With two of her three children at university, interior designer Nia Morris was feeling the full impact of the empty nest. The family’s five-storey Victorian house in Primrose Hill suddenly didn’t seen so much fun: “A room on every floor, with just me much of the time using the kitchen and the bedroom, with unused floors in between.”
She yearned for a big, bright loft instead. It had to be near Paddington or Marylebone — the train route to Gloucestershire where she and her partner, Paul, a busy doctor, have another home, and where Morris plans to extend her design business. Luckily, she spotted an apartment in her chosen area and bought it: “It was the windows,” she says.
The classic second-floor warehouse conversion on a sunny corner near the rich mix of Edgware Road has large black metal Crittall windows along two sides. A 1,150sq ft box with soundproof concrete floors and high ceilings, it is an interior designer’s dream.
Morris, 55, read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, then went into banking, which she disliked, so retrained and qualified in law. A senior partner in a large city firm for 12 years, she quit when her third child by her now ex-husband was born, and took six years off. Of Harry, now 24, Charlie, 22, and Milly, 18, Charlie currently lives with her.
Seeds of a new career
During her spell away from work, Morris did up two houses for her own family, while friends increasingly asked for her help with theirs. She started a firm making designer accessories and lamp shades, selling to the likes of famous designer David Collins.
“I was meeting interior designers, and I thought, could I do this?” After studying at KLC School of Design in Chelsea, she set up her own business in 2002 and hasn’t been out of work since. Paul, who Morris first met at Oxford, saw an article about her new venture in ES, the Evening Standard magazine, and got in touch, which opened a new chapter.
After running her own company she worked with others, but has now decided to go solo again. “I don’t like things that are overdesigned,” she says, “and I like to mix things up.” The new flat shows off her laid-back, smart, hard-working style. Morris viewed her loft in April 2013, completed later that year and wasted no time getting the builders in to gut and transform it, which took four months.
A bachelor flat done up in the Nineties, it had yellowy oak floors, white walls, and was open-plan bar a half-wall behind which was a fridge, sink and cooker. It was entirely lit by floor and table lamps. All Morris kept was the giant floor-to-ceiling pivot door that divides off a vestibule, in which she designed a wall-mounted cabinet for her Brompton bike.
Bye-bye nineties styling
She wanted to get in two bedrooms and two bathrooms but keep the spacious loft sense. The main room, with its amazing windows and two huge bamboo pendant lights, is a great space. The Bulthaup kitchen has all you need, but doesn’t steal the show and there’s an office area to one side. Off this space is a small bathroom and a utility area.
Behind all that is the roomy master bedroom with a silvery feature wall and two big 18th-century sconce mirrors. Modern designer lights dangle like a drunken, arty spider from the ceiling. The master bathroom and a boxy second bedroom fit between the main bedroom and living room. The smaller bedroom has a platform double bed that Morris designed, reached by a folding metal stair. Another neat touch is a loft over the main bathroom, creating plentiful storage.
Black switch plates, surface-mounted metal conduiting, new double-glazed Crittall windows and brilliantly considered lighting finish the look. There’s a terrific mix, from concealed lighting behind the kitchen to small pendants over the eight-seater dining table, to those giant lamps in the bedroom. “Lighting is so important” says Morris. “It can be sculptural as well as functional.”
She adds that there’s so much choice when doing up your own place, it’s much more stressful than designing for someone else. You’d never guess.