The whiff of pure fresh air is a precious scent in London, which is one of the reasons why perfumer Lyn Harris loves living among the treetops of Primrose Hill, where she shares a top-floor flat with partner Christophe Michel and their five-year-old son, Henri.
Harris is the founder and the "nose" of Miller Harris, the fragrance company that takes its solid Yorkshire name from Harris's father and its ingredients from more exotic places such as Turkey, Kashmir and Jamaica. Harris learnt her craft in Grasse in France, the centre of the perfume industry, which is where she met Michel, who is also her business partner.
She started the company 11 years ago on her savings and a government grant, specialising in bespoke perfume which is now £8,000 a pop. Jane Birkin requested one redolent of dusty old books. You can buy it now under the insouciant name of L'Air de Rien, for £85.
Harris's range of fragrances and candles, which are known worldwide, soared in popularity when Sam Cam presented a set to Michelle Obama on her first Washington visit. Madonna, Goldie Hawn and Kristin Scott Thomas are just a few of the many who have been seduced by Harris's innovatory perfumes inspired by sources as diverse as home-made jam, school pencils and the salt marshes of Brittany, where she had a holiday home with Michel, but unsurprisingly was too busy to visit.
Where better to be based now, within easy reach of her three London shops in Mayfair, Notting Hill and Covent Garden, than leafy Primrose Hill? "It's a great location: you can walk into town, all our friends are here and it has a relaxed, bohemian feeling," says Harris.
"Before my years in Grasse I lived with my sister in Chalcot Road and set up my laboratory in the back of the flat, in the box room. I spent whole summers hanging out in Chalcot Square." Harris and Michel bought their now light-filled flat because of its secret garden: a little space between the rooftops.
"For us that was priceless," says Michel. "Nobody can see you, but you're among the trees. Take the barbecue up there, and you're all set."
'The secret of making a bijou apartment work is having a lot of the furniture made to fit the space'
It's a large house in Elsworthy Road, with an interesting background — Edward and Mrs Simpson lived in the grand, wood-panelled ground floor for a short while, and Mussolini's brother once lived in Harris's third-floor flat. The entire space is what Harris calls "bijou".
"It was just awful when we bought it," recalls Harris. "A series of small, separate rooms linked by one central corridor, all walls and doors. It was dark and depressing." Their solution was to call in an architect, Francesco Draisci, who, as an Italian, understood their wish to have the kitchen as the heart of the home; Michel is an accomplished cook.
Draisci opened up the whole space to make one big central living area. Doors themselves take up space, so he gave the two bedrooms and bathroom sliding doors, and made the floor-to-ceiling wardrobes look part of the walls by using seamless panels that open up at the touch of a hand. And to maximise on the top floor light, he added a wall of mirrors to the sliding wall that conceals Henri's bedroom, and one at the entrance, where a skylight, leading to the roof garden, lets in more light.
"The secret of making a bijou apartment work is having a lot of the furniture made to fit the space," says Harris. She commissioned cabinetmaker Ray Griffiths, who built her London shops. He designed an extra long, skinny table to fit the kitchen, incorporating a built-in drawer for cutlery, attached a white leather bedhead on to the main bedroom wall to save on space and, in response to Harris's request for something to divide the kitchen from the main living area, made what she calls a bibliothèque: a free-standing wall full of cubbyholes to hold books.
The walls are painted white, to create a foil for Harris's love of bright, clashing colours, most prevalent in the main living area, where an orange stool from a flea market in Brittany sits happily alongside a blue rocker from SCP and a lime-green kiddie's stool from The Cross.
The rug she chose to pull all these colours together is bright pink, and was bought at the souk in Marrakech last year. "I told the seller I would only buy it if I could take it back with me, and he packed it so tightly that I was able to take it on the plane."
Two new additions to the white walls of the main bedroom and kitchen showcase Harris's new baby: contemporary wallpapers in muted tones created by Karen Beauchamp, former creative director of legendary wallpaper company Cole & Son, who is an avid Miller Harris customer.
She took the botanical sea-fig motif on bottle and packaging and ran with it — all over three different kinds of wallpaper, from a big, bold print that, says Harris, gives her kitchen masses more character, and a flowing pattern in the bedroom, which Harris describes as a modern Toile de Jouy.
There is talk, too, of fabric, though for now Harris is content to peddle more of her brand's exclusive lifestyle through printed tea towels, aromatic olive oils, orange blossom marmalade and fragrant teas, which you can buy in the world's chicest caddies or sip at her Bruton Street tea room while you deliberate between heady perfumes Noix de Tubereuse and Tangerine Vert.
Why did she want to branch into tea? Says the lass from Halifax, via Grasse and Primrose Hill: "Because I'm from Yorkshire, of course."
Photographs: Graham Jepson