"At school I was a total failure,” interior designer Robert Moore, 40, says cheerfully, leaning against the range cooker in the basement kitchen of his architectural, elegant house in Kennington, south London, where he lives with his partner of 19 years, lawyer Jonathan Beak, and their Jack Russell, Lucy.
“All I could do was draw and paint. But in the end that was my ticket out of Derbyshire. After art school, I came to Ravensbourne College of Art in Greenwich to do furniture and product design. I would have enjoyed architecture — but I was rubbish at maths.”
Realising that he wanted a career in interior design, after two years Moore left Ravensbourne and began learning the trade. Then one day, he strolled into Nicholas Haslam’s design studio in Pimlico. “And that was it. I started on the shop floor and worked my way up.”
“Up” is modest — Moore ended up at the top, working on international projects. During 14 years with Haslam he developed a style that could be summed up as “laid-back glamour”.
Then he set up on his own, and, two years later, in 2012, bought the house. A housing association had turned it into two flats, and it had been stripped of almost everything except the floorboards, so the first job was to rewire and replumb the lacklustre terrace as one house.
A bold stroke: strong colour and textures work together in the library
From basement to bedrooms, the four-storey home is now a paean to gentle colour tones, apart from two rooms that use strong, singing blues, and a delightful, tiny, faux bois bathroom — painted to look like beautifully grained wood — while the hall has painted “panelling” so convincing you have to look a few times to be sure.
These finishes act as a perfect backdrop to a mix of salvage antiques and unfussy modern furniture, including sofas — Moore says you should have a new one made each time you move home.
Everything is spaced beautifully, so the overall mood is light and easy, and very comfortable. There isn’t that horrible feeling that you might knock something over.
Unafraid of MDF: believable "faux bois" panelling in the guest bathroom and striking blue and white in the master suite
Throughout the house, textiles and textures add comfort, such as a springy carpet on the stairs, which is warm, and muffles noise. In the master bedroom, its walls hung in a grass paper with a metallic sheen, the bed and chairs are dressed in a bold blue-and-white ikat print. Originally, this floor had two separate rooms, so Moore made a wide opening through to the bathroom. He put in two classic pillar basins, either side of a claw-foot bath set in front of a big Fifties mirror that has an Art Deco feel.
However, what makes this room sizzle is the panelling, painted a sultry, midnight blue, while the floor is tiled in “not expensive” white Carrara marble. Instead of buying a costly bathroom cupboard, Moore had a large MDF cupboard made across one alcove and covered it completely with a mirror. It’s a really neat touch, it looks very expensive, and the whole room feels crisp.
Kitchen rule number one: never put cornices in a historic kitchen
He is not afraid of MDF and has used it, impeccably cut and painted, for radiator covers, for a modernist wardrobe in the bedroom, and even for simple vertical panels in the breakfast room, the bars spaced so well that you can’t tell they are surface-mounted.
Even though this house has the sort of style that could entertain princes, it isn’t at all stuffy, which matches Moore’s evident enjoyment in what he does. He never stops.
He made the garden himself, lugging Box balls from New Covent Garden Market and planting the trees and white hydrangeas. The door, timber and roofing tiles of the summerhouse are all reclaimed — yet it looks gorgeous. Moore does all the upkeep, too... with a few digging tips from Lucy.
Do-it-yourself drama: Moore with Lucy in the smart green-and-white garden he designed and maintains
Moore, who says he can never rest until a job is finished, did the whole house in four and a half months. It would take most of us four and a half years and never look this good. Here are some of his designer tips — for adding a bit of glamour on a budget.
Beautiful lighting is crucial: look online at affordable antiques websites, places such as the hoarde (www.thehoarde.com) and salvage antiques portal salvo-web, at www.salvo.co.uk. But in kitchens, use sensible task lighting such as downlighters.
Paints: don’t use lots of different colours, which can look bitty. Use the same colour in different finishes, such as water-based emulsion on the walls and oil eggshell on furniture. Use a muted, classical palette from companies such as Papers and Paints and Little Greene. Don’t use white on London kitchen ceilings, use an “old” white. If on a budget, Leyland paints (www.leylandsdm.co.uk) mixes colours using a spectrometer.
Faux panelling: mine was done with three tones of paint, a roll of masking tape — and a very steady hand. Put old prints in cheap old frames. No one wants brown wood frames. I like birch. Try salvage sites as before, eBay, local shops and flea markets.
When restoring an old house, don’t put cornices in the kitchen. They didn’t have them.
The garden: you don’t have to spend a fortune. Go to New Covent Garden Market — anyone can go — and buy your plants there. Some Buxus balls will add instant style and structure, though remember to water them. People so often forget.
Inspiration: I visit National Trust properties. There is always some inspiring idea you can take away to try at home (nationaltrust.org.uk).
Get the look
Interior design: by Robert Moore at www.mooredesign.info
Platinum grass cloth wallpaper: www.ralphlaurenhome.com
Blue-and-white ikat hand-printed fabric: www.bernardthorp.co.uk
Deep blue paint in bedroom: “Basalt” from www.littlegreene.com
Peacock blue paint in library: SC558 from www.papers-paints.co.uk
Stair carpet in grey Quirky Tess: www.alternativeflooring.com
Kitchen range: www.falconappliances.com
Box (Buxus) balls and hornbeams: www.newcoventgardenmarket.com
What it cost: the house cost £930,000 in 2012. Today it is worth an estimated £1.7 million