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Interior Design

Take a tour of interior designer Rose Uniacke’s extraordinary Pimlico home

Renowned for her impeccable eye and serene aesthetic, the London-based designer shares her inspiration in a new book

She’s London’s most sought-after interior designer, responsible for such heavyweight projects as the Beckhams’ home in Holland Park and the transformation of a Regency townhouse into the Jo Malone HQ in Marylebone, with an antiques shop in SW1 and flourishing home accessories collection. Now Rose Uniacke is adding to her mini empire with the launch of a sustainable paint range, a second Pimlico showroom and the publication of her new book Rose Uniacke At Home, a glossy tome which beautifully details the transformation of a cavernous 19th century artist’s studio into her harmonious family home. Here, we get a glimpse of the sheer scale and beauty of the project, as well as an insight into the workings of one of the most admired designers of our time. 

London's most in-demand interior designer offers a tour of her extraordinary home in Pimilco in a new book Rose Uniacke at Home
Drawing room from the book 'Rose Uniacke at Home'. Photography by François Halard

Rose Uniacke’s fascination with design can be traced back to her childhood in Oxfordshire, where her parents had added a modern extension to the 17th-century almshouse they called home. It was this unexpected amalgamation of old and new – or as Uniacke puts it, “the simple shift from one mood to another” – which was to shape her signature aesthetic from there on. Indeed, her ability to add a contemporary twist to the historic is one of her defining characteristics as an interior designer – a role in which she is highly revered for her refined, balanced, serene style (she cites the Chilean modernist muse Eugiana Errázuriz as an inspiration).

Famously discreet, Uniacke won’t divulge her private clients, though it is widely documented that she was responsible for the multi-million-pound renovation of the Beckhams’ home in Holland Park, as well as reimagining The Crown’s Peter Morgan’s Battersea abode and the Marquess of Bute’s impressive Gothic pile Mount Stuart in Scotland. Commercial projects include the transformation of a Regency townhouse in Marylebone into the Jo Malone flagship HQ, now a vision of understated luxury.

London's most in-demand interior designer offers a tour of her extraordinary home in Pimilco in a new book Rose Uniacke at Home
The Study from the book 'Rose Uniacke at Home'. Photography by François Halard

Perhaps her most remarkable undertaking, however, is her own London house. An exceptionally large 19th-century former artist’s residence in Pimlico, it once belonged to portraitist James Rannie Swinton before becoming the Grosvenor School of Modern Art until 1940. Uniacke has now renovated it into a family home, where she lives with her film-producer husband David Heyman.

Despite being one of London’s most desirable interior designers, Uniacke’s background originally lies in furniture restoration and antiques. After a spell working in a furniture restoration studio in Chelsea, where she learnt to gild, paint and lacquer, she moved to France with her young family (she has five children), where she honed her eye, sourcing antiques to sell in her mother’s shop, the antiques dealer Hilary Batstone.

London's most in-demand interior designer offers a tour of her extraordinary home in Pimilco in a new book Rose Uniacke at Home
Rose Uniacke. Photography by Harry Crowder

After returning to London and setting up a small interior design business in the basement, a loyal clientele swiftly followed, and Uniacke opened her eponymous antiques shop and gallery in Belgravia in 2009. “I opened the shop in order to show antiques and collectible furniture, but in an open, modern way – with clean space to allow things to breathe and to be seen,” she explains.

Rose Uniacke Editions – a curated edit of exquisitely crafted furniture, lighting and accessories – and her Fabric Collection, a range of custom-dyed fabrics made using almost entirely natural fibres and sustainable production methods, have unsurprisingly proved popular. This autumn, Uniacke throws open the doors to her second showroom on the Pimlico Road, selling her textiles, alongside table, kitchen and bed linen.

It’s here that Uniacke devotees will also be able to purchase her debut line of paints, which are made from vegetable resins, ecological materials and, some of them, pure lime, which absorbs CO². “I have long mixed my own bespoke paints for the projects I design and so it made sense to share some of these colours,” explains Uniacke. “I wanted to do this in an environmentally conscious way, and so creating a range that’s 100 percent natural and chemical-free was a priority from the outset.”

