Some interior designers are traditionalists, some are modernists and some, like Peter Leonard, just love to mix things up. At his three-storey house in Bermondsey, a Greek revival villa built in the first two years of Queen Victoria's reign, he put the neglected building back to its original state down to the last architrave then had fun adding a contemporary Italian chair here, a 19th century military chest there.
"In this house it's all about getting the architectural detailing right then giving it a modern layer. One makes the other more interesting. I like to hang an abstract painting above a period fireplace that is dressed with antique candlesticks then add discreet, modern lighting. I don't want repro lights hanging all over the place just because I'm living in a period home," he says.
Thus in the first-floor double reception room, he installed two white marble chimneypieces made to his own design, based on a late Regency example he'd found. "I had the marble distressed and added a pair of original cast iron grates I found in an architectural salvage yard, so hopefully they look original to the house."
'I love to hang an abstract painting above a period fireplace dressed with antique candlesticks'
He chose an oak floor because he wanted a wood that would have been used in an English house at that time. A traditional George Smith mohair ottoman and devore velvet armchair contrast with a B & B Italia sofa to which Leonard stays faithful (usually, each time he moves, he has a major furniture cull). "The sofa is a constant because it is in separate units, so I'm able to cobble together a different configuration each time."
Above one fireplace is a striking Miro lithograph. "Once I was selling a house, the buyers couldn't afford the money," he explains, "so they suggested making up the deficit with the Miro, and I've had it ever since." The house is, in fact, peppered with modern British art. He loves abstracts in particular and has the pick of artworks that he buys for his art gallery/ coffee shop SoBo, in Tower Bridge Road, which is run and owned by his partner Martin Mathurin. "I think modern art stops a room looking self-conscious."
A John Piper glazed ceramic plate decorates the white bathroom — a mix of CP Hart and bathstore.com — a playful Hockney livens up the guest bedroom and two wiry figures by French artist Yanne Kintgen, with what look like visual expletives above their heads, stand atop the marble fireplace in the sitting room: "I liked them because they look like two people having a row."
On the ground floor, he knocked out the wall between the kitchen and dining room but conditional to planning permission was leaving a section of the wall on either side, so it was apparent that there were originally two rooms.
He replaced the old black cast iron range tucked snugly into a chimney arch with a Smeg cooker and added a 19th century cabinet that he stripped back to the original wood. "I wouldn't like it on its own but I chose it because of the contrast between the two."
The floor is his modern take on the traditional flagstone: large square ceramic tiles laid brick-fashion. The kitchen units look a million dollars but are a crafty patchwork job. "I bought basic cheap white kitchen units, added some good-looking stainless steel handles, got my joinery firm to make up some stained oak panels, then had a stainless steel fabricator make up the tops. So I got the look I wanted for peanuts."
'Modern art stops any interior looking too self-concious'
His favourite room is clearly the garden room. A former coalshed come outhouse, it used to have a mud floor, a bricked-up chimneybreast and a tiny louvred window. Now it has the original wide pine flooring filched from the kitchen, a fireplace with wood-burning stove and two french windows with Indian linen curtains that can be drawn to make the room extra snug.
There is an atmospheric Thirties portrait above the fireplace, Donghia's tobacco-brown grasscloth lining the walls, two vintage leather wing chairs with mohair throw and best of all, an 18thcentury English oak bureau with cubbyholes and a secret well where Leonard stashes his seed packets and plant labels: the ultimate potting bench.
In the hallway is a grandfather clock that Leonard bought in pieces from Lots Road and meticulously restored. "There is nothing nicer than sitting in the garden room, reading quietly, and hearing the steady, reassuring tick-tock. The only trouble is, when it chimes on the hour it wakes you up with a start."
HOW TO GET THE LOOK
Buy modern contemporary art at SoBo (020 7403 5080)
Commission Peter Leonard (020 7064 9495)
Reception room fireplaces made by The English Chimneypiece (01322 619090; www.english-chimneypiece.co.uk)
Faux croc leather "Suitcase" chairs by Minotti at the European Design Centre (020
7323 3233; www.edcplc.com)
Flowers throughout the house by Amanda Austin (020-7351 3151; www.amandaaustinflowers.co.uk)
Ceramic kitchen floor tiles from Reed Harris (020 7736 7511; www.reedharris.co.uk)
Pictures by Elizabeth Zeschin