Me And My Home: How a wreck was restored

Mary Wilson talks to Austrian interior designer Claudia Auersperg
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Claudia Auersperg specialises in interior design for historic houses. She lives in Chiswick, west London, with her husband Johannes

We found the house, by accident, 19 years ago. We were walking along the river and saw a For Sale sign. It reminded my husband, Johannes, of the house he had lived in as a child in Chile, where his parents had built a typical English-style double-fronted house. We thought we could never afford it, but in fact we could, as it was in the most appalling state. The garden was knee-high in brambles and the house was divided into lots of rooms with meters in every one. It was unbelievable. But it was exactly what we wanted and I loved it immediately.

"We spent six months doing the structural work while we were living in a rented flat in Wimbledon, and then moved in with our two sons, Alexander and Max. Alexander was two and Max was only a few weeks old.

"We found a 70-year-old Irish carpenter who was quite magical. He rebuilt the conservatory and this is now my favourite room. We had it in white to start with but to me it looked too hard, so we painted the wood dark green because it almost disappears when you look out into the garden. It's also very light. It's part of the garden, yet part of the house and it's very comfortable, with a large sofa and a desk which is my husband's office and it's got music and books. We have books in most of the rooms and in fact, the house is almost held up by bookshelves.

"The kitchen used to be two rooms - a scullery and bedroom, so we turned that into one and put in double doors leading into the garden. We also put in an Aga and I am debating whether to have an Aga again in our next house, as it is such a wonderful thing. And because I wanted the kitchen to be treated as a room, I didn't put in any top units so we had room for paintings and flowers.

"One of the reasons I particularly liked the house was because I had always wanted a country house in London and this was exactly that. The main joy of it is the feeling of width and space. You come in and feel you are in a proper house on two floors, not one with lots of stairs. That is very unusual for London.

"It has lots of plus points and one minus point, which is that it is only one house away from the Great West Road. But then the river is only two houses away in the other direction, which is lovely.

"You cannot hear the traffic noise at all from inside the house, but you can hear it from the garden. However, when you look out you can only see gardens, so we are not overlooked at all. The garden is 60 feet by 60 feet, which is big for London, and has huge old walls. The one at the back used to the be the wall of the orangery of Catherine of Braganza's riverside palace - which is now Latymer School.

"The house has evolved quite a lot and has gone through several transformations since we have lived here. When the children were young, the room which is now the dining room was the playroom and we used the conservatory as the dining room. But as they grew up, we put a little family room upstairs and put the dining room back where it originally was. And one of my sons' bedrooms is now a very pretty guest room.

"The most basic thing when re-doing a house, whether it is in my work or for myself, is to get the bones of the property right and then dress it up. So I make sure that all the moulding and carpentry is exactly right. In the drawing room, for example, I have put in a bookcase and I have matched the architrave on one side with that of the room and the other side with the architrave of the doors so the whole room works together.

"I love very soft colours and a really traditional look and tend to use creams and biscuits with accents of blue. I don't like too many wallpapers, but I do have one in the dining room with a little stripe on it and in one of the bedrooms, there is a Colefax & Fowler wallpaper which is a blue Chinese toile. And in the smallest bedroom, I have used an American wallpaper which has a typical American blocked design; red and dark-blue flowers, trees, birds and vines on a cream background.

"Most of my interior-design work is for stately homes and country mansions in Austria and Germany, but there I am often more restricted because the buildings are listed or of historical interest and a lot of the fabric of the house cannot be altered. But England is the best place in the world to find wallpaper and paints for conservation properties. And if you can't find it, you can have it copied exactly.

"My favourite style is Scandinavian interiors. Not the modern Swedish Ikea look but the 18th century, which is a period I like anyway. They had such wonderful houses then, not overly pompous and not too rich - pale colours, such as sea greens and pale blues, with a bit of gilding and often plain floorboards and matting. It's a simple style, but with a rich texture.

"We only reason we are selling the house is because we have found another wreck to do up. It is only around the corner, as I love the area and don't want to move out of it. It's got a really nice villagey feeling with a proper little community. You can be in town in 10 minutes and the airport in 15, which is good because both my husband and I fly quite frequently.

"The new house will be different because it is more of a Georgian house, but we will be putting French windows in everywhere as we have done here. We will also be doing a lot more panelling to make it more cosy, as it has sadly been very neglected."

Claudia Auersperg, interior designer, 020-8741 5405. Her house in Rivercourt Road, W6, is for sale through FPDSavills, 020-8987 5550 and Engel & Völkers, 020-7590 3170 for £1.85m.