Caroline Riddell has been designing and decorating homes for clients, as well as her own family, for 10 years. She has that knack of being able to combine a great sense of style with an easy-going attitude that makes a house feel “designed”, but not at the expense of homeliness.
Caroline recently sold her Hammersmith house and took on the challenge of a mews home a few streets away. The previous home was tall and thin, and life with a husband, two children, au pairs, a work assistant, cats and dogs was altogether too vertical.
She cleverly used the proceeds of the sale to buy a derelict house in Suffolk — which she is restoring — and a London property that had been the two-storey, open-plan office space of an architectural practice. She and her husband, James, clearly have vision.
James has a building company, Labatt Construction, which helps, and they both loved the location of the new home, a tiny, industrial, cobbled mews which was the original setting for Steptoe and Son’s yard in the Sixties TV comedy series. It is now a collection of offices and studios, occupied during the day but deserted by night.
The building the Riddells wanted came with planning permission for residential redevelopment on the basis that a quarter of the property remained for “business use”.
It was the perfect solution. They would create office space for both their businesses in the majority section of the ground floor, with separate access to their living quarters on the first floor, on to which they would add a smaller second floor for the children.
The joy of such an arrangement — apart from the obvious one of being able to close the doors on their offices each night — was that their domestic lives would become more lateral.
The winning feature of the new house for them is that, having climbed the tiny staircase bedecked in riotous Liberty wallpaper, they reach the principal room, where the ceiling opens to a raftered, double-height pitch. Here, as throughout most of the house, walls are clad in off-white tongue-and-groove boards, and parquet flooring provides a seamless transition from one room to the next.
The plain backdrop allows for bursts of colour: the yellow, hand-dyed linen blinds from Susan Deliss, the sofa in rusty-orange velvet from Etro, the red-striped cushions from Colony, and Farrow & Ball’s deep Hague Blue paint, which has been applied to kitchen cupboards and doorways.
As kitchen, dining and sitting room are all in one, this is the hub of the house — a place where old and new furniture sits happily side by side.
While Caroline is an ardent antiques collector — for clients as well as for her own home — she is planning to launch her own range of furniture in the next year or so to complement the interior design business she set up.
The principal room maintains the proportions of the building’s previous existence, and James and Caroline worked out how they would divide the rest of the space for bedrooms and bathrooms.
They created a main bedroom with an en suite bathroom and a small study from which rises a narrow staircase to the top floor. This has been extended into a substantial dormer to allow for two small children’s bedrooms and a second bathroom. It’s a masterclass in space management, and the children “love their cosy rooms”.
They all share the comfortable television room on the ground floor where they can be with their friends and, in summer, the whole courtyard of the mews is at their disposal. There are tables and chairs outside, tubs of geraniums and numerous potted plants.
In the meantime, the dog is sprawled on the sofa, the cat’s on the dining-room table, a Tube train is rumbling past over a bridge nearby and sunshine is flooding the house with natural light. It’s a deeply comfortable place, and that is Caroline’s knack.
On sale now: see the full version of this feature in next month’s issue of House & Garden