Me And My Home: The country comes to Clerkenwell

Caroline Wingfield talks to interior designer Helen Ellery
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The Independent Online

Helen Ellery lives and works in a house she has designed herself called The Plot, in Clerkenwell, east London.

All our friends absolutely love coming here because it's like going home to your parents. I don't think it feels like you're in London, you just feel comfortable. People come over for roast dinners, parties, to watch the football, the house has a nice feel and it just really works. It's a functional, useable place but it's more than just a house, it's a home.

"My interior design is based on bringing the outside in and being in sympathy with the building. I wanted to bring the country into a very urban environment. So I put bright green lawn carpets up the length of the stairs, a yellow rapeseed rug in the living room with a very British checked sofa and dark pink chairs with green cushions. I spent ages choosing the colours. They're very bold, but I think they work really well together and you see all these colours in nature anyway; you live with lawns and grass. As long as you keep the background neutral, you can do anything.

"It was always my intention to create a live-work space. The house is on four floors and is very flexible. My office is on the ground floor. When you open the front door you can either walk straight into the office which is painted white, or go upstairs into the colourful living part of the house. There's a small courtyard in the back bursting with plants and downstairs is the basement. In the past we've rented it out as a space to an artist, but it could easily be turned into another bedroom or a television room.

"I've maximised every inch of space. Upstairs on the first floor I've kept the framework of the original kitchen and built a kitchen-living area which works really well and is my favourite part of the house. The kitchen, which was handmade, has got everything you need in a compact space: a washing machine, a dishwasher, a boiler, storage space and a kitchen table. Everything has been scaled up or down. The fridge is really big, but you don't really notice it and it divides the room. I tiled the kitchen floor area with tiny black and white squares to look like a stately home, but scaled down.

"I knew the house originally had pine floorboards so I put them in and now they look like they've been here forever. I also put in the tongue and groove which has given the room a real warmth. In the living room the neutral walls really make the colourful furnishings sing and I've kept the original brick in the fireplace to show what was originally there. The house has got a good history, going back to 1740. I've discovered that in the past it has been a trout merchant, a salvage merchant, and a hosiery merchant.

"The second floor has the main bedroom which is quite feminine. It's painted a lovely duck-egg blue and has heavy floral print curtains from Mulberry. I've continued the tongue and groove in there, which again makes it feel homely and quite calming. In the spare room next door I've built a platform bed at shoulder height which has room for storage underneath. It's a great idea for making the most of the space and when friends stay over they love sleeping up high.

"When I came to London I found it quite un-homely and un-welcoming. London life is based on work instead of living. I think you need a home you can come back to, somewhere that you can feel happy and comfortable. That's what I'm probably most inspired by. In London you live on top of somebody, you live beside somebody, you live opposite somebody; everywhere you look you're surrounded by people. You have to create your own environment within that which is quite difficult, but for me it's a challenge I've really relished. I trained as a graphic designer at St Martin's and really enjoyed the concept side of things. The Plot is quite a serious concept of bringing outside indoors, with furnishings similar to flowers or hedges or trees.

"A sense of humour is important; my work is very much tongue-in-cheek. But I make sure I always use good quality materials and really decent fabrics, carpets, floorboards, nice furniture so it's not gimmicky - it will last. There's a difference between interior design which is very countrified, all soft and flowery, and what I do. I take the normal things and just give them a little twist and create something more unusual. It's very much my personality - it's Cornishware mugs and lovely coloured bowls, beautiful coloured glass.

"I do care who buys the house, but short of knocking down the whole thing, you have to leave it behind. I can see someone creative buying it, someone who wants to live and work in the same place, someone who loves this area. It would suit a couple - my boyfriend and I have lived here very happily. When I first moved here, Clerkenwell was all tumbleweed and saloon bar doors and I thought, 'Oh no, what have I done?' But in three years it has changed a lot and is still changing. I like the area very much, it's a fantastic place for food and drink, and there are lots of creative people here. I went to college across the road. It's an exciting place to live and being only five minutes to Islington and walking distance to Liverpool Street station it's absolutely perfectly positioned. I will find it strange to be parted from it, but I think you have to take up the challenge of the next place. Where? It depends on work. I'd like to go to Dorset, I'd really embrace the country."

The Plot is for sale at £600,000 through Stirling Ackroyd (020-7549 0606). For Helen Ellery interior design, contact 07974 173026,