A Victorian home embracing historic features and modern style
Majeda Clarke’s early Victorian home celebrates both the grandeur of the past and the joys of modernisation, while providing the perfect backdrop for her collection of Indian antiques. Photographs Brent Darby
Inside the sleek white box of Majeda Clarke’s vast kitchen-dining-living space in the basement of her period home in Islington is a corner with an altogether different vibe. In front of a dark canvas sits a well-worn and ornately carved old Indian daybed, upholstered in soft, mossy-green velvet. On a side table at each end sits a fern in a silver pot, underneath a low-hanging antique Indian brass lantern.
It’s an inviting space for curling up and leafing through the magazines that textile designer Majeda keeps piled under the side tables, and offers a soft contrast to the marble surfaces and concrete floors. It’s also a masterclass in incorporating antiques and heirlooms into a modern family home.
‘I had so much antique furniture from India and Bangladesh,’ explains Majeda, who spent her early childhood living with her grandparents on a tea plantation in Bangladesh, before moving to England when she was five. ‘Those brass lamps belonged to my grandfather. I kept them boxed up and they moved with me through three different homes, until I finally found the right place for them here.’
Since moving into this five-bedroom early Victorian house 13 years ago with her husband Gary, an angel investor, and their three children, Zahir (17), Israar (15) and Amara (11), Majeda has found a place for all manner of collectables and inherited trinkets, as well as an impressive inventory of mid-century furniture and lighting.
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‘We love the space and grandeur, and the original features you get in these old houses, and we wanted to keep all of that, but we also needed it to work for us as a family,’ she says. When they moved in, the kitchen was in its original location at the front of the house in the basement, the darkest part, while a crumbling Victorian conservatory backed onto the garden and got all the light. With the help of Bristol-based architects Emmett Russell, they took out the conservatory and created one enormous, light-filled kitchen-dining-living room, with sliding doors on to the garden. At this point the couple had three children under five and Majeda had the foresight to incorporate a wet room and built-in wardrobe into a utility room to the side, so the children could shower, get into pyjamas and brush their teeth, before the long climb up three flights of stairs.
‘We made the basement into the main living area, with everything we needed to hand,’ Majeda explains. ‘The basements in these houses were never given much attention so that was the obvious space that we felt was OK to completely restructure.’ The space was also ideal for displaying Majeda’s treasures. ‘Some were in the family, and others, like the daybed, I bought from the antiques market in Dhaka. It’s an incredible place, full of old colonial beds, lamps and heritage from the shipping industry. My Indian silver collection is mainly from my grandmother. I had two display shelves put up for that and the china – much of that was hers, too. We’ve got old chests with beautiful decorative brass or mirror inlay inside. We’ve put the TV on one and there’s another in the bedroom. A lot of these items are really special to me, like the 70s Bangladeshi TV clock, which was a gift to my grandfather from his workers.’
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Another of Majeda’s collections, stored upstairs in the spare bedroom, is her Indian textiles, mainly saris and kantha-stitch blankets. Majeda says it was being surrounded by these bright, colourful fabrics in her early years that led to her passion for textiles.
Upstairs, the couple have gone out of their way to retain the period features of the house. ‘We have kept everything we could, even the wobbly window shutters,’ says Majeda. ‘I’ve been to lots of old houses where I feel the heart and soul have been ripped out. We wanted to preserve the character of this beautiful house, but also to modernise it for the way we want to live, surrounded by the things we love.’
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