Nowhere are the narratives of our lives more vivid than in our homes, as Rosalind Sack discovers in this leafy apartment in South London
IMAGE: JAMES AND KATERINA’S KITCHEN, BY POGGENPOHL, HAS CABINETS OF PAINTED, SOLID MAPLE AND SITS BENEATH A DRAMATIC TADELAKT FEATURE WALL
Our childhood homes, and the stories and experiences that unfold within those four walls, inevitably shape us in later life. For James Klonaris, his artistic second-floor apartment in South London speaks of a childhood spent creating and building, and an adulthood pursuing those boyhood passions.
Both the fabric and the decoration of this Victorian villa apartment, which is home to James, his wife Katerina and their 16-month-old daughter Rae, is carefully considered and, in many cases, painted, built or crafted with their own hands.
The result is a home of texture, sensation and drama which artistically frames the beautiful tree canopy in the park beyond the windows. Yet for all its good looks, it’s a space that is not to be taken too seriously – can a home ever be with an inquisitive one-year-old careering around?
IMAGES: LOCATED OPPOSITE LEAFY LEWISHAM PARK, THE TOP FLOOR APARTMENT OVERLOOKS THE TREE CANOPY. LIVING ROOM PAINTED IN FARROW & BALL’S PINK GROUND
“A lot of our friends refer to it as the treehouse. It feels like you’re slightly separated from the world below and living among the birds and the parakeets, and the relief of not being in anyway overlooked is very liberating,” says James, a Prime Appraisals Specialist at The Modern House. “Yesterday it was quite windy and it was wonderful to see and hear the trees sway. I do everything from the dining table, which has the best view of the foliage and, there, you feel that lovely connection with nature.”
It’s little surprise that a keen appreciation of art and architecture pulses through James. His late father, Lawrence Klonaris, was a successful artist with an extensive body of work and James’ beloved childhood home was a Grade II listed 15th century Tudor House in rural Kent.
“I’m sure the low ceilings stunted my growth, but the house was a joy to run around with my brothers,” recalls James, the second oldest of four boys. “It had character everywhere you looked, like a pathway that had been worn in the brick floor after centuries of toing and froing between the kitchen and dairy. We were surrounded by hop fields and lavender, and the gardens were beautiful,” recalls James. “We were always discovering aspects of the house’s past and age; newspaper pages in the loft, gravestones as hearths, lots of things that gave us a sense of what had gone on before us.”
IMAGES: PAINTING THE HALLWAY CEILING IN MYLANDS’ MARITIME MAKES THE SPACE FEEL LARGER (TOP LEFT); THE TULIP PENDANT WAS FOUND AT THE MODERN SHOW (TOP RIGHT); JAMES HAS BUILT A RETRACTABLE DESK IN THE CUPBOARD BY THE WINDOW IN THE MASTER BEDROOM
As anyone who lives in a period home can attest, one downfall is that something always needs fixing and that’s where James stepped in, whether that was mending and building new fencing, or crafting shelves. Learning how to work with wood by embarking on projects with school friends and taking on jobs on building sites taught James not to be intimidated by tools and materials.
“With the internet at our fingertips, almost anyone can learn almost anything. You just have to keep learning until you think you’ve got it and try it on a small scale before you commit. I have never had formal training, which is probably obvious on very close inspection, but there’s beauty in imperfection, so I embrace that.”
So when James and Katerina first stumbled across their two-bedroom apartment in Lewisham four years ago, they weren’t put off by the fact that while the floorplan afforded them nearly 1000 sq ft of space, it was cluttered with corridors and divisions. “I very much doubt it had had any significant intervention in the last 30 years or so, it was just patched up. There was gloss paint over everything and it needed everything doing to it. But it was safe and we were pre-baby then, so we were more resilient,” says James.
IMAGE: THE OPEN PLAN LIVING SPACE, WITH ITS LEAFY VIEWS, LENDS ITSELF WELL TO ENTERTAINING
They lived there for a year, during which time James and Katerina refined their ideas of how to renovate the space. “Our minds work in very different ways. Katerina is quite analytical, she needs to see mock-ups, and I’m the opposite, I go through iterations in my mind; which can be difficult when you’re trying to work as a team! So it was a great learning experience for both of us. And we both had a lot of input.”
They employed a builder to install new electrics, central heating system and boiler, and to fit the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as undertake the major structural work needed to create an open plan living space – which is ideal for keeping an eye on Rae during the day and entertaining after dark. Then James took on some of the bespoke joinery and the wonderful Tadelakt feature wall in the kitchen.
“I could see their faces; the builders weren’t too keen on doing specialist plaster work, so I did lots of online sleuthing and purchased a couple of books on Tadelakts and gave it a go,” says James. “I think it adds a great sense of drama to the space.”
IMAGE: JAMES’S HANDMADE IROKO BENCH IN THE HALLWAY (LEFT) AND TADELAKT FEATURE WALL IN THE KITCHEN (RIGHT)
Much of the joinery throughout the flat – including the bench in the hallway and a retractable desk carefully concealed in a bedroom cupboard – is crafted by James from leftover sustainable Iroko wood from the kitchen worktops. Not only did it minimise waste, it also serves to tie together the different areas and aesthetics within the apartment.
“The focus for us was creating a space of sensation, so we chose materials that we felt had texture and would warrant touch,” explains James. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the flooring; from the scraped oak in the living area, to the replica sisal in the bathroom, the wool carpets in the bedrooms and the wide-board cork in the kitchen. All were carefully chosen with bare feet in mind – both big and small.
One of their favourite materials, the cork, came from friends who had originally bought it for their self-build in Somerset. Realising it wouldn’t work in their home, it was passed on to James and Katerina. “It meant a lot to them that we used it in our home and their aesthetic influenced ours. So the project wasn’t just collaborative between Katerina and myself, it was collaborative among friends as well.”
IMAGES: JAMES’S ARTWORK HANGS OVER THE BED IN THE MASTER BEDROOM (TOP); HIS FATHER’S PAINTING SITS ON THE LIVING ROOM WALL WHICH IS PAINTED IN FARROW & BALL’S OINTMENT PINK (BOTTOM)
When it came to accessorising, James and Katerina’s ethos is all about acquiring gradually, so that every piece tells the story of them and their travels. Of course, many of the paintings in the apartment are James’s father’s works – including the cow in Hyde Park in the bedroom, one of his nudes in the hallway and the chard (or possibly rhubarb, depending on which family member you ask) in the living room. In fact, the terracotta colour of the wall on which it hangs was chosen purely to compliment the art.
The striking abstract piece hung over their bed is the work of James himself, also now a keen artist in his own right. “My aesthetic has certainly been influenced by my father’s work and growing up around all of his paintings,” reflects James.
Even years after flying the nest, our connection with our childhood homes is often deeply rooted – an intense early relationship forged like no other. James’s South London ‘treehouse’ tells the personal tales not only of a man, a husband and a father, but also of a boy. And surely THAT is what makes a house a home.
Much like his late father, who built up an extensive body of work, James is now keen to embark on a new project, mindful that schools and bedrooms will now influence their search. James’s house is currently for sale on The Modern House, the estate agency dedicated to exceptional design-led homes.
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