‘Something meaningful’: How to approach interior design in heritage buildings


if you ask any interior designer working today whether the wallpapered, upholstered, arranged, plumped and snagged innards of any heritage building should reflect its history, the answer will unfailingly be yes. There is a reverence amongst interior designers for the art of visual storytelling which often begins with the very bricks and mortar of the space as an architectural shell. According to many, there should be a connection between the decorative pediments, sloping gables, sash windows and twisting chimney stacks of heritage properties with the carpets, curtains, lampshades and furniture your interior designer chooses.


As Camilla Clarke, creative director of design firm Albion Nord, says, “It’s all about the story and the surroundings when designing rooms in heritage and listed properties.” Clarke and her team make a point of sharing research about the properties, the history of their location and details about the original architecture with their clients to supplement the initial proposal for fabrics, furniture and accessories. “It helps to contextualise the design process in something meaningful,” she adds.

Putting a price on a property’s character requires a command of the ebbs and flows of the public’s whims and fancies. Discerning buyers with a penchant for period style will pay worthy premiums for properties laden with personality and charm. One such example is Chapter House, a residential development in Covent Garden by Londonewcastle, with apartments currently on the market from £995,000. The development, which houses 40 new flats, is set behind the original 1839 façade of a building established by the architectural practice, Gibson & Russell, who dissolved before the turn of the century.

Apt, today’s architect on the project, was appointed to reinstate the building which had been left derelict for many years. It became apparent early on that the façade of the building needed to take priority to contextualise each aesthetic decision.

“The existing façade directly defined the spaces we designed behind it,” says Stephane Piazza, the project leader at Apt. “The inconsistent sizes and shapes of the existing windows determined the function of the rooms, and if we would have a single or double-height space behind them, for example. You couldn’t have designed this from scratch,” he muses. And it’s true – the idiosyncrasies of the façade influenced the architecturally sympathetic spaces Apt were able to contrive.


Chapter House’s pièce de résistance is arguably the brand new penthouse suites that sit atop the original façade. They extend the building by two metal-clad storeys, set back from street-level behind the gable pitch roofs to avoid clashing with the carefully restored Victorian brickwork. In a recent exciting project behind the restored moulding and reproduction air brick of the façade, Ben Spriggs, the editor of ELLE Decoration UK, was tasked with a full redesign of one of the two penthouses.

“Chapter House provided a great structure to work with – the perfect canvas,” says Spriggs. “I was always conscious of the historical context and the story attached to the building itself. The modern pieces we used, such as the marble dining table by Mario Bellini from Béton Brut, the sumptuous velvet upholstery by British brand Sedilia, and the beautifully crafted wooden pieces from Pinch and Another Country all sit comfortably in a historic setting.” The ELLE Decoration penthouse is currently for sale at £5,495,000.

Source : ‘Something meaningful’: How to approach interior design in heritage buildings | The Independent