One of Britain’s most exciting young designers, Beata Heuman is, in fact, Swedish. As part of her new book ‘British Designers at Home’, author Jenny Rose-Innes visited Beata to see how she has brought her irreverent style to her London home
THE LIVING ROOM IS A MIX OF OLD, NEW AND BESPOKE, WITH A VINTAGE MOROCCAN RUG AND ANTIQUE BANNER ALONG WITH A VENUS CHAIR BY SOANE, BESPOKE SOFA UPHOLSTERED IN A CHRISTOPHER FARR LINEN AND A FIREGUARD FROM NICHOLAS HASLAM’S OKA COLLECTION, WHICH BEATA WORKED ON. IMAGE: SIMON GRIFFITHS
It is rare to start writing about one designer by talking about another, but in the case of Beata Heuman, who was named House & Garden UK’s inaugural interior designer of the year in 2018, it’s impossible not to bring in Nicky Haslam’s name early on. Beata, known for her colourful and original schemes, worked with Haslam, who she describes as having an ‘irreverent approach to life’, for nine years until she went out on her own in 2013. ‘I owe him so much,’ she says.
The connection between the two began, of all places, at a funeral. Brought up in the south of Sweden, Beata had plans to study literature at university, but instead, at the age of 21, found herself in London working in a delicatessen. She was also doing an interior design course, which she wasn’t enjoying at all. ‘I was telling a woman I’d met at the funeral that it would probably be better to be working for an interior designer instead of doing the course.’ Amazingly, the woman put her in touch with Nicky Haslam – ‘I didn’t really know who he was at the time. I went to see him, his business was booming and he hired me on the spot.’
LEFT: BENTWOOD CHAIRS, WITH ZIPPED LEATHER COVERS, SIT AROUND THE DINING TABLE, WHICH WAS DESIGNED IN THE 1930S BY AXEL EINAR HJORTH FOR THE STOCKHOLM DEPARTMENT STORE NK. SOLID OAK PARQUET FLOORING IS LAID IN A TRADITIONAL SCANDINAVIAN PATTERN; RIGHT: THE HEADBOARD IN THE MAIN BEDROOM HAS BEEN CREATED FROM A THROW WITH AN ABBOTT + BOYD VELVET BORDER. IMAGES: SIMON GRIFFITHS
The lack of hierarchy in his office, which Beata emulates in her own business, meant she was ‘thrown in at the deep end, running massive projects and designing furniture pretty early on. The most important thing I learnt from him was to be fearless, not to take the path of least resistance, especially when designing bespoke furniture. And his sense of humour – I love to design a room that has some humour in it.’ He also taught her a lot about design history, she says. ‘He had so many reference books that he always went back to – it’s so important to be informed by the past.’
The lessons learnt with Nicky Haslam are much in evidence in all Beata’s projects, including the Victorian house she has lived in for the past four years with her husband, John, and two young daughters, Gurli and Alma, in London’s Hammersmith. ‘We completely fell in love with it straightaway,’ she says. ‘So many houses like this get picked apart and become open plan, but this was quite well designed to begin with and unspoilt.’ She did, however, extend it slightly at the back, which allowed the space to be reconfigured. The kitchen was moved from the basement to the ground floor, making space for a guest room, utility and second little kitchen below. She also built a small patio outside the dining room with steps into the garden. Apart from that, no major changes were made to the layout.
LEFT: THE KITCHEN FEATURES A GLASS CEILING INSPIRED BY EUROPEAN PATISSERIES. THE BLIND IS IN A LE MANACH STRIPE BY PIERRE FREY, WITH SAMUEL & SONS MIDNIGHT BLUE GROSGRAIN TRIM; RIGHT: IN THE KITCHEN, THE ARMOIRE-LIKE UNIT, WITH BESPOKE HANDLES, HOUSES THE REFRIGERATOR. THE DODO EGG PENDANT WAS DESIGNED BY BEATA HEUMAN, AND IS PART OF HER COLLECTION. IMAGES: SIMON GRIFFITHS
Beata has created an interior that is joyful and unexpected, with echoes of her Swedish childhood and evidence of her interest in design history and the wider world, as well as subtle wit. ‘As a child, I loved rearranging my room,’ she says. ‘I loved playing with my doll’s house, and making furniture for it. Even then, I had little sketchbooks – I used to draw the room and sketch bits of furniture. I was always interested in creating other worlds.’
An example of her wit can be found on the walls of the dining room. ‘I love the fact that it looks as though someone has just drawn onto the wall,’ she says. In fact, she worked with the company Tibor to create a wallpaper based on enlargements of doodles by the firm’s founder, textile designer Tibor Reich. Reich’s grandson, Sam, who now runs the company, named the design ‘Beata’. The Claudia Rankin plates hanging on the wall only increase the level of whimsy.
