Calm. That is the word that springs to mind, stepping into photographer Eric Perlman’s white, uncluttered open-plan flat in Bermondsey. American-born Perlman, 64, lived and worked first in New York and later, when his marriage ended, in Basel, Switzerland, mainly as a teacher but later in graphic art, until he moved to Notting Hill in 2000.
But Perlman, a self-confessed American ex-hippy who remembers Warhol and Woodstock with realistic nostalgia for a time that really has gone, says Notting Hill got a bit too trendy with its bars and bankers.
Luckily, along the way he had saved enough not only to buy a large but rather off-the-peg warehouse conversion in Bermondsey Street, done in 1997 before the street hit its stride, but also to take up his love, photography.
The 17m by 6m apartment — part of a Victorian brick-and metal, solidly built, galleried building set around a big central courtyard surrounded by flower-strewn balconies — didn’t ring all Perlman’s bells. His acute, artistic sense of light, the need for space around objects, and for well-balanced colours wasn’t met by the two-bed, two-bathroom fit-out that had been crammed in by the original developer with a nose for profit.
In 2002 Perlman took on an architect who changed things around, yet still it didn’t work, it still nagged. He lived with the revamp until 2009, when he talked to Malcolm Crayton, a partner at Form Design Architecture.
“At first,” Perlman says, “I just asked for a few tweaks. But Malcolm said, ‘Why don’t we start thinking from scratch and design the flat you really want?’ Which was really so much better. For example I only use one bedroom. The challenge then was working out what I really did want. I realised I wanted calm, with a New York warehousey feel. I like the architect Claudio Silvestrin and modern-looking architecture, and I like concrete and glass.”
Of course, what happened next was far from a few tweaks. Perlman had spent £315,000 buying the flat. He spent a further £230,000 on the refurbishment (excluding the architect’s fees). And as he only moved back in about six months ago, this really has been a labour of love.
Yet there’s gold in them there thrills. The flat is worth about £900,000 now, and looks every bit of it. You can see and feel the quality of all the fittings, from the super-sleek paintwork on all the bespoke doors and cupboards, whose handle-less fronts, with smooth finger-grooves, open and shut soundlessly and perfectly, concealing lots of well- designed storage, to the Lutron lighting system that has 10 mood settings at the push of a button, to two beautiful bathrooms concealed behind heavy pivoted floor-to-ceiling doors that have steel bespoke catches and full-length mirrors on their inner face.
Given the huge, open-plan main room, with its simple white Corian-type kitchen island and beautiful Smeg burners (“all ridiculously easy to clean”, Perlman says, brandishing his secret weapon, a bottle of Bar Keeper’s Friend), it is the mystery of the bathrooms that really adds something.
Inside their sprung doors, the walls and thick shelves are painted a silky warm grey to match perfectly the huge ceramic floor tiles that look something between polished concrete and slate. The white goods are smooth, simple forms by Roca with buffed steel Arne Jacobsen taps. Everything is discrete, perfect and functional, but not cold.
In the master bathroom, an old earthenware jug of yellow daisies on the windowsill makes a fine contrast with the grey and crisp white, while in the main room the squashy pistachio chairs that a builder took one look at and christened the caterpillar chairs, are in fact Seventies design classics called Togo from Ligne Roset and very comfy.
Further considered details include low, fat, fin-tubed radiators, accidentally painted pale cerulian blue instead of the pure white the architect specified; sockets placed under the reclaimed pine flooring, with liftable sections of plank to attach a TV or iPad when wanted; and concealed lighting hidden behind vertical and horizontal recesses.
Over the dining table, an eye-catching lamp from Davey Lighting stops it all getting too slick. “Malcolm told me about it and I wasn’t sure, but he said to trust him,” says Perlman.
He evidently did trust his architect, as he is at last reaping the rewards of a successful arrangement in which he now lives and works with pleasure. He leans back in the lap of one of his caterpillar chairs to survey his domain and says: “Sometimes I just sit here and pinch myself, especially at night.”
Eric Perlman’s flat, designed by Form Design Architecture (form-architecture.co.uk), is on show as part of Open House 2012, but on Sunday 23 September only. Visit londonopenhouse.org for full details, but for this flat, booking is only via the architects, on 020 7407 3336.