Looking around the tasteful, curated London home of interior designer Henry Bickerton and his wife, Sophie, it’s difficult to imagine it in its previous incarnation as a ‘weird Christmas grotto’, as Henry describes it. Filled with antiques and wonderful paintings, expertly pulled together by Henry’s discerning eye, this four-bedroom Victorian terrace in Parsons Green is the epitome of a grown-up, period family home, and couldn’t be more different from the shabby student house they set about transforming 10 years ago.
Gone is the warren of bedsits, gone too are the dark green paint on the woodwork and the Christmas decorations in every room, and thankfully also gone, is the paint job on the façade. ‘Someone had painted the whole of the front red, then painted in the black outline of fake bricks,’ Henry explains, clearly still baffled as to why anyone would think this was a good idea.
Fortunately, Henry – who was previously design director at stylish reproduction and antiques specialist Jamb, before setting up his own design business last year – had the vision to see what the house could be and the couple snapped it up. ‘I just felt we had a real opportunity to make it what we wanted,’ says Henry. ‘When we looked at previous houses, we were always discussing ripping out kitchens and bathrooms which were perfectly good but just not our taste and that always seemed so wasteful, but we had none of that guilt here.’
It took a year to get the house as they wanted it, during which time the couple, who were expecting their first child, stayed with Sophie’s parents. This, says Henry, allowed them to ‘rather grandly move in when it was all painted and carpeted’, and ready for Henry’s favourite bit: the dressing of rooms, using a very personal collection of art and antiques. This collection of pieces – some inherited, some bought from antiques shops or at auction – had been gathered for many years and continues to be added to as space permits.
To allow the contents to shine, most of the rooms are painted in muted neutrals, with a light and airy kitchen-diner, and a hallway where the original stained glass and tiled floor are the stars of the show. Bedrooms are a soothing duck-egg blue, providing the perfect backdrop for some lighter pieces of antique furniture and textiles in creams and ecrus. In the living room, home to some heavier brown furniture and many gilt-framed paintings, Henry has painted it a strong dark blue; his favourite trick for making rooms with a lot of antique furniture feel more modern.
‘I’m a huge champion of brown furniture and am always encouraging my clients to use it,’ says Henry. ‘I think it gives gravitas and a bit of guts and it always works well in period homes. I had some clients in their late 30s who were offered some nice bits by their parents but were nervous, in case it made their home look old-fashioned. But by using a bold colour on the walls, you can make it feel younger and quite different from what it felt like in your granny’s house.’
Henry describes his style as ‘very much in the English Country House aesthetic. Brown furniture, comfortable chairs, antique textiles and tables you can put a drink on without worrying if it makes a mark’. He steers away from trends, as they tend to date badly. ‘With a family home, the last thing you want to do is constantly update it, as it becomes so expensive,’ he says. ‘This house is a testament to that. We used good-quality materials and kept everything quite classic and, 10 years on, it still works.’
Henry’s other passion is pictures and he estimates they have around 200 hanging on the walls. He describes them as a ‘random mix’ of portraits, landscapes, seascapes, maps, prints, sketches and oils and says he just buys whatever grabs his attention. ‘It can be a £10 print, but if the subject speaks to me, home it comes.’ Within the gallery wall on the first landing is the first artwork he ever purchased – a watercolour of a fishing boat that he bought while on holiday in Hong Kong with his family when he was 10 years old.
‘I still love looking at it and it reminds me of that time,’ he says. ‘Pictures are such a personal thing. They give a house personality and tell you a lot about the people living there. I love having decorative things around me and the idea of living in a minimalist space leaves me cold. I think that’s what my work as a designer is really; I curate people’s collections and possessions, which I put together side by side to create a pleasing space.’ And not a hint of a Christmas grotto. henrybickerton.com