A brave new world

The brief for the designer of a London town house was to create a look which would work anywhere on earth. Cheryl Markosky looks for signs of universal appeal
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In an increasingly fast-paced world, it is not unknown for someone to be lounging on a beach in Barbados one afternoon, munching a muffin at a New York breakfast meeting the following morning, and winging their way back to London later that day. Admittedly, only the privileged few lead such a jet-set existence, but upper-scale developers recognise that top-notch homes sell to those globetrotters who need a residence in every major centre.

In an increasingly fast-paced world, it is not unknown for someone to be lounging on a beach in Barbados one afternoon, munching a muffin at a New York breakfast meeting the following morning, and winging their way back to London later that day. Admittedly, only the privileged few lead such a jet-set existence, but upper-scale developers recognise that top-notch homes sell to those globetrotters who need a residence in every major centre.

Reacting to the rise of a global "you could be anywhere" style, St James Homes has commissioned London-based interior designer Helen Green to kit out a townhouse that could be in any time zone in the world as a draw for international buyers. Her brief is to make sure owners will feel OK about waking up at flagship development Wycombe Square, in Kensington, while reassuring themselves they could just as easily be in Moscow, Madrid or Melbourne.

"We are trying to attract sophisticated people who own several homes around the world," explains sales and marketing director Robin Rixon, "so we have to reflect a diverse range of personal taste. We did not want an English look as such, but something with an international flavour. Whether you are at home in New York, LA or London, you should feel the same."

Because 75 per cent of the buyers at Wycombe Square are from overseas, you can see where Rixon is coming from. But in order for the end result not to seem slightly dull, the trick, according to Rixon, is to make sure you don't just emulate the look of an expensive hotel room. "You could easily slip into the impersonal, and even cold, if you are not careful."

Green is keen to point out that she normally adheres to the principle that design should reflect whatever country you're in, but at Wycombe Square she was handed the opposite remit. "I have tried to create something for uber-wealthy international clients with a flavour of London urban living that isn't deeply unique," she says.

And it's true that, though beautifully designed and finished, the flat is devoid of anything particularly individual, just like in a show home lower down the scale, where it's safer to stick to neutrals rather than upset a potential purchaser who could be put off by gold-flecked wallpaper or a fuchsia-coloured sofa.

The global look works best in the living room, with its sleek, black, modern coffee and side tables with matching lamps and an exquisite, black writing table. Bravely, Green has contrasted these ultra-modern pieces with a white-framed mirror, large white sofa with black, white and purple cushions, and an elegant white chair at the writing desk. This Audrey Hepburn monochrome look - remember Breakfast at Tiffanys? - with the odd touch of colour lifts it into the 21st century.

Lighting is important, says Green, from the spots in the ceiling to the soft glow from lamps on side tables and desks. A great, upended glass chandelier in the hall emphasises the ceiling heights, while a more traditional crystal chandelier over the polished-wood dining-room table doesn't look out of place next to blue suede chairs and contemporary flower pictures on the wall.

This is not the first time St James has called in designers to deck out homes for this luxury project, where the remaining four houses for sale out of the original 19 start at £5.25m and the last penthouse is priced at £4.65m. David Linley based the look of the house he was responsible for on the classical principles of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, peppered, naturally, with several pieces of Linley's own furniture. And Chris Dezille, from Honky Design, was another designer, along with Green, whose earlier efforts reflected Martha Stewart-style New England living.

Colour is an incredibly important element in creating a certain mood, says Green, adding that it is easier to get away with rich shades in places such as Barbados, where there is strong bright light. "In London, people are not so keen on colour. For this house I have used a more neutral palate of taupes and greys, with splashes of burgundy and aubergine."

Furniture is another way to create an international, timeless flavour, says Green. "I mix antiques with modern pieces that people stop to look at. It is like putting together an orchestra, with lots of finely tuned players and pieces. Beautiful bespoke sofas with slightly raised backs give the drawing room refinement, while a cutting-edge round footstool helps it feel modern at the same time."

Rixon agrees that the secret is hitting an eclectic note, "mixing the old with the new, which is something you don't usually get in a hotel room. We can't promote the cutting edge of fashion, because in 18 months' time it will be out of date". Of course, top-end schemes such as these generally have brilliant infrastructures; Wycombe has handcrafted cherry-wood staircases, ornate high ceilings and boxed wood shutters.

Green admits that at the end of the day she has to keep the customer happy: "A fundamental part of my job is being a diplomat," she says. "I am really reflecting the client's requirement" - which in this instance is to lure as many potential foreign buyers with fat wallets as possible.

Helen Green Design 020-7352 3344; St James Homes, Wycombe Square at Knight Frank 020-7938 4311.

Comments