Chantal Coady's laundry room in her south London home used to be a chocolate factory. Or, at least, it was formerly the space - a small, domestic kitchen - where she and an assistant made passion fruit truffles and cherry-studded chocolate bars for Rococo, the King's Road fantasy chocolate shop she opened in 1983.
'Coady is as passionate about her tall, skinny, three-storey Victorian house as she is about chocolate'
Now she has two more London shops, in Belgravia and Marylebone High Street, the signature blue-and-white boxes are in Waitrose and John Lewis, and her manufacturing arm is no longer in the laundry room but in a factory with 30 staff in Dulwich, and another in Grenada where she has a partnership with a local cocoa co-operative to create fair trade organic chocolate.
"Like most children, after reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I dreamt of having my own chocolate factory," she says.
Coady is as passionate about her tall, skinny, three-storey Victorian house - and the garden square in which she lives, Vauxhall's Bonnington Square - as she is about chocolate. She has lived in the square first as a student squatter, then as tenant of a housing co-operative and now as a homeowner, with her husband James, who is the company MD, their children Fergus, 14, Millie, 12, and the cat Sootchi, not surprisingly a chocolate Burmese.
"The minute I came to this square it felt like a homecoming," she says. "It's the eye of the storm: just 100 yards away you've got all that traffic and aggro about you, but within the square it's utterly peaceful and full of birdsong. There's a great little community here."
She met James at a party in the gardens on the square 18 years ago and they married within four months. "In 2000 we were able to buy the house outright. I've been here for almost 30 years and I can't imagine living anywhere else."
Five years ago they decided to do what they had been talking about for a long time: totally renovate the house. "We really had no choice, because everything had been added on, over the years, and was falling apart. The back of the house was actually leaning over and had great cracks in it, the gas piping was Victorian, the radiators were basic and the electrics were probably very dangerous.
"James had laid a beautiful wooden floor on the ground floor so we left that, but everything else was ripped out. At one point there was no staircase and no roof. For a whole year we rented the top floor of the house next door while the builders moved in."
It was worth the upheaval, she says, although she looks back in wonder at how they moved their belongings back in by forming a chain and walking along scaffolding planks between the houses, to avoid going up and down all the stairs. "It was terrifying, but cured me of my vertigo," she says.
The kitchen, always at the top of the house because the light is best there, was opened up, and an office added on mezzanine level. Meanwhile, the small kitchen downstairs was converted into a laundry room and, being a sensible girl, Coady had a chute installed on every landing so that everyone can simply fling their laundry into it to make a direct ground-floor hit.
Instead of one bathroom for the whole family, shower rooms were installed in the children's rooms, and the windows were modernised to make doors leading out to balconies. Underfloor heating was recycled from an old school in Nottingham.
"I love it, but I don't think we were given good advice; some parts of the house are warmer than others, and in our bedroom cupboard there's a pump so I feel as if I'm in an engine room."
Coady was born in Tehran, the Iranian capital, and has a thing, she says, for Islamic and Moorish design, hence her great indulgence, a glorious hammamstyle bathroom with sea-green tiles adjoining her cherry-painted bedroom. "I was going to have a minimalist limestone bathroom and then I thought no, I don't want that - this needs to be my sanctuary," she says.
The main living area on the top floor incorporates the kitchen and leads to the roof terrace. "We had a chimney breast with alcoves along the back wall of the dining area, but we wanted to utilise the space in a better way than to have bookshelves," says Coady. She called in furniture designer Luke Pearson, brother of garden designer Dan Pearson, who used to live in the square and renovated the communal garden.
Luke's solution was to make storage benches across the wall, then to build floor-to-ceiling cupboards that concealed the chimney breast, fronting them with mirror. "They catch every available bit of light and effectively double the size of the room."
The elegant sofa and armchair, wisely purchased when Ikea introduced a short-lived range of authentic, beautifully made Gustavian furniture, has lost its original Swedish check and gained the equally fresh blue-and-white print of the Rococo packaging, which was designed by Coady - she studied textile design at Camberwell College of Arts - with the help of an old French chocolate catalogue. Not one to miss a trick, she's had the print stamped on aprons, tea towels and china mugs.
However, what takes pride of place, on a Sixties Formica-topped table, is a trio of cocoa plants, raised from beans in the airing cupboard. "We brought back the pods from Grenada and every single one germinated, so we've distributed the plants to all our friends. They're very comfortable up here, so who knows how big they'll grow?"
Get the look
* Moroccan tiles, fretwork screens made-to-measure: Dar Interiors (darinteriors.com)
* Balinese teak dining table: Posh Graffiti (poshgraffiti.com)
* Kitchen linen, china mugs with Rococo print: Rococo (rococochocolates.com); oiled tablecloth to order from email@example.com
* Mirrored storage system, benches designed by Luke Pearson (pearsonlloyd.com)
Pictures: Clive Nichols