By Cassandra Ellis
I spend a lot of time in other people’s houses. I’m invited in for a colour consultation, which is often when people are redesigning a space and deciding how they would like to live there. It is then that I find myself thinking about how the building’s interior relates to its original fabric and the ways in which the hand of its maker might still be felt.
The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe and in many of these homes you can still feel that they were crafted by hand — it’s true whether it’s a 1950s bungalow, a converted industrial Victorian apartment or a perfectly proportioned Georgian house.
The original magic of these homes can be lost if they are over-renovated and poorly modernised, but even if that’s the case, introducing handmade objects and finishes can go a long way to restoring the quiet, emotive soul of a building.
This beautiful four-bedroom house in Westminster, which is on the market for £5.25mn, is in one of my favourite parts of London. Here, I share my tips on how to reintroduce handcrafted elements to the reception room pictured below to ensure that its character endures for another generation.
Re-establish the frame
Old houses look better with period-appropriate floors. The most impactful change you could make in this room would be to install original Georgian floorboards. I’ve used these reclaimed pine floorboards in several projects. The character and patina of softened and aged boards will transform how this home feels as well as looks.
Balance old with new
Our Atelier Ellis paint store is furnished with antique furniture as well as new pieces produced by designer-makers. Despite being separated by a few hundred years, these items are all made by hand and are the product of time and careful thought, so they sit comfortably together. The Jackson Chair by Made by Bill is a beautiful example of something that can be placed anywhere — and it is comfortable to sit on.
Introduce grounding antiques
Display shelving can feel a little “retail” in a domestic environment. Swapping the shelving for a beautiful vitrine to show off much-loved objects would bring the room to life and adjust its proportions to make it feel more comfortable.
I find Gallery Br in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, always has something that fits the projects I’m working on, such as this teak table by Charlotte Perriand. As well as being somewhere to sit and write, I would use a table here to display the things I love — sticks and stones, in my case, as much as beautiful ceramics.
Find hand-dyed happiness
Antique, handmade and hand-dyed textiles will always have a different impact to mass produced fabrics. I’ve spent many years hand-dyeing fabric and working with antique cloth and I believe it adds the final layer to a home — something intangible but fully felt.
In this room, linen hand-dyed a deep yellow by Polly Lyster at The Dyeworks could be used to upholster a pair of antique slipper chairs. A hand-woven blanket from Catarina Riccabona would also be beautiful.
One of my favourite makers is Megumi Arai. Her work has precision and freedom in equal measure and one of her dyed and boro-stitched screens such as the one below would sit perfectly in this room.
Add a bowl or two
I find great pleasure in handmade ceramics. The thought and work put into making just one cup is extraordinary. The current owner of this house already enjoys antique vessels, adding some new makers with a quieter aesthetic would offer a wonderful counterpoint.
There are many contemporary makers that I enjoy collecting from. We currently have an exhibition, 50 Cups, in our store by Sheffield-based ceramics studio Pottery West, which is beautiful. Rebecca Proctor is another British potter with a unique voice and whose work (pictured) has an exquisite palette. I especially love her wood-fired pieces in blush shino glaze.
Photography: Martin Morrell; Dexters; Gary Mamay; Emma Lewis