Interiors: The star of her own show

Bonita Bryg has never been far from the stage, whether dancing with the Royal Ballet or styling pop bands. Even in her own home, writes Mary Rose Thompson, she loves to perform
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The Independent Culture
BONITA Bryg is having a Home Day. This means that the doorbell of her basement flat in Clapham, south London, rings constantly as messengers deliver clothes, props, hats, and shoes. Bonita, 48, is a ballet dancer turned costume designer and, having recently finished styling Robbie Williams' "Faceless Army" for the Brit Awards - 86 outfits for the evening - she is back at work on a massive new show, Burn the Floor, directed by Anthony van Laast. She has 350 outfits to design, assemble and perfect before the show opens on 17 July, but luckily she makes decisions at a fast and furious rate. "No, that top hat won't do." "Yes, the broad-brimmed flamenco hat is perfect." "And aren't the boys' outfits for the finale just divine?"

Suddenly, it goes quiet. The messengers disappear, the hat boxes are stowed away, the clothes rails wheeled into the corridor, and Bonita settles gracefully into one of the pair of 19th-century French gilt and cane armchairs in her calm, cream sitting-room; she calls them her king and queen chairs.

"Before moving here in January 1991, I lived in Docklands, which I didn't like. It's very flat - like living on the moon. This place has a lovely aura. It's my little heaven."

It wasn't a heaven when she arrived, just a basic three-room basement flat in a fine early Victorian house. But just as Bonita knows how a dress should be constructed to flatter its wearer, so she knew instinctively what to do with her flat. Moving through her flat is like wandering between sets on a stage: nothing in the simple sitting-room prepares you for the dramatic fantasy Bonita has created in the bedroom. She is clearly used to styling for theatrical effect.

The best place to start the tour is in the least theatrical room, the galley kitchen. This has been made out of the corridor leading from the front door to the garden. It is a cook's kitchen, as well-lit as a dressing- room, with hanging utensils, shelves of ingredients to hand and, as in a dressing-room, her gallery of lucky photographs.

"I love to cook, lots of Indian, lots of Chinese, wokky-type stuff," she says. At the moment, she confides, she is "madly in love", which means loads of wine, loads of Champagne, cooked breakfasts on Sunday. "Normally I'm very very tiny, but now, my darling and I, we're like Piggy and Porky. Look at that photograph," she says, "it's one Lord Snowdon took of me at the Royal Ballet School. What hip bones!"

Another photograph is of Bonita with Lionel Blair, a memento of her years in the Light Entertainment business, which she worked in after her ballet career was cut short at the age of 21 by an accident which damaged her spine. Years later, Bonita was forced to change career yet again after breaking her shoulder while working as dance captain in a world tour of Starlight Express, but she is not one for regrets. "I'm a great believer in the cup being half-full, and in the end it worked out for the best."

The kitchen has two high internal windows which cast light into the sitting- room, as if from the wings. At first glance the sitting-room is all calmness, subdued lighting, the kind of neutral uncluttered interior that a designer would create. But it turns out that there were rather more unusual influences.

"I don't believe in hocus-pocus stuff, but I do believe in wise people. This woman I visit is a clairvoyant who said that six of the signs in my astrological chart are in Air," Bonita says. "She advised me to get down to earth and walk on wood, bare feet on wood. And so I had my lovely bleached-wood floor laid."

Bonita also put in the Victorian fireplace. There are two sofas, either side of a large, pale wooden coffee table - one with broad chocolate and dull gold stripes, the other a mellow tan leather Chesterfield at the stage of battered perfection. "That one's from my old life, when I was married. We met the term I started at the Royal Ballet School when I was 16 and married when I was 21, but I was so focused on my career I was never really there for him and we divorced when I was 28."

What stops the room from being merely soothing is Bonita's collection of busts: a terracotta model of a Greek girl athlete given to her by a friend; a Thirties statuette of a woman walking two hounds ("found in a funny little old shop in the Liverpool docks") and Igor, a handsome figure with sensual lips and Slavonic cheekbones. "He reminds me of my dad. He watches over me."

Bonita's Polish father, Kazimierz, settled in Cardiff after the War with her Irish mother, and when Bonita was 11 her aunt Elsie took her to see West Side Story. That decided her future, although it was classical ballet that claimed her in the end.

Slipped in between the sitting-room and Bonita's bedroom is a glorified cupboard of a room, which the estate agent probably described as the second bedroom. It is now her dining-room, and nothing in her tastefully schemed sitting-room prepares you for it. As in a railway carriage, two banquettes face each other along the walls, with a long table between them. Above each banquette is a gilt-framed mirror - perfectly placed for richocheting candlelight and, mercifully, too high for gazing at oneself. "It's gorgeous, isn't it? When I give my little soirees, and I do lots of them, they're only ever lit by candles. It's very trashy and over the top - ghastly gilt mirrors, but it works, doesn't it? I wanted it to be a cross between Merlin's cave and the Orient Express."

At the far end of the table a silken curtain billows. Behind it are her desk and fax machine. The table and banquettes fold up so there is room for her changing rails, and during the day it reverts, Cinderella-like, into her workroom.

Bonita's bedroom is at the back of the flat. Thick black velvet curtains cover the French windows that open on to the now tamed garden. This is a girly bower, with a bed that could have come from a courtesan's boudoir, all gilded carved wood, upholstery and hangings, and spread with a gold chenille throw. There is a stack of Tiffany boxes on the painted French dressing-table and dresses draped over the door. Coloured glass bead necklaces, given to her as a child, hang by the bed near some Venetian masks, souvenirs of a masked ball Bonita and her boyfriend attended at the Palazzo Pisani in Venice, which was lit by 1,000 candles.

In this room, there are a few built-in cupboards but not enough, surely, for a woman with such a passion for clothes. This is where Bonita's practical side comes in: a tulle-covered door opens to reveal shelves of shoes, and throughout the flat there are unobtrusive cupboards and hiding places which house an immaculately ordered dress collection amassed and edited over 25 years.

Only the coal hole, which houses Bonita's washing-machine and wine racks, is unfinished, but Bonita is determined to spruce it up: "I want to cover it with Oscar Wilde quotes in gold script, but if we sell ..."

If you sell?

Having decorated her flat, and her boyfriend's - which is next door - it seems Bonita just can't resist the lure of a bigger stage. "We have found a place in Blackheath," she says. "It's palatial, the ceilings are 15ft high. I know exactly how I would do it ..."1