Rose Uniacke Fabric Shop,
103 Pimlico Road, Belgravia, SW1

roseuniacke.com

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Rose Uniacke at Home

In an extract from her new book, Rose Uniacke offers a tour of her Pimlico house and shares how she re-imagined the cavernous 19th-century artist’s studio to create an elegant, light-filled family home

London's most in-demand interior designer offers a tour of her extraordinary home in Pimilco in a new book Rose Uniacke at Home
Dining Room
“The informal dining table was made from an original draper’s model. And the Kaare Klint chairs were made in the 1930-early period of Klint when he was looking back at Georgian makers. The columns have been left raw – the original strip exposed. Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets (2000) above the dining table is such a strong force. I find it beautiful in its mesmerising quality. It feels uplifting, calming, unpretentious, and has the strength to hold the room”

Typically, in a nineteenth-century house of this stature, the details – elaborate friezes, cornicing, mouldings – would have been highlighted. It’s likely they would have been painted in contrasting colours, and the ceilings gilded or painted pale to raise them. All would have been richly adorned – in order to be seen and, liter­ally, to decorate. I wanted to restore the detail and also give it a new expression and a fresh flavour.

London's most in-demand interior designer offers a tour of her extraordinary home in Pimilco in a new book Rose Uniacke at Home
Kitchen 
“Originally I designed this room around an 18th-century painted breakfront cabinet that filled the wall. This kitchen came five years later, taking out the central island in favour of a small breakfast table.The original Syrie Mangham cone lights from the 1930s inspired the ones we make in the shop. I love the imbalance of them – one is hung slightly higher than the other. An abstract painting by Ryan Sullivan takes centre stage and gives a colourful energy to the room and allows it to feel less like a kitchen” 

One colour throughout each room with no contrasts frees you to enjoy the detail and the architectural shape with just the play of light and shadow. There is movement and patina naturally, and a dry, chalky feeling. Each room is one complete box of col­our. We layered thin washes of distemper over the original stripped walls until the feeling was right, so that the house offers again an unobtrusive beauty – an invitation. Just as it did when it was the Grosvenor School.

London's most in-demand interior designer offers a tour of her extraordinary home in Pimilco in a new book Rose Uniacke at Home
The Study 
“This was the ballroom in Swinton’s original house. The volume is immense and absorbs colour, so sunshine yellow doesn’t take over. The Poul Henningsen copper-shaded lamp on the desk stands out stylistically. The two ebonised chairs and the octagonal partners’ desk, which reflects the shape of the room, are from the Regency period. The Sarah Lucas self portrait balances the window and frees the fireplace from having to hold the room completely”

The furniture must invite, too. It’s important to bear this in mind early on. I like to work out where the heart of a room will be, and how it will flow, so furniture thoughts come early. In terms of style, it should be interesting in some way, and in order to root the house, some of the pieces would need to reflect the place and period. So it made sense to start with English furniture of the 19th century. I favoured plain, with a simple beauty. Once the house was moored in this way, I would be able to steer a more eclectic path, and I hoped the combination would be exciting. Furniture was to be used only where it was needed, where it would allow the space to breathe.

London's most in-demand interior designer offers a tour of her extraordinary home in Pimilco in a new book Rose Uniacke at Home
The Hall
“Within the hall wall supporting the stair, we were fortunate to find a fragment of stone, proving that there had once been a significant stone staircase there. So we were able to get permission to reinstate it. I looked all over London for examples of period cantilevered stone staircases as we started the research – sometimes even craning my neck to look through other people’s hall windows’’

As important as the furniture was the art. This house was, after all, built for art. It has been both made and shown here since the beginning. The rooms were made for it. I wanted works that were arresting, full of feeling but not overwhelming. A human touch.

But as much as I wanted to highlight its architectural merits and its relationship with art, it was also important that the house was a home that could really be used, not just looked at. I have never been interested in the overly precious or self­consciously designed.

London's most in-demand interior designer offers a tour of her extraordinary home in Pimilco in a new book Rose Uniacke at Home
Winter Garden
“Vincent [Van Duysen, the architect] had the great idea of turning Swinton’s portrait gallery into an indoor garden. After the original domed roof was bombed in World War II it was replaced in the 1970s by a white, heavy, boxy thing. I loved the idea of making the gallery into a garden room – a winter garden – but it was very challenging and took time to evolve”

I am interested in how life works in a space-the energy of it, and how it makes you feel. Is it adaptable? Can it stimulate, relax? Can you breathe, can you think? Can you do the things you want to do – does the space encourage you? I wasn’t interested in an art gallery or a museum of furniture that couldn’t be touched and enjoyed. But I also love elegance. I am alive to the challenge of how all these things can combine.

This is an extract from ‘Rose Uniacke at Home’ by Rose Uniacke with a foreword by Alice Rawsthorn, published in October (Rizzoli, £150)

 

Portrait image: Jake Curtis  
Interior Photography: François Halard

 

 

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