British manufacturing “is my obsession”, says Lulu Lytle, owner of Soane Britain. Its interior design studio employs the best British craftspeople to create furniture, lighting and fabrics, using skills that go back to the 18th century and beyond.
“We’ve all been complacent, believing that traditional crafts will always be there — but unless they are nurtured, those skills will die. Look at British steel,” she says passionately.
Putting her money where her mouth is, in 2011, Soane bought the last rattan manufacturer left in England and started an apprenticeship programme.
Soane keeps strict tabs on all its makers and suppliers, to ensure that “British-made”, and “British materials”, mean just that. Fabrics are woven in Suffolk and printed in Kent; Lytle has blacksmiths, carpenters, upholsterers and gilders at her disposal.
Take a tour of Lulu Lytle's colourful home
Take a tour of Lulu Lytle's colourful home
1/10 Picture this
Lytle shares the long, rangy apartment with her husband, banker Charlie, 47, children Bunny, 14 (left), and 11-year-old Xan (right), Tom, 16, and seven-month-old greyhound, Panther, who, despite his name, behaves more like a lovesick kitten.
2/10 Shelves for beautiful things
The designer combined three rooms into a colourful, practical family kitchen with oak joinery. She uses shelves rather than cupboards, “I don’t like eye-level cupboards, I like to see things,” she says.
3/10 Eye-catching design
Lytle's Bayswater home mixes old and new Soane pieces, along with textiles collected worldwide, paintings, maps, and artefacts.
The Soane chairs and carpet in the drawing room are a "comfortable mix", with an 18th-century backgammon table where the family often plays.
5/10 Old and new
Art, colour, history, modernity and comfort mix effortlessly wherever you look. “I wanted a sofa that all five of us could curl up in to watch TV", says Lytle.
6/10 "Everything can be tweaked"
Above the silk-covered sofa is a crewel-work picture of a smiling lion that Lytle found in a bazaar in Notting Hill many years ago.
The charming, deep pink-walled snug is a place for all the family to enjoy.
8/10 Velvet touch
A bespoke velvet Soane chair adds glamour and comfort to a simple desk
9/10 To boldly go
Searing Chinese yellow walls (left) make a study area dramatic, while hand-painted lapis lazuli (right) brings luxury to the master bedroom en suite.
The Carrara marble bathroom off the couple's bedroom is a showstopper.
One piece, such as a chair — for which the company is known, its 18th century-inspired modern designs having spawned a rash of imitations — can involve five different trades across the country, and arrive, all things considered, a sprightly eight to 12 weeks later.
Everything can be tweaked — woods, details, fabric, leathers… whatever you want, so though most thing are variants of existing styles, everything is bespoke. Anyone can buy from Soane, it isn’t stuffy, though not surprisingly there are royal clients, too. Fabric starts from £90 a metre. The desirable new Cleveland chair, covered in, say, tangerine leather, would cost about £3,000 without VAT — not cheap, but it will last several lifetimes.
Lytle’s own Bayswater home mixes old and new Soane pieces, along with textiles collected worldwide, paintings, maps, and artefacts. All were chosen for their striking looks, shapes and colours, rather than value. Over the beautiful but battered, down-filled, silk-covered sofa in the deep pink-walled snug — “I wanted a sofa that all five of us could curl up in to watch TV” — is a crewel-work picture of a smiling lion that she found in a bazaar in Notting Hill many years ago.
Lytle shares the long, rangy apartment with her husband, banker Charlie, 47, children Tom, 16, Bunny, 14, and 11-year-old Xan, and seven-month-old greyhound, Panther, who, despite his name, behaves more like a lovesick kitten.
Raised in Worcestershire, the youngest of four sisters, Lytle holidayed in Britain with her family, but developed a romantic passion for Egypt — “the palm trees, the camels”. She took a degree in Egyptology, met Charlie when he was training as a barrister and they married and bought a one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill.
Lytle worked in antiques for four years, before striking out to start Soane when she was 25, originally from the flat. “It was the naïve boldness of youth,” she smiles. “I never thought of problems.” Her plan was clear and has never changed — to create beautifully made contemporary furniture based on antiques. “The life of an object is endlessly fascinating, there’s a depth to old things.” She soon went into partnership with respected antiques dealer Christopher Hodsoll and the company flourished, moving to Pimlico Road where it now employs 40 people.
When Lytle was expecting her first child, Tom, it was time to house-hunt. Her clarity of vision paid off here, too. She only liked one square in London, so the couple “begged estate agents to let us know if anything came up”. They were just completing on one flat when the seller pulled out. By chance, a top-floor lateral conversion immediately came up as a probate sale. The couple swooped.
In 1999, Bayswater wasn’t smart; there were prostitutes on most corners. “My father was very surprised we bought here,” she says. They gutted the flat, which had tremendous treetop views. Seven years later, as their family grew, they were able to buy an adjacent flat and knock through.
Lytle’s décor is personal, intelligent, and relaxed at the same time. The kitchen — “originally three small rooms” — is a large oak-lined space, the cupboards simple and robust; the shelves above solid and holding beautiful things. “I don’t like eye-level cupboards, I like to see things,” she says.
DRAWING DOWN THE SKY
The drawing room has a dawn-coloured ceiling “to draw the sky inside”, plus a happy, comfortable mix of Soane chairs and carpet, as well as an 18th-century backgammon table where the family often plays, and a stunning portrait of the children.
Art, colour, history, modernity and comfort mix effortlessly wherever you look. The couple’s own bedroom is modest, though Lytle plans to try out a new Soane wallpaper called Dianthus Chintz in it — but the Carrara marble bathroom off it is a showstopper. “I adore my bath, it’s more important than the bedroom.” The narrow Drummonds slipper bath has its own marble plinth and a soft-silvery nickel mixer tap.
Sliding mirrored shutters turn this room into a magical yet unfussy place. So is that the key to Soane design, most of which is done by Lytle herself? If you have seen the emerald-green leather-clad chairs and bar stools at Cecconi’s restaurant-bar off Piccadilly — with a glamour that no one forgets — they were Soane’s first commercial commission, in 2005.
Effortless grace: yet you know just how much thought has gone into it.
GET THE LOOK
- Lulu Lytle designs at Soane Britain
- Most popular Soane fabrics: Dianthus Chintz and Pineapple Frond. Dianthus Chintz will soon be available as a wallpaper
- Bunny sofa in snug: from Soane
- Floral silk on sofa: Rubelli
- Bronze bull’s head sculpture by Hamish Mackie
- Wire hare by Sophie Ryder
- Nickel bath mixer tap: from Barber and Wilson
- Usk cast-iron bath: Drummonds
- Drawing room rug: to Lytle’s design, by Veedon Fleece
- Blue-Green ceiling in drawing room: Farrow & Ball