When Sophie Cameron and her husband Andrew became custodians of their elegant, four-storey home in the heart of Chelsea, they were determined to remain true to the building’s character and architecture. Even so, Sophie admits they found the prospect of putting their own stamp on the house ‘rather daunting’.
Built around 1870, the enchanting end-of-terrace property began life as The City of Gloucester, a bustling pub frequented by Chelsea Pensioners from the nearby Royal Hospital.
By the 1920s, an architect named Mr Tapper had acquired the building and converted it into his office and residential accommodation, making significant structural changes, such as creating the magnificent arches on the staircase.
Three decades later, in the mid-1950s, Andrew’s parents bought the property. When Andrew’s father retired, having raised three children here, the family moved to Wiltshire and, having installed a ‘fairly indestructible’ 1970s Formica kitchen, they rented the house out for many years.
Later, after Andrew met Sophie, the couple were lucky enough to start their married life here. ‘The first time I stepped inside, I was amazed and slightly taken aback,’ says Sophie, who has a background in art and design.
‘Although I absolutely loved the feel of the property and its character, it was a diverse mixture of decor and soft furnishings that had been chosen by my parents-in-law during the 1950s, juxtaposed with the fairly anonymous possessions of the tenants.’
Andrew and Sophie were both determined not to alter Mr Tapper’s layout, choosing to take their time over the renovations. ‘We’ve endeavoured to retain the spirit of the house,’ says Sophie, ‘but we’ve made it less formal, gradually tweaking every space, apart from the ground-floor library, which remains virtually unchanged.’
Today, the library is as Dickensian as it was when the couple first moved in. ‘At dusk, when the lights are on, it attracts a lot of attention,’ says Sophie. ‘When The Chelsea Society conducts tours, passers-by often peer in.’
The kitchen is the one space that has undergone the most dramatic change. ‘Since the Formica kitchen was actually very functional, we lived with it until Magnus was born,’ says Sophie. ‘We both agreed that knocking through would completely change, not just the character of the kitchen, but that of the whole house, so we decided to work with the existing space.
’ The pair commissioned floor-to-ceiling housemaid-style cupboards, which evoke the charm of the Victorian era. ‘Some people would feel this room is minute, but it works for our family, particularly since we have the added bonus of our lovely dining room.’
When it came to decorating, the Camerons were determined to choose colours that were in keeping with the atmosphere of their home. ‘They needed to stand alone and also act as a backdrop for our collection of paintings,’ says Sophie. To this end, the couple consulted Papers and Paints, in nearby Park Walk, who advised them on a suitable palette.
In her bid to give various pieces of inherited antique furniture a new lease of life, Sophie spent hours tracking down decorative vintage fabrics. During her quest, she became increasingly frustrated by the limited choice of interesting and affordable lamps and lampshades.
Finally taking matters into her own hands, in 2015, she teamed up with Lisabel Miles to launch Cameron & Miles, which not only stocks a core range of beautiful lamps and lampshades, but also offers a bespoke lampshade-making service.
‘It’s a delight to help customers who share the same passion for their homes,’ says Sophie. Despite, initially, being rather fazed by the scale of their modernisation, Andrew and Sophie have relished the opportunity, transforming the property into a unique home. ‘We feel very fortunate to live in such a historic home,’ says Sophie. ‘It is an absolute privilege.’