Real Living: Cool, calm and collected

Inside...and out: Sebastian Bergne's flat is as cosy and chaotic as the next person's. But one clean, white room is his refuge. Cayte Williams reports
White is a favourite with minimalists and the indecisive alike, either because it's the cleanest colour there is, or because it's a safe- bet solution when you can't decide on anything else. For most people, an entire living space devoted to white minimalism is completely impractical unless you're handy with Flash or have tons of storage space.

However, industrial designer Sebastian Bergne has found a solution. Bergne is famous for his bright bottle-brush coat hangers which have featured in every magazine from Vogue to the American style bible, Harper's Bazaar, but he's more content designing home products and lamps, which invariably come in white. His flat is a cosy, homely affair apart from one white, minimalist room - and that mostly by default.

"We moved into our flat at the height of summer four years ago and it was in such an horrendous state we ripped everything out and started again," he says. Bergne and his wife, Emmanuelle, first thought of white walls when the sun poured into the west-facing rooms.

"We're two storeys up, so when we painted the walls white, the setting sun turned them the colour of the sky, either pink or orange. Even when the sky is blue, it turns the walls blue. The shadows are very long in here, so when you leave the windows wide open on a summer's night and can hear people playing tennis on the courts below, you feel like you're actually outside."

Bergne chose soft blues, warm oranges and woody shades to complement his freshly-painted white room. Even the floor is painted white, so the coloured furniture looks like it's floating in a milky void. "The floorboards were in a terrible state," he confesses, "we had stripped them and we realised we were never going to get them back to the full wood without a huge amount of work. Now the floor looks wonderful because its texture contrasts with the smooth walls".

It's not just the colour scheme that makes this room work, but also the lack of pretension. Although Bergne's designs - a slanting standard lamp, a porcelain "torso" light and flat, domino-shaped "Lio" light - add pared- down style to the space, it gets a sense of homeliness from a well-worn family piano, a huge map of Antarctica and wooden toy trucks on the coffee table.

"The more stuff we've acquired, the less clear the room's become as a concept," explains Bergne. "It gets very busy, very quickly but it stays reasonably clean. We take care not to clutter it too much, and that's why it's important to have other rooms, because they are nice and cosy and full of books and papers."

The wall dividing the white room from cosier living quarters has two interior windows which are original Edwardian features. An array of Bergne's white stacking jars line the shelves along with some simple, original Sixties pots.

The fireplace is the focus of the room and has been restored to its original glory. They've resisted any temptation to paint it white - "we had to strip endless layers of gloss paint," remembers Bergne, "and it took us two weeks to get to the tiles."

Throughout the room are plain, square alcoves which catch the shadows cast by the sun and lamp light. In one is a white textured painting by French artist Alain Huet above a beautiful soft-blue armchair. In the far corner sits a white chair by fashion designer Ally Cappellino ("she left it there, and has never been back to collect it," he says).

"One of things I like about a white room is that you can practically put any furniture in here and it would look interesting," Bergne says. But getting a Persil-white room is not as easy as it sounds. "We decided to concentrate on four important elements: the sofa, the fireplace, the table and the map," he continues. "You can't be precious about what you put in a white room. It's best to have two or three basic things that work and not worry about the rest. It's also much better to have lamps to add texture, rather than a general central light which flattens the whole space."

The great thing about a white room is that you won't spend a fortune on expensive paints and finishes. "You get a lot of companies producing white paint with hints of pink and yellow, but I prefer regular, pure- white emulsion paint because it refects all the other colours around it," Bergne explains. Jocasta Innes, eat your heart out.

Sebastian Bergne's famous coat hangers cost pounds 14.95, the Lio lamp costs pounds 75, both from Viaduct, 1-10 Summers St, London EC1; 0171 278 8456.