Lighting genie Sally Storey is the go-to guru who can transform your home at the flick of a switch. For many years the John Cullen Lighting’s design director has worked out of a box of tricks showroom in Chelsea.
She has a degree in architecture, a lifelong passion for interiors and a fine eye for detail, and can sketch out design and decorating solutions as well as a dream lighting scheme before you have time to say LED.
Tall, pretty and smiley Storey might be working on a chalet in Verbier, a penthouse in Manhattan or, currently, a superyacht in Seattle, but her most personal project in the last two years has been a skinny three-storey house in Chelsea, which, with its limitations of space, needed all her skills to make it a luxurious home for her family: publisher husband Christopher Fordham, her two daughters, Lucca, 22, Cazalla, 20, and son, Alexander, 18.
“The house had to be gutted,” says Storey. “I claimed the courtyard at the back to make a larger kitchen and dining area, and created a roof terrace to give us an extra - outdoor - room. It was important to make the doorways higher so that every room looks loftier. I bought door blanks but stuck on panels to give them character, as it’s an old Victorian house.”
Storey had underfloor heating, plumbing and lighting systems installed at the start. The bathrooms alone are a masterclass in smart lighting - as well as use of space.
The light in a guest loo downstairs, which was fashioned from part of the previous galley kitchen, appears when the door closes, and the tiny space is embraced by Storey’s novel choice of charcoal-grey filing cabinet wallpaper. In the children’s shower room, instead of one light at the centre, a wash of light skims down the tiled back wall. “It draws your eye to the back wall, making the space look bigger and more atmospheric,” she explains.
You can be indulgent in a small area, reasons Storey, which is her justification for her extravagance in the main bathroom: a wall of bookmatched marble, where the slab is split open, so the veining matches on either side, like a butterfly. She faced the adjoining wall with mirror, so the marble splendour continues infinitely.
Storey had the room panelled, a device she uses through the house to add warmth as well as glamour, and added shutters. “It feels quite New England, and shutters are an easy way to alter the light.”
More complex is the light system which Storey designed to provide different moods from wake-up to spa to nighttime, and include uplighters behind the bath to reflect light onto the ceiling, floor washes at the foot of the double basins and wall lights on either side of the mirror for pin-sharp facial lighting.
All the bedrooms have bespoke bed plinths which provide valuable pull-out storage. Alexander got the boxroom, but didn’t draw the short straw: with built-in bed, shutters and tongue-and-groove panelling, it’s a cosy retreat that doubles, when he’s at uni, as an office for Storey. “I took my lead from boats, which have everything built in. They’re the ultimate in making space work,” says Storey.
In the main bedroom, although it’s not a large room, she resisted wall-to-wall wardrobes, sacrificing clothes space to add floor-to-ceiling recessed display shelves on either side, backlighting them. Mirrors on the wardrobe doors reflect light and make the room seem bigger. “So often, a bedroom is just wardrobes and a bed, and has no character. The bonus is that the backlit shelves become two more lamps.”
A CHANDELIER – AND A SHELF THAT FLOATS
The kitchen, with two skylights, stone floor, a rustic wooden dining table and mismatched garden chairs, has the air of a conservatory. The seagrass that makes a textured headboard in the main bedroom reappears on the back wall, contrasting with the antique chandelier, hanging over the dining table, that she bought several years ago and had no place to put it, until now.
“It’s too big for the kitchen, but that’s why I love it. I had already put in the biggest skylight I could fit to bring in lots of natural light, so the chandelier is suspended by a steel bar across the skylight. In fact two minispots on the ceiling do more to light the table.” Both chandelier and minispots perfectly illustrate her belief that decorative and functional lighting have very different roles.
With space an issue here too, Storey had the kitchen units made to a narrower depth than standard, and streamlined the dining area by installing a sleek faux leather banquette, with inbuilt storage space. “It’s so useful, because it means I don’t need to have three chairs on both sides of the table.”
The banquette seating has another function: it conceals an LED strip of warm light that adds a little evening drama, highlighting the seagrass wall behind. The shelf unit above the sink conceals similar LED strips above and below the shelf, so that it seems to float.
Despite the absence of a hall, the living room, by the front door, has great impact, and looks a lot larger, because Storey chose to panel the long wall with antique mirror.
“I wanted antique mirror because it isn’t too bling, and slightly distorts reflections. It’s easier on the eye,” she explains. She designed the sofa and Empire-style chairs, contrasting the grey fabrics with linen on the sofa, velvet on the chairs. “Often sofas can look big and clumpy in a small space, and I wanted one that was shallower, so I chose the best points from several different sofas. The chairs are low and wide so you can get two people perching, which is handy for parties.”
Here, there are four different lighting schemes that include baby uplighters on the hearth to illuminate the sculptural fire surround, single beams of light to highlight flowers on the central coffee table and the picture above the fireplace, painted by Lucca, and a gentle uplighter behind the sofa.
“It’s all about layering of light,” says Storey. “In the same way as an interior designer uses different fabrics and textures to build up their designs, I use different effects to build up my lighting designs.”
GET THE LOOK
Builders: GSB Building
Curator wallpaper: Andrew Martin
Bookmatched marble, stone kitchen floor: Lapicida
Bedside Motu lamps in main bedroom: Porta Romana
Blankets, throws and cushions: Designers Guild
Seagrass: Altfield at Chelsea Harbour
Jute woven rug, side table in living room: French Connection
Lighting products, systems and design service: John Cullen Lighting