Me And My Home: Mark Sainsbury

The restaurateur's home in a Georgian stableblock was a former working men's club, youth centre and air-raid shelter. Now, though, it feels more like a rural retreat than a central London bolthole, discovers Chris Arnot

Lord Sainsbury's son Mark, 36, lives in a converted Georgian stable building in central London, with his wife Zivi and their children, Jess, three, and Ella, 18 months. Mark has no connection with the family supermarket business. He is part-owner of the Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell Road and Moro restaurant in nearby Exmouth Market.

Lord Sainsbury's son Mark, 36, lives in a converted Georgian stable building in central London, with his wife Zivi and their children, Jess, three, and Ella, 18 months. Mark has no connection with the family supermarket business. He is part-owner of the Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell Road and Moro restaurant in nearby Exmouth Market.

e moved here four years ago after being tipped off by an old business partner that it was on the market. The day after the estate agent's sign went up we put in an offer, and we've never regretted it.

It's so central, yet so quiet. As soon as you pass through the electric gates at the end of the drive, it feels secluded and tranquil, almost rural, particularly at this time of year when the plant life is in full bloom and the birds are in full voice.

The drive itself is a bit narrow, mind you, designed as it was for horse-drawn transport. In fact, they used to make hackney carriages in the buildings around this lovely cobbled yard.

Getting a car down here can be a bit hairy at times, and our Subaru has the scratches to prove it. I much prefer to get around by bicycle. It's only a short ride to get to my businesses, so I suppose that you could say that this place is just about in Clerkenwell.

We share the yard with two other houses. One's owned by an elderly Italian couple and the other was occupied by a lady called Ena Norris, who was bright as a button at 95. She'd lived here since before the war until she died, not long ago. Ena was the most wonderful neighbour who put up with two years of our building work without complaint. Zivi used to go round to her house for tea and she'd tell her all about the history of the place.

From her, we learnt why our Georgian stable had a comparatively modern, flat-roofed extension. At various times it has been a youth club, a working men's club and an air-raid shelter. That explains why the roof is so thick, which keeps the kitchen nice and cool in summer. Not too warm in winter, however. Luckily, there's underfloor heating beneath the limestone.

The two architects who had the house before us had already installed a handsome skylight into the roof as well as circular windows, like portholes, along one wall. We've kept the portholes but surrounded them with black walnut. It makes a nice contrast with the light oak on the hall floor and stairway. Our architect, David Adjaye, also used wood from the London plane tree for various fitments elsewhere in the house - the units over our bed, for instance.

David designed the new "ideas stores" [or libraries] in Hackney and elsewhere, and he's done a lot of work in America. We were going to use him on the design of Zetter, but we lost our nerve at the last minute on the grounds that he'd never done a hotel before. At least it meant that he had more time to spend on this place.

He put in a leather banquette to fill an awkward shape in the kitchen and then designed a table to go with it. The table, which is laser-cut out of a sheet of perspex, is shaped rather like a contour map, and it sparkles with amazing light when the morning sun comes flooding in through the kitchen window.

We haven't done quite as much entertaining around that table as we would have liked since the kids came along. We do eat out a fair bit, but we both cook as well. Zivi is Israeli, but there's a definite bias towards Spanish food. Perhaps that's because Moro is a Spanish restaurant and we have published two books of recipes. Anyway, the implements hanging over the kitchen units are not just for show.

We've used the same principles at home as we have at Zetter. We want quirky and interesting design, but not stark and clinical modernism. Open people's eyes, yes - but not at the expense of being accessible and human. We're certainly not rushing around picking up the children's toys every few minutes.

The lounge is almost as it was when we bought the house, apart from a new fumed-oak floor. I like the dual-aspect windows on either side, like glass walls. Through one side you have a panoramic view of the garden, and through the other is a small courtyard in front of the office that I share with my business partner, Michael Benyan.

My mum didn't realise that this area was all part of the house when she first came to visit us here. She seemed to be quite alarmed that we were on view to all the neighbours.

Above the office is our bedroom, one of four in the main house. There's another spare room in the nanny flat, which David designed for us in the small building next door. So many of our friends have moved out of London that it's nice to be able to offer them somewhere to stay when they're in town.

For the garden, we brought in another designer, Declan Buckley, who's broken it up quite nicely with steps up to a lawn surrounded by plants which seem to stay the same for much of the year. Most of them seem to be natives of New Zealand.

The sun sets over the garden, and it's lovely to sit out there on fine summer evenings. It's hard to believe that King's Cross is just a short walk away.

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