How an ambitious couple turned a shabby mews house in Chelsea into a chic family home

Buying a run-down property on a whim as they strolled through Chelsea set Matt and Marissa Hermer on a mission to create their dream home...

Ambitious couple Matt and Marissa Hermer are making a big impression on the London food scene with their original take on the humble hot dog.

California-born Marissa, 33, one of the stars of reality TV show Ladies of London, is the brains behind Soho-based eatery Top Dog, which uses high-end ingredients in the fast-food classic.

She is ably assisted in the venture by husband Matt, founder of the young royals' one-time favourite nightclub, Boujis. The couple also own the Bumpkin stable of British brasseries dotted around the capital.

Marissa first met Matt, 44, a decade ago at a work dinner at the Café Royal. He sat next to her, and "it was love at first sight", she says.

Nevertheless, smart and with a business head, she didn't see how a transatlantic love affair could work, so she flew back to the US and her PR job.

Not put off, whenever Matt flew across the Pond on a business trip, he always got in touch. He proposed in 2009 and a year later they married.

Despite a busy work schedule and bringing up their sons, four-year-old Max and toddler Jake, the pair love entertaining, so when it came to designing their own house, the kitchen was going to be right at its core.

They first spotted what was to become their home during a stroll one evening through Chelsea. "Oh my God! It was quintessential London… James Bond and Judi Dench," says Marissa of her first impressions on seeing the property.

By chance they saw a man — he turned out to be a developer — coming out of the shabby mews house he had just bought. With the snap decisiveness of entrepreneurs, they made an offer he couldn't refuse and then rented a flat a few doors down. In the blink of an eye, the stage was set for a big building adventure.

Marissa admits the house was an "absolute shambles" when they bought it.

"The ground floor was just two garages, formerly for carriages," she says. "Between them a dodgy, carpeted staircase shot up to a flat, comprising two bedrooms, a little sitting room and a tiny kitchen. There were ancient, smelly carpets. And no outside space."

The couple applied to knock it all down bar the frontage and start again. Having decided first to go up one floor and down one floor, economies of scale made it more sensible to go down two floors. They hired architect Ian Dollamore and got planning permission to start work on their project.

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Entertaining friends: across from the kitchen, friends can chat in deep, comfy armchairs while Matt and Marissa cook.

Marissa took Matt to Soho Beach House hotel and members club in Miami Beach for his birthday and he loved its laid-back English-design style of panelling and colour, so they asked its designer, Martin Brudnizki, to come on board.

Demolition began — at one point the building was just a brick front wall held up by massive steels with an enormous 30ft hole behind it. Then, after six months of digging, they could start the exciting part.

The value of building practically from scratch is that you really can have what you like. Marissa and Matt wanted family spaces below ground, including a gym and a big playroom.

On the ground floor the couple planned one big open space featuring a kitchen, living area and a place for dining. The next level, reached by an elegant new staircase at the back, would be primarily the children's floor, with a glass-walled study for mum and dad to take refuge.

Above that, the couple created a magical boutique bedroom, dressing room and gorgeous marble bathroom which all look on to a winter garden through another glazed wall.

Matt has the vision for making the most of spaces, while Marissa enjoys the design process. "If I hadn't done PR I'd have done interiors," she says. "Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour — I love it. It's a grown-up kids' Disneyland."

The ground floor is where the family spend the most time. Marissa, who was a regular visitor to Pinterest throughout the whole process, designed everything alongside Brudnizki and a specialist kitchen designer.

That sounds really high-spec — and it is — but the result is relaxed, comfortable, and homely. The kitchen is beautifully thought out, so you can move round it easily, with pretty floor tiles and a marble-topped island.

A brilliant detail is a cupboard that opens out into an instant larder, which also has a station for the kettle and toaster. Across from here, so friends can chat while Matt and Marissa cook, are deep, comfy armchairs "big enough for two to snuggle in", and a deep sofa in a pretty duck-egg tweed.

Over the fireplace sits a Viridian green painting that inspired the whole scheme. "I saw its twin in Martin's boardroom and we persuaded the artist to do one like it for us," adds Marissa.

The dining table, which came from Matt's old flat, has a bronze orb lamp over it, which echoes the bronze and copper of the extractor hood.

If you can imagine a very grown-up version of the stage set for Friends, but even more fun to be in, then this is it. It's hard to believe all this was created from a shabby little mews.

"We were one of the first in the street to dig a basement," says Marissa. "All the neighbours watched as the work progressed. Two years later, many of them were doing it, too."

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