PRESS :: Spot the Difference, Lucia van der Post, The Times

Spot the Difference

The Times, 9 January 2004

After 20 years of the same look, it was time for a change for Lucia van der Post

Lucia van der Post and her drawing room

It wasn't that there was anything seriously wrong with the drawing room. We were rather fond of it, but it was beginning to look distinctly on the shabby side. Very last century. We had, after all, done almost nothing to it for 20 years. And there were at least two things that had always irritated me deeply — the mean little pine mantelpiece that was in the house when we bought it, and which I’d never got around to replacing, and the mouse-brown carpet, which was a perfectly good colour but not much of a substitute, in my eyes, for the painted wooden floor that I longed for.

So I was just about to start on some simple redecorating when my friend Henrietta said she had a friend called Christopher Prain who had an amazing eye and who was “in interior decorating”. He’d come round and give me some ideas. Which is how what started off as a little bit of redecorating turned into what I imagine is known as a “complete refurb”. Christopher and his partner, Chanond Purananda, came round, were excited by what estate agents call “the potential” and went away to do some drawings.

Drawing room

The drawings were enchanting. Seating areas were rearranged. The smaller end of the L-shaped drawing room was to become a library, the bookshelves with antiquated beading were replaced by plain, solid, more modern ones. The sofa on which we sat to watch television was to go and so was a surround of bookshelves around my husband’s desk. A plain Victorian-style white marble fireplace from Chesney’s would replace the old pine one. Proper grand Victorian skirting boards were to replace the ones they declared inadequate. A cornice in the library end to match the one in the main room would be ordered. The floorboards would be uncovered, sanded and painted, proper architraves built round the room opening and the doors. The cheap Indian coffee table would have to go, so would the German Biedermeier sofa, the glass trestle table (they liked it, but there was no room for it in the new scheme), the two Queen Anne chairs, the kilims (“nice, but won’t fit in with the new look”). New furniture would be required . . . something tall and dramatic (a screen) was required for an alcove.

They put together a storyboard. They’d “got” my taste. I wanted something lighter, cleaner and yet more eclectic, more boho than minimalist. I didn’t want anything too smart, too “Belgravia”. I loved their ideas. “OK,” I said. “You can do the job provided you can get it done in two weeks flat.”

Three weeks later lovely Polish builders from Voytex arrived and no, they didn’t finish in two weeks (that painted floor took for ever to dry), but they did finish in two and a half, which is some sort of a miracle. And I’m thrilled. It is infinitely nicer, cleaner, more modern than it would have been if I’d done it on my own.

Drawing room

Christopher and Chanond supplied the energy, the organisation and lots of ideas. They egged me on. They organised removal men (we had to empty the room completely if the builders were to meet the deadline), the sending of the discarded pieces to Christie’s. They brought to my attention fabrics, furniture and ideas that I hadn’t thought of or known about. Chanond suggested a deep apple-green paint (Moxa from The Paint & Paper Library) for the inside of the bookshelves — I would never have come up with that, and yet I love it. They suggested the subtle wallpaper from Knowles & Christou as well as their Lulu cabinet with pretty painted glass fronts to house the television — everybody falls in love with it. They found the antique iron cot at Alfie’s Antique Market and filled it with velvet-covered upholstery, which has turned it into a small sofa. Together we trawled Alfie’s and found a wonderful 1930s standard light and, from Babylon in the Fulham Road, a French 1930s leather armchair. The other light, by Flos, came from Aram Store, as did the small Eileen Gray table. The antique Venetian mirror they found at B & T Antiques. They found the perfect rugs — one from Christine van der Hurd which she just happened to have in stock and one, in deep olive green with delicate purple swirls, that is being specially woven in Nepal, from Veedon Fleece.

The new room isn’t quite finished, but I still love it. We need a new table in the main window because the existing one is too spindly. I haven’t made up my mind about blinds, and until I find something I love I’m not going to do anything; in the meantime we’re enjoying the light that comes flooding in.

Drawing room

Working with professional designers has re-affirmed my belief that not only does it ease the burden (they made sure finishes were right, the builders turned up on time, helped to make decisions about light switches and door handles) but, more importantly, they widened the scope and offered ideas and solutions that I’d never have had on my own.

What did it cost? Well, of course, more than I’d envisaged, but on the other hand it is infinitely more exciting than my modest plan would have left it. Given that we hadn’t done anything for 20 years, it seems like money well spent.

What does my husband feel? I’m not entirely sure. I think he’s rather excited by it, but I did overhear him saying to our daughter: “I feel as if I need a ticket to go in.”

Christopher Chanond Designs, 66a Tachbrook Street, SW1V 2NA. 020 7630 1155.
They will give advice by the hour (£100 an hour) or will do the design work and let you find your own builder and project-manage it yourself. They can also manage the whole affair, in which case they charge 10 per cent of the project’s cost.

If they just look out for suitable furniture, they take a small handling charge on the furniture and goods they buy. Because they buy at trade and don’t charge the client the full retail price, there’s always a saving for the clients. The sofa, the chaise longue and the screen are available to order from Christopher Chanond Design.

The floor paint was mixed to order by Askew Giddens, 103 Askew Road W12 (020 8743 6612) to tone with The Paint Library’s Stone paint for the woodwork. Stephen Woodhams (020 7300 0777) did the flowers.

Aram: 110 Drury Lane, Covent Garden WC2. 020 7240 3933

B & T Antiques: 79-81 Ledbury Road W11. 020 7229 7001

Babylon, 301 Fulham Road SW10. 020-7376 7255

Chesney’s: 020 7627 1410

Christine van der Hurd: 020 7313 5400

Knowles & Christou: 116 Lots Road SW10. 020 7352 7000

The Paint & Paper Library: 020 7823 7755

Veedon Fleece: 01483 575 758

Voytex Ltd: 07789 224 060