Glittering prizes

Inspired by his childhood in a Venetian palace, an interior designer has transformed a run-down flat into a seductive and dramatic home
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The Independent Online

In the middle of the 15th century, concerned that the weight of thousands of marble-clad palaces and churches could cause their island to sink into the mud-flats, the Venetian Stuccatore (plasterers to you and me) developed a treatment known as Marmorino. A mix of slaked lime and marble pigments, the treatment produced a finish that retained the quality and durability of pure marble but without the colossal weight.

In the middle of the 15th century, concerned that the weight of thousands of marble-clad palaces and churches could cause their island to sink into the mud-flats, the Venetian Stuccatore (plasterers to you and me) developed a treatment known as Marmorino. A mix of slaked lime and marble pigments, the treatment produced a finish that retained the quality and durability of pure marble but without the colossal weight.

Interior designer Alvise Orsini has perfected the process and used it to sublime effect on the walls of his Cleveland Square home, an extraordinary Venetian style, two-bedroom flat, which is currently for sale.

Built in 1880, Cleveland Square has a reputation for being one of the most desirable garden squares in W2, facing on to award-winning communal gardens which has notoriously dazzling fireworks displays every year and parties for local residents throughout the summer season. For an inner London location, it's a remarkably tranquil spot, despite the fact that it's only a few minutes' walk to Bayswater Road, the northern perimeter of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and has easy access to Bayswater underground and Paddington railway stations. The block has an elegantly symmetrical façade, yet each interior was designed specifically to suit the requirements of its original occupier.

When Orsini first set foot inside the flat five years ago, it was in poor condition, but in spite of this, the volume and splendour of the interior immediately brought to mind the Venetian palace where the designer had been brought up. Inspired by his past, he embarked on a project that would return the property to the grandeur of the 19th century. He began with his treatment of the walls; it was a very long, laborious and expensive process but one that, once completed, would never need to be repainted. Orsini has managed to create a palette of stunningly rich colours by finishing the treatment with a final fresco layer of pigment on top of the Marmorino.

It was Orsini's intention that the finished interior of the flat should have a genuinely hand-crafted feel. The furnishings and materials used in his decorative schemes have been collected during many journeys abroad - a collection of rugs from Syria, India and the Lebanon, silk from Lyon, and Irish lace. And if a potential buyer wishes to purchase a palatial Italian lifestyle in its entirety, the owner has said that he would consider selling the flat as a package - complete with its exquisite collection of furnishings.

The hallway leads to a pair of magnificent etched glass doors, decorated with swirls and dragonflies, which were found in a Paris fleamarket - and which were luckily the perfect size for the opening. The living room, which opens on to the library and dining room, glows a dark burnished Pompeiian red, creating a warm and inviting living space. The flat still has its original pine floorboards, and these have been renovated and coloured a mellow dark golden shade to echo the warmth of the walls. In the corner of the sitting room stands an impressively large Rubelli silk-covered sofa dating from 1850, which was found in a castle in Northumberland.

The walls of the master bedroom are also finished in Marmorino, but here a softer Terra di Sienna shade has been used. The room adjoins an en-suite shower room which is entered via a set of Art Deco doors, the thin framework of which has been covered in narrow strips of mirrored glass. Above the doors, which have been gilded in varying shades of silver and gold, Orsini has hung his collection of large glass baubles from India, suspended on thin chains from the ceiling.

In the shower room, 28,000 tiny hand-made silver mosaic tiles have been individually positioned on to the walls from floor to ceiling, and because each tile has a slightly curved surface, the irregular reflections of light fill the room with a sparkling, jewelled effect. The three shower heads, the cast-iron basin complete with animal motifs and the cistern, all date from 1905. Warm colours have again been used in the guest bedroom, where the bed is contained in a wooden-framed alcove lined in Bevilacqua silk, and the en-suite bathroom is clad in stark, formidable Nero Maquina black marble.

The flat is built around a small internal patio, so that the interior folds around on itself. From the window in the guest bedroom, the view takes in the dining room window and also looks across to the square. All the fireplaces in the flat are open and working, which means that during the evening the flickering flames are mirrored in numerous reflective surfaces. "Night-time is the perfect time in this flat," says Orsini. "The colours, the reflections and the soft lighting are very seductive. It is intimate and cosy, with a dramatic edge."

Not everything in the apartment pays homage to the past, however. Along the corridor, with original mosaic floor tiles in red, green and black, and through a pair of magnificent 19th-century French walnut and leather doors, is the kitchen; a contemporary contrast to the rest of the apartment with oak cupboards and an induction system hob.

One of the reasons that Orsini has managed to seamlessly blend 19th century English and Asian styles is because of his passion for travelling and collecting. Each time, he returns from his travels with more exquisite furniture and objets to put in his home. "This flat is a testament to my work and my style," says Orsini. "With this flat, I am selling the concept of its design. Now that the project is complete, I feel that it's time to move on to the next one."

Cleveland Square is for sale at £1.1m through Foxtons in Notting Hill (020-7616 7000)

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