A vibrant, colourful Edwardian home
Vibrant colours, mid-century furniture and layered fabrics are key to fashion designer Alex Al-Bader’s glamorous, laid-back style. Photographs Rachael Smith
When you own a clothes shop just a stone’s throw from London’s famous Portobello Road Market, it’s inevitable that an appreciation of all things vintage, antique and global will seep into your consciousness. But clothes designer Alex Al-Bader, whose creations for her company, Soler, have been worn by the likes of Madonna and Salma Hayek, has always had an eye for the unusual and beautiful. This is much in evidence in her home in Kensal Rise, which she shares with her husband, Mishari, and their two children – it’s a celebration of her love of vibrant colours, shimmering fabrics and vintage finds.
The spacious Edwardian house is filled with mid-century furniture and design classics, set against a colourful palette that reminds Alex of her native city, Barcelona. ‘I’ve always felt at home around bright colours and patterns,’ she says. Beyond the front door, which is an uncharacteristically restrained charcoal, the hallway offers a zingy welcome that sets the tone for the rest of the house: black and white tiles lead to a stair runner in deepest burnt orange, which then switches to turquoise for the painted flight of stairs leading to the top floor. Elsewhere, unexpected colours, revealed in rich wallpapers and boldly patterned soft furnishings, are combined at every opportunity.
This is not a home that was ever going to give sombre grey walls the time of day. In fact, grey is anathema to Alex, who moved to Britain from Spain in her early twenties. ‘I loved London from the moment I arrived, but I couldn’t understand why everyone liked to dress in grey and navy!’ she jokes. ‘We both love the energy of colour.’ It was Mishari, a stockbroker, who was responsible for the delectable taramasalata-pink walls in the kitchen. The shade, Nancy’s Blushes by Farrow & Ball, has just the right amount of duskiness in it, Alex says, and also ‘the tone changes throughout the day’. As a contrast, he added a glossy industrial green on the cupboard doors. ‘They’re both great shades to see first thing in the morning.’
In the generous, double-aspect sitting room, colour is provided by piles of brightly embroidered silk cushions, hand-painted throws and a Manolo Valdés painting with vibrant strokes of Iberian blue. A loop of colourful bunting, left up from their daughter’s recent birthday party, adds to the Spanish fiesta feel. ‘We keep meaning to take it down, but the flags suit the mood in here,’ smiles Alex.
Throughout the house, vintage furniture and original art look very much at home against the daring colour schemes. ‘We both have a particular love of mid-century shapes, but there are no strict rules about limiting ourselves to one era. If something interesting catches my eye, I’ll add it into the mix,’ says Alex. In the sitting room, she has happily paired cheeky Fornasetti stools with a black and white zig zag rug; a couple of funky pendant lights, snapped up in New York, hang from the Edwardian ceiling rose and an Eames lounger is the perfect partner to a leather button-back armchair from Ralph Lauren. ‘We’ve collected pieces that remind us of places we’ve been and people we’ve met,’ Alex explains.
In the master bedroom, the couple have used the power of pattern in the form of a wallpaper created by Alex’s sister, artist Monica Subide, for Soler. The two sisters have collaborated on clothes designs for many years, with Monica hand-painting motifs onto one-of-a-kind silk dresses created by Alex. ‘It’s like wearing a work of art,’ she says. ‘When you buy something unique, you treasure it – whether it’s a dress, a painting or a piece of furniture.’
Wallpaper is a new direction for the pair. ‘Monica and I are always talking on the phone or emailing ideas back and forth. Then, one evening, she sent me some drawings of dreamy floral shapes and I could immediately visualise the pattern working as a wallpaper rather than on clothes.’ Those first squiggles went on to become their Girasols wallpaper (seen in the master bedroom). ‘To me, the design has hints of 1970s style but it also feels timeless,’ says Alex.
Another Soler fabric has been used to cover a large pouffe in the children’s bedroom, which is a large, shared room at the back of the house. Loose-woven linen curtains divide the long space into three equal sections: Shashi has one end, Eliana has the other – and a central section works as a mini cinema room. ‘While the kids are still happy to share, this is a really nice use of the space – it flows,’ Alex adds.
While many of their possessions have been picked up at markets, antiques fairs and specialist interiors shops around the world, the couple’s favourite hunting grounds for all things vintage are more local: the market stalls and shops that line Portobello and Golborne roads. For Alex, the fact that she now owns a boutique that’s sandwiched between the two couldn’t be more fitting. ‘The very earliest Soler motifs were inspired by some vintage floral fabrics I found at a market stall, so I’m in my element here,’ she says.
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