The radiators, with scalloped shelves on top, and timber herringbone floors throughout the house, are further additions. ‘I tried to make the floor look as if it could have been here for quite a long time.’ There’s an equally timeless quality to the Snowdrop Rise and Fall light, one of many designs in the house by Beata. It hangs above the Swedish table, which was designed by Axel Einar Hjorth in the 1930s. But then the zippered dark green leather covers on the bentwood chairs take you to another world altogether, in a surprising and witty way.
‘PALM DROP’ BY BEATA HEUMAN IS USED FOR THE BEDHEAD IN GURLI’S ROOM. THE BESPOKE CHEST IS CLEVERLY BUILT INTO AN OLD FIREPLACE OPENING AND IS MUCH DEEPER THAN IT LOOKS. LUDWIG BEMELMAN’S MURALS FOR THE CARLYLE HOTEL IN NEW YORK PROVIDED THE INSPIRATION FOR THE WALL TREATMENT. IMAGE: SIMON GRIFFITHS
In the living room, worlds collide again – above the fireplace hangs a 100-year- old banner from Africa’s former Kingdom of Dahomey, while on each side sits a slightly Regency-inspired Lire cabinet, designed by Beata, topped by a Chinoiserie vase wired up as a lamp.
In Beata’s hands, not everything is as it seems. An armoire-like unit in the kitchen, visible from the dining room, actually houses the refrigerator. She describes the kitchen ceiling as ‘a real labour of love – I’d seen the idea in patisseries in Vienna and Scandinavia. They’re individual pieces of glass, of all different sizes, and of course the ceiling wasn’t completely straight. We got it right in the end.’
Upstairs, the walls of Gurli’s bedroom have been hand-painted with endearing parkland scenes, based on the murals that Ludwig Bemelmans (of Madeline fame) did for New York’s Carlyle hotel in the 1940s.
Even outside, Beata has been inspired by her travels – a wave detail on a timber trellis screen has been copied from one she saw on a visit to Le Petit Trianon at Versailles recently. The garden room, named ‘Chatsworth’, was built by the previous owners. Beata has kept the name, and has worked her magic on it. Rubber stencils were used to decorate the walls: ‘It’s quite a detailed pattern and was a fairly big job.’ She furnished the room with an oversized armchair upholstered in one of her favourite Pierre Frey fabrics. ‘It’s lovely to sit here at night after the children are in bed,’ she says. ‘Just to have a drink and relax. Having a bit of distance from the house yet still being here really works.’
LEFT: BESPOKE AND VINTAGE ELEMENTS COMBINE IN THE BATHROOM; RIGHT: VANITY SKIRT IN ‘MARBELIZED VELVET’ BY BEATA HEUMAN IS BOTH LUXURIOUS AND UNPRETENTIOUS. IMAGES: SIMON GRIFFITHS
What does home mean to you?
At the moment, it feels like my whole world is here. It’s the backbone of my whole existence. My husband often sits here on weekends and says how lucky we were to find this house, and we talk about what we might still do to it. It’s close to the river and we can take these amazing walks. Having grown up in the countryside, it’s something I really value, and it doesn’t really feel as if my children are growing up in the city. We feel very blessed.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I guess it’s layered, with a sense of humour and quite clean. I try to streamline things, and think a lot about practicality and having things that are easy to live with. In the beginning, we were designing quite a few small spaces, and it was very important for things to work really well. I try not to get influenced by trends.
Do you have a key project?
Yes, it was the one I got just after I’d left Nicky Haslam’s. It’s called ‘West London Townhouse’ on my website. They were very ‘up’ for us doing something a bit different, and then allowed me to have it published, which was incredibly helpful. It was a wonderful opportunity to show people an example of the work I love doing best, which in turn led to other very interesting projects.
What is your favourite room to design?
I quite like bathrooms, actually. I like to make them a bit special, and think about them more creatively. I also like designing kitchens – making them more bespoke and making sure they don’t date.
Are you often tempted to change things in the house?
Every now and then, but I guess I haven’t been here for that long yet. But I do look forward to time passing, and adding to what is already here.
What can’t you live without?
My coffee in the morning. I love the ritual of making it – it’s my treat and inspires me to get up. I have a large cappuccino and an apple and almonds every morning – so quite healthy.
What would you grab if there was a fire?
Above the fireplace in the dining room is a painting by a woman whose son was a great friend of my father’s, and died quite young. He was my unofficial godfather and I was very fond of him. We always used to play cards, and one day he folded up a card and wrote, ‘I ♥ U’ and placed it in a matchbox. I could never leave that behind. But I realise I shouldn’t get too attached to everything here. They are just things at the end of the day.
British Designers at Home by Jenny Rose-Innes (Hardie Grant, £30) Photography ©Simon Griffiths*
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