An apartment in a mansion block behind Victoria station is not a likely location for London’s leading interior design duo, Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen. However, the creative team of the capital’s three Nicholas Haslam Ltd showrooms saw potential when they first wandered down the typically long, thin corridor, covered in peach carpet, to find five bedrooms and, bizarrely, just one living room.
“I had an instant feeling of being in Paris,” recalls Vergeylen. “There were high ceilings, tall windows, a sense of space. Victoria was no-man’s-land, we were used to Kensington and Chelsea, but we didn’t care.”
Now the flat, the couple’s pied-à-terre for 15 years — a farmhouse in West Sussex is their weekend bolt hole — has a more sensible configuration for Italian-born Moschino and Belgian-born Vergelyn, who both love to entertain: two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a dining room and a magnificent double drawing room, as well as a guest loo completely lined in horizontal panels of French oak.
And that nasty peach carpet, laid right through the flat, redeemed itself by revealing beneath a perfect oak parquet floor.
The double drawing room exudes glamour. At one end, a sketch by Cocteau hangs over the mirrored fireplace and is flanked by tall brass bookcases designed by the American Billy Baldwin for Cole Porter. A Jeff Koons resin balloon dog, bought for a song in the East Village years ago, holds court.
At the other end, comfy velvet sofas and a stag-at-bay bronze above the fireplace strike a more traditional note, and the handsome, dark wood bookcases, seemingly antique, have a very different provenance — they were carved in Poland from pine, then assembled in situ.
Two 19th-century black and gold Coromandel screens, artfully placed, divide the two spaces, while affording a through view of two very different rooms, one in the present, one in the past, both full of treasures.
COLLECTING IS A PASSION
Moschino and Vergeylen are ruled not by their pockets, but by their magpie eyes that can spot something special at a hundred paces. Their stock in trade is, after all, creating sumptuous interiors for their clientele.
“We’re always gathering, but it’s not about investment, it’s about falling in love with something,” says Vergeylen. “Cocteau’s drawings are a passion and that’s become a bit of a problem because next I’ll be hanging them from the ceiling.”
There are even collectables in the kitchen, where an antique glass-fronted cabinet is stuffed with ornate silverware, mostly from the Milanese company Buccellati.
“Every time we go to Italy, it’s a risk,” sighs Moschino, a self-confessed shopaholic. “And when I go with a client to the Silver Vaults and I see an exquisite tray that the man says was owned by the ex-king of Italy, what can I do but take it home?”
The main bedroom used to be all white, with a white four-poster bed, until they bought a big 18th-century wall tapestry in Paris. “Philip suggested using it as a huge headboard,” says Moschino. “We started from that and the room just came.”
So, exit cool, fresh white, and enter warm, faded blues and browns, including a wall of straw-coloured linen adorned with a gilded 18th-century barometer that looks like it was pinched from Versailles.
“You can always dare a bit more in the guest room because you don’t see it every day,” believes Moschino, and the guest bedroom lives up to those words, with a pair of coffee silk boudoir seats from the Clignancourt flea market in Paris and an 18th-century French cherrywood bed. Moschino rustled up a gilded corona from a length of vintage sheet metal frieze cut from a roll.
A small side door leads to a big surprise: a sumptuous chocolate-box bathroom kitted out in carved-to-fit and curlicued marble, redolent of old-school grand hotels.
The idea was, says Moschino, to conjure up a Ritz Hotel bathroom. “Because the few times I’ve stayed at the Ritz in Paris it has been such a treat that I wanted my guests to have that treat as well.”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
The pair are full of design tricks, none better than the ones they employed to turn a small and insignificant space into an intimate dining room, with lacquer-black and mirrored walls, that they use frequently to entertain.
“Everything was off-balance,” says Vergeylen. “There was one window off-centre on the left wall, and one door off-centre on the back wall. On top of that, you had to enter the room from the side, which had little impact.
“So in order to make the room symmetrical, we put in a fake window to balance the other one, giving both Roman blinds that stay down, because as it’s a dark room used at night, we don’t need daylight.” Behind that trompe l’oeil window, however, is a useful space — a deep set of shelves stacked with dinner plates.
“In order to balance the door on the right at the back, we put in an identical fake door, on the left. We got rid of the side entrance door, and changed it for central double doors. So wherever you look, the room is perfectly symmetrical.”
A Murano chandelier dripping with teardrop crystals hangs low over the dining table, which is extravagantly dressed with monogrammed Porthault table linen, crystal glasses and fine silver: “Very simple, very understated,” says Moschino, mischievously.
The glittering opulence doesn’t quite tally with his philosophy, which nonetheless is worth noting: “If you appreciate the beauty of baskets, you don’t need silver. People think, only with silver can you make a beautiful table, but it’s not true. We went to dinner once in Marrakesh, and they had these tiny baskets with primulas all down the table, and they looked divine. So of course the next morning we went straight to the market, to look for the baskets.
“Back in England, the first dinner we gave, we had all the baskets, with the primulas. And yes, they looked divine.”