Exploring the interior designer Kate Guinness’s joyful yet practical family home in London, it’s easy to spot her background in theatre set design, says Jessica Jonzen
KATE HUNG ART FROM A PICTURE RAIL SO THE WALLS COULD BE USED AS A PROJECTOR SCREEN. IMAGE: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
If a home tells the story of its inhabitants, then the interior designer Kate Guinness’s Edwardian house in West London has more to tell than most.
Bought in 2012 when Kate was single and working in theatre and costume design, the house has seen her through a career change, countless lodgers, meeting her husband, launching her business, a full renovation, oh – and the births of three children. “It’s been a very busy decade,” she laughs over Zoom from the home of one of her former lodgers. “It’s seen me through so many phases of life – I was only looking for a flat when I bought it.”
Tucked away on a residential street behind bustling Shepherds Bush Green, the house backs on the tube line and has always felt like a sanctuary to Kate. “It had been beautifully looked after by its previous owners and still had all its original features; it just had the most wonderful energy,” Kate says. “I’ve also always found the tube rattling past rather comforting.”
(LEFT & RIGHT) THE ENTRANCE HALL, WITH ORIGINAL MILTON TILES. KATE USED ‘VERSAILLES GREEN’ BY PAPERS AND PAINTS ON THE STAIRS AND ‘SLATE BLUE’ BY PAPERS AND PAINTS ON THE SKIRTING, SPINDLES AND FRONT DOOR TO PICK UP THE COLOURS IN THE TILES. THE WALLS ARE PAINTED IN ‘SC420’ BY PAPERS AND PAINTS. IMAGES: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
When she first bought the house, Kate was working in theatre and costume design, mostly in opera. One of the productions she worked on – an adaptation of Puccini’s La Boheme which started in a tiny pub theatre, won an Olivier award in 2011. It was a time of long, creative work days and carefree parties.
“The house had quite a studenty feel back then and so I redid the bathrooms but left everything else – I didn’t even repaint,” she says. “I’m very glad that I didn’t redecorate the house during that time as it meant I didn’t have to feel precious about it.”
It was not until 2016 that the house was to benefit from the theatrical eye and practical approach of its owner. Kate’s soon-to-be-husband Julian had moved in, the lodgers moved out and the couple decided to renovate the house and make it into a family home.
INTERIOR DESIGNER KATE GUINNESS. IMAGE: RICHARD ROUND TURNER
They married that same year and Kate launched her interior design practice, having retrained at the KLC and worked with Jane Rainey at JR Design. “I absolutely loved my career in theatre design but it was all-consuming and I knew I wanted a family one day,” she says. “I realised I loved interior design and much of what I had learned in theatre design was relevant so I gradually transitioned.”
While the house was Kate’s first full project, she never approached the design and renovation as a case study for her portfolio. “I was just thinking about what would work best for us and for the family we hoped to have in it.”
The house has adapted seamlessly to its changing cast members. The ground floor of the house was completely rethought, and the kitchen was moved from the back of the house to the middle, while the original sitting room became a dining room and the side return extension created an airy sitting room which backs onto the garden.
“Usually people put the kitchen in the side return extension but I feel the middle room of terraced houses is often underused and putting the kitchen there really made it the heart of the home.”
THE SITTING ROOM WAS EXTENDED INTO THE SIDE RETURN TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE WEST-FACING GARDEN. THE RUG WAS BOUGHT IN MOROCCO, THE SIDE TABLES ARE FROM SWOON EDITIONS AND THE LAMPS BEHIND THE SOFA ARE FROM KATE’S ONLINE SHOP. THE WALL LAMPS ARE FROM IRISH COMPANY MULLAN LIGHTING. IMAGE: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
Kate’s theatrical background is evident throughout, and not simply for her bold use of colour and pattern. Every room’s function – or possible function – has been considered. In the sitting room, Kate and Julian wanted to be able to use the walls as a projector screen so instead of hanging art from picture hooks, Kate chose a picture rail from Frank Scragg to make the space as adaptable as possible. “We’re yet to use it as a projector screen but I like to know that I can,” she laughs.
Kate designed the sofas herself, basing her design on one of her mother’s old sofas and taking into account her and her husband’s heights (she’s 6 ft while he is 6 ft 4″.) The fabric – Chilton Stripe by Gainsborough – was in fact designed by Kate when she was working at J R Design, and it became part of Gainsborough’s standard collection.
The curtains – Piedmont Print from Guy Goodfellow Collection – were chosen as the linen diffuses the sometimes overbearing sunlight in the west-facing room, while the hand-printed stripes make the room feel cosy in the winter.
Kate used the same paint throughout the ground reception rooms – Old Oyster from the Adam Bray Range at Papers and Paints – to create continuity throughout the open plan space. The original pine floorboards were toned down with a whitewash and varnished, before being topped with an unfitted washable sisal-look carpet from Unnatural Flooring when her first child, Louis, was born in 2018. “It’s much more comfortable and safer for crawling babies, and you can even get tomato soup out of it.”
