Me And My Home: Cooking up a storm

The kitchen plays the starring role for celebrity caterer Lucy Gemmell. Joey Canessa reports
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The Independent Online

Lucy Gemmell set up the catering business Rhubarb 10 years ago. It provides food for celebrities, such as Elton John and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. She lives with her husband and two children in a six-bedroom terraced house in Balham, south London.

Lucy Gemmell set up the catering business Rhubarb 10 years ago. It provides food for celebrities, such as Elton John and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. She lives with her husband and two children in a six-bedroom terraced house in Balham, south London.

We have lived here for three years. We moved from our last house in Battersea, as we needed a bigger house and chose Balham because it's commutable. My business headquarters are minutes away, in Wandsworth, so the journey to work is quick and easy. At Rhubarb, we create beautifully presented, cutting-edge menus for top-end clients, catering for parties, premieres, weddings, corporate dinners and so on, for any number of people from 10 to 800. I employ eight of the best full-time chefs and have immediate access to 20 or 30 more.

When we bought the house, it was perfectly liveable in, but soulless and very "Balhamish". We immediately knocked the wall down to open up a huge kitchen and dining room and extended the kitchen into the side-return to widen it. I love the idea of open-plan living for this part of the house. I often come straight in from work, arriving later than planned, at the same time as my guests. With this layout, I can cook for my friends while they sit at the bar and watch me and gossip.

The design for the kitchen was done by a fantastic designer, Rupert Lacey, who runs a company called Food Furniture, and who is an old Sussex friend of mine. With his help, I chose black-bean veneer for the cupboards and lava-stone worktops and splashbacks. The splashbacks continue up the walls to the height of the wall cupboards - which looks quite sleek. My appliances are all stainless steel, which breaks up the woodiness well, and in the middle is a long island, with a split-level worktop. It's long enough for several people to work side by side, which is important if we're throwing a big party. The split levels allow me to display food while the preparation continues. There is seating on the other side, which is where friends can sit and chat.

I've got two huge sinks and a Dornbracht mixer tap with a swivelling hose attachment, which I find really useful for washing big items. My hob is made by Miele, as are the two extra-wide ovens, which have been built into a wall of variously shaped black-bean cupboards. The kitchen is extremely functional without looking austere or clinical. It is a family kitchen as much as anything. The walls are painted in Matchstick by Farrow and Ball, which is one of those neutral colours that you can't really describe but which looks amazing with other colours. In the case of our kitchen, the walnut floor is set off beautifully.

The kitchen occupies most of the downstairs space, but we do have a little "snug" at the front, with two sofas, a gas fire and a telly. The walls are a deep red, which makes the room very cosy.

Our garden is a disaster. My husband commissioned a New Zealand architect to design it. His ethos was "less is more", one that I now entirely disagree with. He squared everything up - a square lawn with borders around - put in some teak decking and some teak benches and an absolutely hideous square shed which I think looks like the housing for a swimming-pool generator. He also built a sandpit for the children, with a lid that slams down on them while they're still inside. It was an absolute nightmare; we spent £5,000 on it all, but it just wasn't to my taste, so we have redesigned it. Less is less, I say. The sunken plunge pool that he installed for the children is good, though.

My bedroom is my self-indulgent retreat. I have a Victorian rolltop bath at the end of my bed, with a TV at the foot end, and I stay in there for hours after work. The bath stands on a painted wooden plinth through which the water can drain if it sploshes over the sides. There's an open fire in here, which is delicious. The bed is an old Malaysian piece, and made of leather rattan. I keep my clothes in a walk-in wardrobe made of cedar, which smells fabulous - and also deters the moths. The walls are a mustardy yellow - another Farrow and Ball colour.

We had the cellar tanked and now it's used by the children as a playroom. One wall is painted in blackboard paint, so that they can chalk all over it. The other three walls are pink, yellow and blue. I'm quite ruthless about throwing stuff away - I panic when it starts to accumulate - so toys get turned around pretty quickly.

My most treasured object is probably the beautiful oak cabinet that we keep our wedding-present glasses in. It was built specially for us by Dave, our carpenter, who has done lots of other work for us. He really excelled himself with this cabinet. We have two Johns who also work on the house - John the plumber and John the painter; they're extremely good.

We haven't really done a great deal to the upper floors, apart from a bit of decoration. My son Oliver has an obsession with trains - his bedroom is a tribute to his passion. Most of our efforts have gone into the ground floor, which is where most of the action takes place, after all. We've designed our house to be perfect for entertaining.

Rhubarb: 020 8812 3200, www.rhubarb.net.

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