A moody Victorian flat filled with art and antiques
Futuristic mirror glass reflects an intriguing mix of antique and vintage finds in Linda Allen and Darin Brown’s London flat. Photographs Rachael Smith
When she’s buying at auction, Linda Allen’s technique is to bide her time. ‘At the point when most bidders lose interest and the room goes quiet, that’s when I perk up,’ she says. It’s an approach that has paid off, filling Linda and her husband Darin Brown’s home with atmospheric and intriguing finds.
Her latest auction buys include several vintage paintings, a wartime campaign desk and the set of replica terracotta warrior busts that are now lined up in the master bedroom (p122). ‘We had a few strange looks when we carried them home,’ she smiles.
The weathered wall cabinet in the kitchen is another vintage find (it came out of a tailor’s shop), while the kitchen island is an old haberdashery counter, its neat compartments now used for cutlery and jars of spices. The copper sink – visible from all angles, thanks to the counter’s glass sides – was bought by Darin on a trip to Florida and the taps are vintage American.
Linda originally made her name as a footwear designer but she now works as an artist and interior designer. ‘I’ve always been able to visualise things in 3D,’ she says. ‘Even when I was little, I was fascinated by boxes and would stack them together to make bigger structures. I guess this flat is a larger, shinier version of my childhood games.’ Linda is referring obliquely to the design centrepiece of the flat: a mirror-glass cube that sits between the living room and the bedroom, acting as a room divider with a difference.
‘We wanted it to look as if a great shiny box had dropped down from outer space,’ explains Linda. ‘We left a gap at the top and the bottom so it appears to hover like a separate entity.’ Because it is actually a deep box rather than a wall, the mirrored doors conceal the TV and bookshelves on the living room side. On the bedroom side, there’s a utility area and an en suite, lined in yet more mirror glass. And, in both rooms, the glass reflects back Linda’s collection of interesting auction acquisitions in all their glory.
Even before their statement box was constructed, Linda and Darin were drawn towards less conventional finishes for their home. When they had the old extension at the back of the flat rebuilt as a dining area, they wanted the black steel beams, concrete and bare brickwork left exposed rather than plastered over. ‘I wanted a raw, unfinished feel,’ Linda explains. Rather than hanging pictures directly onto the bare walls in the conventional manner, paintings are suspended from the steel beams using a clever system of wires, metal hooks and strong magnets.
In the living room, there’s more rough brickwork, partnered with plenty of wooden panelling painted a sophisticated matt black for added contrast. Linda and Darin also scoured reclamation yards for additional architectural elements such as plinths, pillars and corbels to create further drama in shadowy corners.
The smoke-and-mirrors look of this flat hasn’t always been Linda and Darin’s style. The couple met in their native Canada and lived in the US and Paris before settling in London eight years ago. ‘All of our homes have been different,’ says Linda. ‘The feel of this one was inspired by the Victorian architecture in particular and British architecture in general.’
When they first moved to the UK, Linda and Darin visited National Trust and English Heritage properties at weekends. ‘I love the way that British buildings are often full of dark corners, secret doors and hidden servants’ staircases,’ says Linda. As a tribute to that tradition, she worked a hidden loo into the panelling by the front door. ‘You only notice the slight gap in the woodwork once you know it’s there,’ she smiles.
Further inspiration came from the discovery that the actor Tom Baker, who played Doctor Who in the 1970s and early 80s, had once lived in the flat. ‘Having the presence of Doctor Who wafting around in the ether gave me some extra creative licence,’ says Linda, gesturing to the Tardis-like panelling. ‘We love finding pieces that stir our imaginations but also pay tribute to our home’s interesting past.’
The tailor’s cabinet on the wall is from Retrouvius. The island is made from a vintage shop counter, which came from D&A Binder. The copper sink was bought in the US, as were the vintage taps. The kitchen is bespoke, created by the couple’s builders, Vim Partners.
‘I love auctions because you can find things that have fallen out of favour and then give them a whole new context,’ says Linda. The replica Chinese terracotta warrior head was bought at Criterion Auctioneers. The bespoke kitchen is painted in Hudson Black by Abigail Ahern with marble worktops.
The dark floorboards flow into the wooden decking in the garden, and Crittall-style windows add an industrial edge while enhancing the connection between interior and exterior.
The dining room
The dining room extension, designed by Architecture & Urban Design Bureau, was created to feel like a separate box, emphasised by the change in building materials and the skylight. The dining table and chairs were found on eBay.
The dining chairs and table are vintage, bought on eBay, some of which have been reupholstered with faux fur. The two abstract paintings are by R Tomkins.
The dining room is filled with an eclectic mix of art, much of which has been bought at auction. Works are hung against the bare brick using wire and strong magnets attached to the steel beams.
The living room
The Chesterfield sofa, coffee table and overmantel mirror were bought over the years at various French antiques markets. The statement pendant is by Abigail Ahern.
Fornasetti’s Malachite wallpaper by Cole & Son creates a lush backdrop in the bedroom. On this side of the mirrored cube, there is an en suite and a utility area. The reproduction canvas of Napoléon Bonaparte by Antoine-Jean Gros was salvaged from a pub. The sputnik light is from Abigail Ahern, the bed is from Made and the side tables are from Urban Outfitters.
The couple added corbels and tiles by Emery & Cie to the original fireplace. The replica Chinese terracotta warrior heads came from Criterion Auctioneers. Clothes storage lies behind the dark painted panelling.
The en suite
The en suite is clad in dazzling mirror glass from Frame Emporium. ‘We get through a lot of Windolene,’ jokes Linda.