(LEFT AND RIGHT) THE KITCHEN WAS MOVED TO THE MIDDLE OF THE GROUND FLOOR. KATE USES SIMPLE METRO TILES THROUGHOUT THE KITCHEN AND BATHROOMS AS SHE LIKES THIER SIMPLICITY. IMAGES: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
The kitchen was made by her builder rather than an expensive kitchen company, and the cabinets were painted in SC418 Apsley House Railings by Papers and Paints. “Green kitchens weren’t so popular then and it’s a bright, bold and youthful green. I haven’t got bored of it yet.”
Moving the kitchen to the middle of the house made for a slightly narrow room which meant they couldn’t have a traditional island. Instead, Kate found a Victorian flower arranging table at Lorfords which they had extended to accommodate their height. “It’s brilliant and means we can move it around as and when we need to.”
The shelves, filled with Kate’s collections of glassware inherited from her grandmother or gathered from markets over the years, were painted on the underside in green by mistake. “The painter thought we wanted them green to match the cabinets and started painting them and then we decided to leave them painted green just on one side. I think they look great and it meant nothing was wasted.”
THE DINING ROOM, FEATURING A MADELINE BOULESTIEX CHANDELIER. IMAGE: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
In the dining room, Kate was finally able to find a home for the pieces from a set of old teacups she had found years earlier at a French brocante by commissioning designer Madeline Boulestiex to make a chandelier from them.
Kate made the decision to remove the original Edwardian fireplace which went against her instincts to preserve every feature of the house. “I really struggled with that but it felt too heavy and just didn’t work with the new scheme so we replaced it with something far simpler.”
Kate reused the previous sitting room and kitchen curtains in her bedroom – not minding that they were in fact different colours. “One set is red and the other is blue but I added the same header fabric to them both and it makes them look considered and a pair,” she says.
(LEFT) KATE’S BEDROOM, DECORATED IN A DISCONTINUED SANDERSON COLOUR ‘PALACE GREY’. A JENNIFER SHORTO FABRIC USED ON TWO DIFFERENT SETS OF CURTAINS CREATES A SENSE OF HARMONY IN THE ROOM. (RIGHT) A VINTAGE KENTE CLOTH FROM GHANA IS USED AS A THROW. THE SOLID OAK BEDSIDE TABLE WAS DESIGNED BY KATE AND IS INSPIRED BY GEORGIAN IRISH FURNITURE AND IS AVAILABLE TO BUY VIA HER ONLINE SHOP. IMAGES: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
A guest bedroom next door – painted in vibrant yet restful Green Verditer by Papers and Paints, became their son Louis’s nursery and there was no question of redecorating. “I’d put the dusty raspberry pink curtains by Designs of the Time in there already but they weren’t overtly girly and worked so well with the green.”
When Kate’s daughter, Orla, was born in 2019 and went into the nursery, Louis moved into a blue bedroom, painted in Blue Verditer by Papers and Paints which was given a youthful pop of colour with a red and white striped IKEA rug.
(LEFT) A GUEST BEDROOM, WITH A VINTAGE ITALIAN LAMP SOURCED FROM THE KAIROS COLLECTIVE SEAMLESSLY TRANSITIONED INTO A NURSERY (RIGHT) AFTER THE BIRTH OF KATE’S SON, LOUIS. IMAGES: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
(LEFT) A GUEST BEDROOM, PAINTED IN ‘BLUE VERDITER’ BY PAPERS AND PAINTS, BECAME A JOYOUS CHILDREN’S BEDROOM WITH THE ADDITION OF A BRIGHT AND PRACTICAL IKEA RUG (RIGHT). IMAGES: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
The loft conversion – which created a fifth bedroom and a wet room – was sensitively incorporated into the house with white washed pine floorboards for continuity. To help the new addition feel less ‘new’, Kate asked her builder to fit an antique French espagnolette to the window.
Kate and Julian’s old four-poster IKEA bed was moved up into the loft and was trimmed down when it could fit. Again, Kate adapted and fashioned a headboard out of some old sari fabric she’d bought in India as a 12-year-old. “It was really lovely to be able to find homes for these treasures I’ve collected over the years.”
THE ATTIC BEDROOM IS PAINTED IN ‘CHINA CLAY’ BY LITTLE GREENE, WITH CURTAIN FABIC BY LEWIS & WOOD. THE THROW IS BY VANDERHURD, WHILE KATE MADE THE HEADBOARD FROM SARI FABRIC SHE BOUGHT IN INDIA AS A CHILD. IAMGE: SEBASTIAN BÖTTCHER
The combination of lovingly collected treasures and considered colour schemes, with practicality always in mind, has created a home which is layered with stories. This sense of evolution is a real signature of Kate’s designs: “I want my projects to feel as though they’ve evolved; I think people come to us for homes that look as though they’ve developed and matured gradually, with layers and warmth and character.”
Kate’s home moved seamlessly into its next act until the pandemic arrived in 2020, causing Kate and Julian to take stock and make the decision to move in with her mother in Wiltshire. “It was never our plan, but it now feels right being in the country,” she says. Their son, Max, was born in 2021 and their London house is once again home to lodgers. “I stay there when I’m up in London and it still has the most wonderful feeling about it,” she says. “It’s funny how it’s all come full circle.”
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