Charlie Ford, 35, Chelsea Harbour’s glamorous personal shopper, has the composure of a woman who knows her Cole & Son from her Manuel Canovas. Ask Ford and she will, with unflappable ease, find stressed decorators the perfect upholstery fabric or the ideal wallpaper; she can even seek out a fabric that is just right for a client with a description given to her over the phone. But, she says, buying her first home, three years ago, had her spooked.
“It was completely terrifying. I bought it at auction. I went along with my father and he put his hand up — I was too nervous,” she says. “The lot before sold for twice the guide price and I thought: ‘I haven’t got a hope’.” But the pair triumphed, bagging the top-floor one-bedroom flat with views over the rooftops of Battersea for £190,000.
Getting the most out of a small budget
One of the talents that Ford’s clients appreciate is her gift for getting the most out of a small budget. During five months working on her own flat, which included shifting a boiler and washing machine, installing a new bathroom and kitchen, putting down floors, redecorating and furnishing, she spent less than her budget of £10,000. “I was very proud of that,” she says. “It’s about balancing quality and inexpensive items. If you spend money on a good sofa you can have lamps and tables from Ikea, and the quality stands out.”
The daughter of creative parents (a designer/sculptor father and ceramic-restorer mother), Ford can’t remember a time when she hasn’t loved interior design. She trained as an actor before making a career in “my other passion”. “Every time I moved, I redecorated and found I was good at it,” she says. “I started doing a bit of decorating for my friends between acting jobs, and it seemed like a natural career change.”
In 2001, she went to work for Colefax and Fowler, then moved to be the interiors consultant in an architectural practice in 2005. Six months later she was headhunted to manage the Design Club, a private club for designers and architects, at Chelsea Harbour. Though the building is absolute heaven to her, Ford realised the huge decorators’ mall, with 75 retailers spread over four floors, could be overwhelming for some.
“I heard stories of people running for the door because the first fabric they picked up was £250 a metre, but there are hundreds of fabrics for much less if you know your makers.” So, 18 months ago, Ford took on the additional role of personal shopper. “I wanted to help people who were not trained interior designers, to help them make the most of the building by making it friendly and easy to use. If they want to discuss a whole project with me, that’s fine, but if all they want is a wallpaper with a butterfly pattern or sheets with spots on, I can find it.”
Clients’ problems and projects are very varied. One minute Ford can be helping someone who wants curtains for a letting flat in the West Country, the next it’s a client redecorating a whole house. Others are simply choosing one accessory, which Ford says is a sensible place to begin a makeover. “People think you start with the colour of the walls, but it’s easier to match paint to fabrics than the other way around. Start with a rug, or even a cushion you love, and the paint colour can follow.”
Clever space-saving ideas
Ford’s own home is a mix of colourful textiles against a backdrop of white-painted walls and neutral furniture. Step through her tiny hallway and, in the dining area, over the white Ikea table and Louis Ghost chairs, you are greeted by six vibrant Manuel Canovas wallpaper samples that she has simply framed as pictures to make a colourful impact.
A step away, in the sitting room, a vivid pink rug lies in front of the Kingcome sofa, its soft neutral Larsen upholstery threaded with a glint of silver. By the window is one of her best buys: an antiques market chair snapped up for £30 and recovered in duck-egg blue velvet from Sahco Hesslein. Above the sofa are three extra-thick white bookshelves, dressed with antique mirror plates. Ford points out how the long, horizontal lines of the shelves make the tiny room seem more spacious, while the mirrors make the most of the natural light.
In both kitchen and bathroom, floors are covered in textured rubber tiles by Dalsouple, in Ford’s favourite shade of pale blue. In the kitchen, plain white Ikea units on one wall face elaborately patterned Fornasetti wallpaper from Cole & Son. And, set in the wall is a piece of space-saving genius: a flip-out bin. “It’s such a waste of space to be walking around your bin in a small kitchen,” says Ford.
The bathroom offers more ideas for the space-starved. The toilet roll is set into a niche in the wall, the medicine cabinet tucked behind the door. The shower screen folds right away, and the bath has a footwell around its base, which means, as Ford eagerly demonstrates, she can stand with toes tucked under the tub while she reaches to open the window.
The bedroom is poised between glamorous and girlie. “I didn’t want pink,” she says, “so I went for pale blue.” The colour adds Thirties opulence to the decoration: a blue felt cushion sits on another Ghost chair; behind the bed, Osborne & Little paper is scattered with blue carnations. For storage, Ford repainted the old fitted cupboards and two junk shop chests of drawers.
The chests are now display areas for Ford’s sparkly collections: crown-shaped brooches, a dozen or so silver lustre jugs and cups; match strikers and, stowed underneath, silver sandals. “I’m a collector,” she admits. “It’s a dreadful addiction. I see something I love and then a multiple of that is always even more beautiful. I can’t stop myself.”
The flat is still evolving, says Ford. “A home takes time to develop. And you can’t do everything at once. I bought an Ikea coffee table for £11.99 and waited until I could afford to swap it for the table I loved from Heal’s [a glossy white Louis console table].”
Her top tip for the amateur decorator? Patience. “Mistakes are very expensive.”
HOW TO GET THE LOOK
* Fabrics by Larsen and Manuel Canovas, from Colefax and Fowler, 110-112 Fulham Road, SW3 (020 7244 7427; www.colefax.com); and from Sahco Hesslein and Cole & Son, available from Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, SW11 (020 7225 9101; www.designcentrechelseaharbour.co.uk).
* Bathroom: Bathrooms@Source, 128 Garratt Lane, SW18 (020 8870 0066; www.bathroomsatsource.co.uk).
* Dalsouple tiles: First Floor, 174 Wandsworth Bridge Road, SW6
(020 7736 1123; www.firstfloor.uk.com).
* Kingcome Sofas: 114 Fulham Road, SW3 (020 7244 7747; www.kingcomesofas.co.uk).
* Tesica felt cushion: Peter Jones, Sloane Square, SW1 (020 7730 3434; www.peterjones.co.uk).
* Vintage mirrors, and mirrored furniture: Alfie’s Antique Market, 13-25 Church Street, NW8 (020 7723 6066; www.alfiesantiques.com).
* Lustre jugs, match strikers: Northcote Road Antiques Market, 155a Northcote Road, SW11 (020 7228 6850).
* Flowers: Ultraviolet, 12a Northcote Road, SW11 (020 7228 7755)
* Charlie Ford’s personal shopping service is available on 020 7351 5842. The first hour is free of charge and thereafter each hour costs £75.
Pictures by Mark York