The Great Exhibition of 1851 and the International Exhibition of 1862 brought money, attention and developers to South Kensington. Edward Francis had ambitions to entice the carriage trade to the area and built splendid houses around quiet squares. Today, in one of these homes lives architect Alex Cochrane, his wife, Alannah Weston, and their daughters.
Built in 1875, the house has immense proportions — a lofty hall leads into a huge kitchen, which Alex created from the former dining room and study.
The ceilings here are 12ft 5in high, with full-height doors. Alex has run an L-shaped counter along two sides of the 36ft-long room, topped with carefully matched Cararra marble. Underneath are cupboards of his own design, with open slots for handles, to give “a sense of what is in each of the drawers”, he says.
The line of dark slots, the long oak table and low white sofa all emphasise the horizontal, while the soaring curtains at the bay window remind you of the tall, imposing nature of the room. Yet it retains a family-friendly lightness and ease: toys are stored behind the sofa; the cats feed from two elegant bowls.
Along the hall, with its view to a small roof garden, is the study that Alex and Alannah share, their facing desks made from Habitat metal bases with MDF tops. Alannah is deputy chairman of Selfridges, one of the stores her family owns, while Alex is founder of ACA — Alex Cochrane Architects — an award-winning architecture and interior-design firm.
The former ballroom, now the family sitting room, has 14ft ceilings, and fine plasterwork. Two sofas and a big circular ottoman, all ACA designed, soften the room, as do buttercup linen curtains, while minimalist lamps and metal chairs give it a sharper edge. This vast white space is great for parties.
The cosy room behind is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Black Blue. “This is a TV room for the kids, and a library for me and Alannah.”
The stone staircase with wrought-iron balustrades, lit by two fine decorative-glass landing windows, leads to the bedroom floors, where a light-filled vista runs from a window overlooking treetops in the square gardens in front to a view of the sky through a bedroom window at the back.
The calm master bedroom, bath and shower rooms are simplicity itself, but the children’s bathroom on the floor above is full of colour: blue and white tiles, set diamond-fashion, are randomly sprinkled with red ones, there are bright mirrors and a cheery red stool.