Interior designer transforms two Chelsea flats into one family house - with a stunning basement bar

Designer Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari transformed two all-white Chelsea flats into a vibrant family house full of colour and style — complete with a cosy bar in the basement.
A supper for four that often becomes 14 — all sitting on Philippe Starck Ghost chairs — is no problem for Swiss-Iranian interior designer Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari. Fabulous Iranian hospitality is well-known, but the thinking behind it less so. “We have a saying,” she explains. “Treat any stranger well who comes to your home, in case they turn out to be an angel.”
When she and her husband first came to London they lived at her grandparents’ house, saving for three years before buying a tiny flat in Fulham with a 37-year lease. “I did it up with a carpenter,” she says.

It was there that the design bug took hold. Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari was running a bed linen company, making bespoke linens for designers, when a client asked her to design the interiors for a ski chalet. After that, word of mouth led to other jobs and she just kept going, turning a passion into a career.

Take a tour of the colourful family home

The couple then moved to a bigger house in Fulham, where they stayed for 10 years, before spotting Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari’s current home, in Chelsea, in an agent’s window in 2011.
“I always loved this street,” she says. The house was divided into two flats with a little entry hall, and the interiors were very white and Nordic. She planned to revert the flats back to a single property, and with six months to wait between exchange and completion, she had time to plan the whole renovation and design job, and to buy all the materials required. Once she had set to work, the whole project was completed in six months. “I put in 17 steel beams,” she explains.

The house is colourful and  welcoming. “Colour can enhance your mood and your life,” she says.
Interior design: Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari in her Chelsea sitting room, with striking pink Yves Klein coffee table

Classics and brights
Modern pieces of art sit alongside a casual mix of bespoke chairs and sofas in rich, warm colours and velvety textures, plus French armchairs inherited from her grandparents.

A striking Yves Klein coffee table, filled with vibrant pink pigment, vies for attention with a dining table she designed, its antique mirrored top drawing everything on it together. 

A bevelled wall of mirrors behind the fireplace adds focus and catches reflections of the high-walled garden — a lush oasis of pleached crab apples,  jasmine, roses and buxus balls irregularly placed. There’s a gravel run for playing pétanque, while the lawn is fake, so her 15-year-old son, Alexandre, can play football. Using classic design elements with a striking colour palette is the key to the whole house. Two little bathrooms are magical. One is completely black — it has a black lavatory, black walls, even black loo paper — with one mirrored wall, on which hangs a gorgeous French nickel basin and taps, plus pretty lamps. “I don’t like to see white ‘white goods’,” Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari explains. “Black toilets are elegant. I design the nickel basins, which are made in France.”

She doesn’t like to see radiators, either, so boxes them in and adds narrow storage units to either side so they disappear into a streamlined run of shallow cupboards. Underfloor heating is added for good measure. 

Cupboard doors are upholstered and walls hold art worth looking at, even in the children’s rooms. On the landing are portraits of her Iranian great-grandfathers, in the uniform of their own army. “We are a tribe, from the south-west of Iran. One of the last nomadic tribes in the world,” she adds.
Art of glass: the mirrored wall behind the fireplace adds light and focus to Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari’s sitting room

Going underground
The biggest surprise is in the basement, half of which has been turned into a serious bar. Painted cosy crimson, with deep-red velvet bespoke armchairs and sofa, as well as a mirrored bar, it makes you want to sink into the sofa and drink Martinis, a world away from the bustling streets above. Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari took away the supporting wall to the corridor, replaced it with four massive steel columns, and then inset a double-glass wall, containing a temperature-controlled wine store. 

Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari was raised in Geneva by her mother, a judge. She went to Paris to study law, where she met her now-former husband. After six years there, in 1996 the couple came to London, where her family had settled, having left Iran in 1979-1980.

Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari loves London and is taking British citizenship. “I’m a real Londoner,” she says. “My friends, work and family are all here and my daughter, 10-year-old Maxine, wants to be prime minister.

“London is really cosmopolitan — much more than Paris.”

Design is the perfect job for Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari — “I could draw you plans of my homes when I was five” — and she has always been passionate about warm, rich colours. “Colour is your friend, especially if you are on a tight budget,” she insists. “If you don’t like it, what is the worst thing that can happen? Just change it.”
Neutrals and accents: orange is the colour-pop contrast with soft grey for a bedroom

What it cost: 
Estimated cost of works in 2011, including interior design, at trade prices and excluding fees: £500,000

Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari’s design tips: 
use colour. How people describe colour varies from person to person. One person’s orange is different from another’s, so I get clients to show me objects with the colour they mean. Paint is great. If you have wooden floors and you cannot afford to carpet wall-to-wall, paint the floorboards.

Luxury today is having things made bespoke, rather than having production line stuff from China. There are superb craftspeople in England. Buying bespoke isn’t as expensive as you think. I design all our sofas and make them using the same company and they cost half the price of a big sofa company. Everyone needs a super-deep sofa that all of you can snuggle up on to watch movies. Put the big money into getting the structure and services right. Then add accessories that you can change with the seasons — such as lampshades, sofas and cushions.

The designer’s little black book:
Some of the upholstery fabrics are  from Claremont, Chelsea at
Yves Klein coffee table: try modern antiques sales or
Kitchen: Mowlem (
White quartz composite silestone worktops: from
Reflective tiles in main bathroom: Topps Tiles (
Oak and leather flooring: Element 7 (
Black lavatory and nickel taps: by Lefroy Brooks (
Nickel basins: made by Jandelle, Paris (
Glass pendant lights in bathrooms: by Best and Lloyd, King’s Road (
Glass doorknobs: from Haute Déco (
Black (and other coloured) loo paper: from Renova (
Paint in bar: Rectory Red, from Farrow & Ball (
Garden design: Jonathan Snow (
Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari at

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