family setting with children and dogs running all over the place. My kitchen wallpaper is so enlivening and happy, and covered in a protective glaze to make it durable. You can have form and function and I wanted people to see that.
What’s your best view?
My bathroom overlooks a muddle of Battersea’s neighbouring rooftops – which in the right light and from certain angles feels quite Peter Pan-esque (at a push). The views not being spectacular is exactly what makes the scenes set all over the interior walls even more special.
What’s your signature dish – can you share the recipe with us?
The cooking remains firmly in the hands of my husband – a proficient expert. If I had my way we’d all live on popcorn and Diet Coke. He makes the most incredible fajitas with home baked spinach tortillas. I love with Mexican food (especially as an excuse for frozen margaritas in December).
Share your top five books with us if you were to start a book club – and why
I wish I had more time to read. We have showrooms around the world, and trying to balance work and the kids doesn’t leave a huge amount of time for it, but I’m trying to change that. One of my favourite books is Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, another is Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. I love slightly sombre books that make me really feel something. A friend had me read I Am Pilgrim which isn’t my usual sort of book but I couldn’t put it down. Fiction aside, Jack Welch’s business books offer food for thought for our own business. A colleague recently lent me an illustrated copy of Anna Karenina too, which remains rather ominously by my bedside.
Share your must-see TV and movie list
I prefer television that provides escapism – rather than murder mysteries and murder documentaries (especially not before bed!) The OA was beautiful and gripping, as was Dark: a German series about time travel. I’ve also been watching some amazing Korean dramas. I nearly thought about learning Korean… but I’m a little too time poor.
Describe your office space?
I never set out to design a specific place to work from home, as de Gournay’s offices are just over the river. After working for three months of this year from my bedroom, however (the kitchen and dining room was too much a hive of activity and my husband commandeered the snug), I’ve been inspired to start building an extension for a beautiful home office. I never tire of my apricot bedroom wallpaper but the distance between the ‘office’ and bed – about three steps – did drive me a little crazy.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
First I go to the kitchen and make myself a huge mug of hot water and lemon whilst preparing the bottles for my 11 month old twins. I hate drinking water, so I try to drink as much as I can before leaving the house. I spend an hour with the children before rushing to get myself ready and racing to work, it’s the sweetest time when they’re all bleary-eyed and enthusiastic for the day. Once I’m in the office, I’m on a coffee and tea drip.
And how do you love to spend your evenings?
We have a little sitting room study tucked away on the back of the house, where the TV is. The walls are upholstered in a hand-embroidered floral motif on wool sateen designed by Alessandra Branca, and we have an enormous sofa in navy blue velvet that we pile onto with the dogs; a rough collie called Jiminy Cricket and Samoyed called Gyda. I love to cosy up there with a glass of red wine and a movie.
If you were to throw a party at home, what are the key ingredients to make it go with a swing?
Too much food, lots of places to sit, candles and flowers everywhere and a great playlist. If the guests oblige then also a steady flow of frozen margaritas. Since my husband is the chef and mixologist, I’d probably say he is the key ingredient!
What gadget could you not live without in your home?
The white noise machine in the babies’ bedroom. It’s like Valium to them.
How’s your garden behaving at the moment?
Expanding our kitchen dining room during renovations meant losing a degree of outside space – we have a very compact space beyond the kitchen. It’s north east facing and shaded, so more for looking out at than sitting in. We planted evergreen climbers all over and mix it up with potted seasonal plants and flowers. I don’t have green fingers, I’ve slowly accepted my skills are for cut flowers. My ideal therapy would be filling the house with them every day, and spending hours arranging them.
Whose home would you like to be a fly on the wall in and why?
I’m fascinated by how empty Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s house is, though I don’t suppose there would be much to see. I adore colour, pattern and richly layered interiors, it would be such a contrast to know what it was like to live in that stark emptiness. Perhaps I would have a moment of extreme clarity?
Has lockdown made you reassess your work-home life balance?
I had twins last August, and were it not for lockdown I’ve no doubt I would have been travelling just as much as I usually do (de Gournay have seven showrooms worldwide, including our most recent in Beirut). It’s been a real joy to have time with them and watch them grow. I’m much more maternal the second time around. Once you know how quickly those baby years are over, you really learn to stop and enjoy certain moments.
What makes a house a home?
The dogs, some manageable mess, and not knowing where the hell I left my shoes (perhaps the dog’s eaten the shoes?) Mostly I think what makes a house a home is its reflection of the owner – coming back and feel as though you’ve arrived home because it’s designed exactly as you like. That is why every home is unique. When a house is a home, it should make you feel safe and protected from the outside world. Your own little refuge.
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