Home Truths: An eye for the austere
Cheryl Markosky meets Candia Lutyens, designer and granddaughter of Sir Edwin Lutyens
Wednesday 22 January 2003
Designer Candia Lutyens lives in a late 19th-century, six-bedroom villa in Putney, south-west London, with husband Paul Petersen, an architect who works with her in Lutyens Design Associates, and their two children
We moved from The Redcliffes in south-west London where we had a four-bedroom maisonette with no outside space, to our new home, further out in Putney. We have two children and the trip around the Serpentine got boring. There are great schools in Putney, which helped us make up our minds.
"We fell in love with this classic south London redbrick villa built in 1895, which is right for the Lutyens period. We bought it, 100 years after it was built, at Easter 1995. At the time it was a huge psychological leap for my husband. He said, 'You mean you want me to go south of the river?' But Putney has everything you want and it is easy to get to Waterloo from here. Although we have a showroom in Knightsbridge, the house has become a showcase of sorts, too. The whole business emerged 15 years ago when we wanted chairs for ourselves. We realised it was not practical making chairs just for us. So my husband gave up his job to see what he could do with the Lutyens archive of drawings and that was how it all began. We really needed the ceiling heights and floor plan in this house to show off the furniture and lighting to its best effect.
"It took us three years to do up the house, as nothing had been done since 1972 – a period where everything had been boxed in or ripped out. It took a lot of time getting it right. Clients would visit and it was a complete building site. I remember Dustin Hoffman coming round with his producer Barry Levinson to look at furniture and my daughter was screaming and the builder insisted on shaking hands with Hoffman.
"We have four principal rooms downstairs that have been completely furnished by us. I love the formal sitting room. Although it is austere in some respects, we have taken the Lutyens idiom and aesthetic and made it practical. The study has filing cabinets as well as bookcases, which in his day he obviously would not have had.
"The Tuscan columns in the kitchen lend it a pleasing geometry, and we have contrasted that with a beautiful but workable breakfast table. We often use the original Lutyens and Lutyens-inspired pieces, as this is not a museum. My daughter does her homework on the dining-room table, for instance. Although the house is completely lived in and used, we can tidy it and turn it into a showroom when we need to.
"I love the central dining room. The house has interesting circular shapes and this space shows them off well. We don't often eat there but like to use it as a place to read the Sunday papers. It is great sitting there with a mug of coffee and having a chat in the central circular area surrounded by funky arches.
"The colour scheme is strong, with black cloth on the study walls and a perfect and correct Wedgwood blue in the dining room. Strong, simple ochres blend well with brown wrapping-paper wallpaper. Lutyens hated pattern and the trick is to varnish the walls with a proper art varnish. There is no way chintz will find its way into the house. Instead, we have simple linen curtains and pale rugs on wooden floors.
"I worked in the City for years, but have always felt I had the Lutyens design genes. I am able to do it and understand it. I think it is all about having a good eye and I'm told I am good with colour. Contemporary is very big at the moment and it mixes easily with timeless pieces by Lutyens. A single piece of Lutyens furniture works well in a contemporary scheme and it is very flexible. It doesn't date, the lines are very strong and classical. Techno-funk contemporary is very 'in' at the moment, but it will pass. Maybe it is popular because it is easy to do for less money.
"I own several original Lutyens items and I know I am very lucky, but it has been part of my upbringing. Ironically, Lutyens never built his own house and several Lutyens-style houses are now being built in the United States and someone is keen to build one in Oxford. It is nice to have an eclectic mix, really, and our furniture works just as well in a modern setting.
"Sadly, we are leaving the house, as we plan to move to France. We have moved the day-to-day business to Knightsbridge and will buy a flat near the shop. I will miss Putney a lot, as the High Street has become better and better over the years. It was quite sleazy when we first arrived – there were only six or seven shops that all had gambling fruit-machines. Now there is a Starbucks on every corner, The Exchange shopping centre and really good restaurants like the new one at Putney Wharf.
"This is a good family house and perfect for walks in Richmond Park and on Wimbledon Common, both within a 10-minute drive. There are lots of trees, greenery and the river. I am essentially the only direct descendant of Lutyens left, and I think people who know about Lutyens are pleased with what I have created here."
Candia Lutyens' house is for sale (offers over £1.8 million) through Friend & Falcke, 020-8878 4942, or Foxtons 020-8355 1000; www.lutyens-furniture.com
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