My Home: Doreen Keen, knitwear designer

The knitwear designer Doreen Keen's home is unashamedly shabby - and she plans on keeping it that way, she tells Tessa Williams-Akoto
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The Independent Online

The knitwear designer Doreen Keen lives and works from her home, a wing of a 17th-century Scottish mansion.

This building really is a magical place. I used to live in a very traditional Victorian villa, so when I first saw this, I was desperate to move in. I knocked on the door and made the owner promise he would let me know if he was ever looking for a lodger. Three years later, he called and said I could move in.

I was over the moon. It's an amazing place; there really is something very special about it. The building dates from the 15th century and was designed by the architect Archibald Elliot, then later remodelled in 1819. It is a very grand, rather austere-looking building that looks out over a two-mile-long loch on one side, and a sweeping driveway on the other. I live in the west wing, while my landlord, whose family has always owned the house, occupies the rest.

My quarters are spread over three floors. I have my living space downstairs, and on the top floor we have our studio and showroom where we do all our design work. My partner, Angela Bell, and I used to work for Pringle before we decided to set up our own business. Angela lives in a farm quite close by, so we both live in very isolated spots.

Orders for our cashmere designs come from all over the world, and many clients end up visiting us from as far away as Los Angeles and Japan. They are always amazed when they see where it all starts. A desolate house in the middle of nowhere is not necessarily where you would imagine clothes being made for people like Michelle Pfeiffer and Madonna! But being in such an isolated spot isn't a problem for us at all.

I find it is much better to be away from things: it means we are not constantly being bombarded by fashion. We frequently travel to New York, London and Paris to get a fix of fashion, but it is great not having it all right there on your doorstep. This place gives me a clear head to think. And our customers embrace the fact that we are a different story from everyone else.

I think what I love most about my house is its lack of perfection: there are places where the plaster is coming off the walls, and the paint is peeling. There is a real mishmash of carpets in the hallway leading to our studio. But that is all part of its appeal. I am the opposite of a minimalist, I adore collecting things and I love the eclectic look of my house.

One of the first things I did when I moved in was to paint the floors in the entrance hall a brick red. Originally there had been carpets there, but I prefer the simplicity of floorboards. I also treated the floor in the sitting room with linseed oil. It gives the room a bright, natural feel. It is furnished with two battered, old leather club chairs that people are always telling me to get repaired, but I love the way they look. I found them at an auction a couple of years ago and I waited all day to buy them.

I find most of my things, and rarely go out shopping for furniture. I just stumble across things in antique shop that I like. Recently I have started collecting contemporary art, and my most recent acquisition is a painting by Till Gerhardt.

My kitchen is very old-fashioned. I have an open fireplace and a pulley on the ceiling, which both nod to days gone by. The units are from the 1950s, and I painted the walls above them brown and cream and added my 1970s clock.

My bedroom is one of my favourite rooms. I have a fabulous black leather screen that I found in my father's house years ago. The light and the colour of the walls make this room so special. It is painted in a soft green, and Angela and I painted a rose tree on the wall one afternoon. The flowers are a dusty red, and the branches of the tree are brown. My bedroom windows overlook the loch, and on a clear day the view is magnificent.

The garden is terraced and it leads right down to the edge of the loch. In the summer, it's fantastic to sit down beside the water.

There are drawbacks to living and working so close together; sometimes the phone will go late at night, people calling from LA. But the tranquillity of this place means I am able to switch off from things. Not everyone can say that. My house is quite instrumental in our work. It is my inspiration. I often imagine I am designing for the type of person who would enjoy living in this type of shabby chic, elegant house. It is magical and I couldn't ever imagine living anywhere else.

www.queeneandbelle.com

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