A Scandinavian-style Victorian home
Rachel Leedham’s snowy hued apartment serves as a simple foil to a mix of mid-century finds and French antiques. Feature Ruby Henderson. Photographs Rachael Smith
With its clean, white walls, pale accessories and mid-20th-century furniture, the London apartment that Rachel Leedham shares with her French husband, Eric, and their sons, Alex and Theo, has a distinctly Scandinavian feel. As a writer specialising in interior design, it’s an aesthetic that she’s always gravitated towards. ‘I joke that I must have some Danish blood in me because the concept of hygge really strikes a chord. At this time of year, I can’t have enough candles or sheepskin throws!’
The couple moved to Hampstead from Paris in 1998. ‘We originally rented the flat, which we fell in love with the moment we saw the wonderful views across London,’ Rachel says. ‘Hampstead is one of the highest points in the capital and our flat is at the top of a tall Victorian house, so it feels as if we are up in the sky. We often see geese or the local parakeets flying right past the window.’
By a stroke of luck, two years after they had moved in, the couple’s landlord announced that he had plans to sell the flat. ‘We invited him for dinner and practically begged him to accept our offer,’ Rachel recalls. At the time, the apartment had a master bedroom and a second, much smaller bedroom that Rachel used as an office.
However Eric, who works as a project manager for a construction company, saw the opportunity to add a new level to the flat by raising the roof. ‘It was a huge job and we had to move out for eight months, but as a result we gained two further bedrooms and a bathroom, as well as a terrace,’ says Rachel.
The architecture of the flat is crisp and contemporary, with European oak floors and walls painted white to maximise the natural light. ‘We didn’t want the interiors to vie with the view outside,’ says Rachel. She continues that they, ‘were keen to create a very simple backdrop, so that our possessions could do the talking.’
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Both Rachel and Eric share a passion for mid-20th-century designs, and their carefully curated treasures, collected during their time living in Hong Kong, Paris and London, are displayed throughout the apartment.
‘I grew up with a lot of Danish-style furniture. At a time when lots of their friends were still buying dark, mahogany pieces, my parents opted for very simple, teak designs by British furniture maker Dalescraft. I suppose that my love of clean-lined pieces stems from there,’ she says, adding that her favourite haunts include the Midcentury Modern fairs, as well as the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in Battersea.
Although many of the designs, such as the sinuous ‘Cherner’ chair by Norman Cherner and the ‘Gatto’ lamp by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni, are still reproduced today, the couple have always preferred to track down original pieces. ‘For us, they have more soul,’ Rachel explains. ‘The fibreglass seats of the Eames dining chairs have so much more character than the plastic ones that are manufactured today.’
Mixed in with the Modernist designs are heirlooms from Eric’s family, including a 19th-century crystal chandelier, which hangs above a glass-topped dining table, and two mirrors from the French Restoration era. ‘The chandelier was so thick with dust when we brought it home that the droplets looked like plastic,’ Rachel recalls. ‘It was only when I started to clean it that I realised a lot of the components are by Baccarat.’ Similarly, both mirrors had been covered in layers of green paint, but they have been restored to reveal the original creamy gesso finish.
For Rachel, the key to working with a knocked-back palette is to go all-out on textures. ‘The vintage Moroccan rug brings warmth to the living area, and we like to layer up with reindeer hides, sheepskin throws and lambswool blankets. I use touches of colour, too, but it tends to be very natural shades such as oatmeal and pebble-greys.’
The calm, pared-back feel of the home is in part due to clever storage, from fitted cupboards to sleek bookshelves. ‘As the boys grew, we invested in classic modular shelving for their rooms – Vitsoe for Theo and the String system for Alex – because they can be adapted as their needs change. If we were to move, they can come with us,’ says Rachel, who adds that she rotates her displays to avoid the apartment feeling over-cluttered. ‘I daren’t admit how many vintage white Bavarian vases I own, so I only have a limited number of them out at a time,’ she laughs.
Unsurprisingly, when it comes to decorating for Christmas, there is one important caveat: the decorations have to be white. ‘Or glass, or silver, but definitely not a colour,’ Rachel confides. ‘One year, I tried using lots of red baubles, but they just seemed to jar. For me, pale is definitely more interesting.’
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