My home: designer to the stars Ben de Lisi's cottage makes a design statement

Fashion guru’s once-poky Battersea cottage is a masterpiece of effortless elegance.

Ben de Lisi’s Battersea terrace cottage home has a lacquer-red front door. Red is the designer’s signature colour and it has served him well, not just as a motif through his home but also through his career. There was, for example, that sensational red dress he made for Kate Winslet to wear at the Oscars, and his sell-out £15 scarlet bulldog cushion for Debenhams, which is still taking bids on eBay for six times that price.
 
Whether designing couture gowns for film stars, interiors for Grosvenor Estates, sofas for Debenhams or renovating his own home, De Lisi’s design ethic is constant: “Understated elegance, hardworking, effortless.”

It’s pragmatic, too. “There’s little difference between designing clothes and interiors. With both, you play up the attributes and play down the detriments. It could be a woman with big hips, it could be a room that’s got small windows. You have to work with what you’ve got.”

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What he’d got 10 years ago — when he, his partner Gerardo Vidaurre and their three French bulldogs, Tea, Luca and Noah moved into the two-up Victorian cottage — were small rooms divided further by pointless round arches, and a poky fireplace in the living room. “The whole place was compartmentalised,” recalls De Lisi, who grew up on a ranch in Long Island with southern Italian parents and, though he moved to London from New York in 1982 to pursue his dream of becoming a fashion designer, retains his American accent.
 
“We knocked down walls, opened up the staircase and put up a sheet of mirror in the narrow hallway to make the space appear larger. The smaller the fireplace, the smaller the room, so expansive furniture doesn’t work. We had to replace the fireplace and the workman had to go underneath the house through the crawl space to run the gas lines in.
 
“When he was down there I heard him say, ‘Wow!’ and I said, ‘If there’s jewellery down there, it’s mine.’ He came up with handfuls of oyster shells — no pearls, just shells. I read up the history of these cottages and discovered they were built for workers on the Thames. Oysters were cheap food, so they used to eat and throw, eat and throw. Maybe I could have done something with all those shells but I wasn’t feeling too creative at that moment.”
 
His creativity, though, took the cottage from two bedrooms and one bathroom to a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house — a loft extension, which has given the couple a third floor, was added three years ago.
 
French windows at the back of the house lead straight into a glamorous courtyard, redolent of their two-acre Ibizan retreat where they stay for at least several days every month. “We’re a good match because I look after the interiors of our homes, and Gerardo looks after the gardens.”
 
For his London home, De Lisi wanted flow through the rooms so he ran a floor of American walnut throughout and painted the walls white. “My philosophy was to keep the look pure but with an American Museum of Modern Art feel, layering on rugs, stacking ceramics in groups of threes and fives. I collect paintings, sculptures, ceramics, furniture from the Fifties. That’s what makes my home special. Everything in this house I have a relationship with and there’s a story to be told. That’s important to me.”
 
In the living area downstairs, the long, low limestone fireplace is a good fit with the clean lines of the furniture, which includes a pair of modernist armchairs from the first-class lounge of a Norwegian cruise liner. De Lisi switched their blue plastic for white Ultrasuede upholstery. He designed a series of open blocks to make a wall by the front door that displays ceramics — here a Rosenthal, there a piece of Jonathan Adler, another of Poole Pottery — yet does not block out any light.
 
On the white dining room table sits a cache of red glass including vintage Murano pieces, the different periods and styles unified by that vibrant punch of colour. Sculptural shapes are another recurrent motif. A mosaic artwork on a plinth, all sharp angles, sits in the guest bathroom window and is in fact four stylised Fifties door handles De Lisi found in Venice.
 
In the main bedroom, a wirework hatstand picked up at the Marché aux Puces in Paris makes a whimsical as well as useful piece of sculpture. He designed the sleek walnut bed supported at one end by the headboard attached to the wall. Ample wardrobe space is hidden by a wall of mirrors that open at the touch of a finger. A floor-to ceiling display of cubbyholed white ceramics is a striking exercise in light and shade.
 
De Lisi’s fashion and homeware ranges for Debenhams are in 300 stores around the world, and he is in growing demand to design interiors for private clients.
 
“People wonder why I don’t live in a big pile in Richmond instead of a modest cottage in Battersea. But I don’t need any more than this. It’s near the park, it’s south-facing, I’m in King’s Road in eight minutes. More importantly, it’s the place where I feel the safest and most creative, most secure and most powerful. I miss it when I leave and I love it when I come back.”
 

DE LISI’S DESIGN NOTEBOOK

  • Loft conversion: Landmark Lofts (www.landmark-lofts.com)
  • Bathroom fittings: Ben de Lisi for Abacus Direct (www.abacusdirectlimited.com)
  • Scarlet Eames & Saarinen chair by Vitra: www.twentytwentyone.com
  • Black wood and woven papercord Hans Wegner dining chairs by Carl Hansen & Son: www.twentytwentyone.com
  • Rugs and kilims: Jenny Hicks Beach 020 7228 6900
  • Cushions on bed: Ben de Lisi at Debenhams (www.debenhams.com)

 
Photographs: Clive Nichols




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