Buy Of The Week: Chelsea

A descendant of Albert Einstein has worked her magic on this quirky, artistic and supremely comfortable home. Joey Canessa reports
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The Independent Online

In the heart of Chelsea, a magnificent five-bedroom house has been given a uniquely artistic and personal refurbishment by a descendant of Einstein. From top to bottom, the house has been finished to a meticulous standard by Debbie Einstein, with quirky and original touches that set it apart from the masses.

Previously converted into two flats, the house had been the subject of an abandoned renovation project, largely derelict, with walls removed and piles of rubble strewn about. When Einstein bought it in 1998, she enlisted the help of some junior builders. "My two sons were 5 and 7, with birthdays coming up. The idea of holding a 'demolition party' was a one-off opportunity that we couldn't miss. All the children were kitted out in hard hats before letting rip in the basement. They could hardly believe that they were allowed to tear up the carpets, pull down the curtains and paint on the walls. We had a really great time," remembers Einstein.

After that, the serious work began. The house was still arranged as two separate apartments, with two heating systems, two kitchens and separate wiring circuits. "The only reasonable way to approach it was to rip absolutely all the plumbing and wiring out," says Einstein. "This gave me the opportunity to install the fabulous centralised vacuum system, bought from a company called Starkey Systems, which is really such a simple thing but so totally reliable and wonderful. No more dragging the hoover upstairs and smashing all the skirtings. My neighbour was refurbishing his house at the same time and was so impressed that he put one in too."

Throughout the works, Einstein worked closely with the architects and builders, ensuring things went as she intended. "I had no idea what I was taking on as contract administrator. There was never a dull moment."

A good relationship with your builder is essential for a project like this. "You really need your builder to be on the same wavelength," Einstein advises. "You must speak the same language; mine was so in tune with my needs that he could finish off my sentences for me."

Most of the original features were intact and a few alterations to the layout brought the house back to its original plan. "We opened up the living space on the first floor, to provide a bigger area for entertaining, and created cosy areas in the smaller rooms in the basement," says Einstein.

Huge amounts of storage, beautifully built to her own specifications, have been incorporated into the house. The ground floor kitchen has been hand built in painted wood in a Provencale style by Mark Wilkinson, and incorporates a top-of-the-range Viking oven. Although the room is fairly small, clever use has been made of the height, with storage cupboards reaching to the ceiling.

In the upstairs bedrooms, the same carpenters have built floor to ceiling cupboards and a desk. The master bedroom and walk-through dressing room have been fitted out with cedar wood wardrobes, whose scent creates a good defence against moths.

Generally, Einstein has restricted the background colour scheme to muted, mellow colours, which have been enhanced by murals and trompe-l'oeil painted by two artists, one of whom insisted on sleeping in the bathroom for three weeks prior to beginning the work. "He said that he wanted to get the vibe of the room before he began," says Einstein. "I was very surprised when I returned from holiday, to find that he was still camping in the master en-suite. It was at this point that I learned an important lesson, which was to always establish a fee before a job begins - he was charging me for his time while he slept in the bathroom!"

He finally completed his commission, embellishing the walls with Greek motifs in soft shades of terracotta. Other murals in the house are the work of Sarah Sherington, including grape vines in the wine cellar and a jasmine-covered ceiling in the guest bedroom in the basement, with windows overlooking the garden. The clever use of a hidden, pull-down 'Murphy' bed allows this room to functionas a garden room with the bed folded into the wall.

Also in the basement, a cosy family room is wired up with a projector and screen. Bespoke cabinets run along the length of one wall. A unique feature of this room is the fantastic fireplace which Einstein has clad in pebbles. "I have also used two huge beams of antique wood that I have laid across the chimney breast. We carried them back, via the airport, from a farmhouse in Vermont, where I come from."

The first floor reception room is illuminated by two tall windows, opening out onto the wide balcony overlooking the street. "The houses opposite are shorter, which allows even more daylight to pour in," says Einstein. Next door to the reception room is a large alcove which has become an American style 'wet bar', fully equipped with a sink and fridge, and with walls clad in woven leather.

With two sons, a pair of labradors and a cat, Einstein knew that the floors needed to be robust and easy to clean. She has carefully selected slate tiles on the landings, in varying shades of grey, which are perfectly designed to hide dirt. Much of the rest of the house has wooden floorboards.

The house has proved such a success that Einstein has gone on to refurbish a house in France and is soon to begin a new home on Palm Island in Dubai. "I have been approached several times by people wanting to employ me, which I find very flattering."

Get the spec

What's for sale? Freehold house arranged over five floors, five bedrooms, excellent living space, roof terrace, two balconies, garden.

How big? 296m 2

Serious kit: Mark Wilkinson hand-built kitchen, cinema room, wet bar, wired for sound, centralised vacuum system, storage vaults, murals by Sarah Sherington.

Buy it: £2,595,000, through Farrar and Co (020-7244 4466).