Interiors: Go with the flow

As a child, Yvonna Demczynska escaped to England from behind the Iron Curtain. Home, as Rob Sharp discovers, is now a very important place to the owner of London's fashionable Flow Gallery
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The Independent Online

When most of us think Scandinavian furniture, we think of Ikea. We shouldn't. Scratch the surface of that lacquered-pine unit housing your top-of-the-range hi-fi – maybe you will discover something more profound.

The Notting Hill gallery owner Yvonna Demczynska thinks so anyway, and she knows all about Scandinavian design. She lives with it all around her, in the five-bedroom townhouse in Brook Green, west London, where she has been since 1987. And she likes to keep things simple. Most of her home's contents are informed by the Scandinavian aesthetic, and although she has added some eccentric flourishes, showing off her love of brushes, coral and candlesticks, there's not much colour. There is, however, an emphasis on functionality, which is epitomised by the Danish freestanding sideboard from the 1970s that dominates her dining area.

Demczynska's need for domestic order is perhaps unsurprising given her upbringing. Her father died when she was young, and until the age of 13, she lived in Poland with her mother. When she left to move to London, she and her mother crossed the border carrying four suitcases between them. They used the cover story that they were going on holiday – but never returned. "I love travelling but I hate moving house. I think that is reflected in the diverse contents of this home, which I hope to stay in for a very long time," Demczynska explains. "When we left Poland we couldn't tell anyone otherwise they wouldn't have let us out. Now, my two sons and I are very happy somewhere multi-cultural, but above all, stable." A period between 1981 and 1986 working at the Design Council aroused an interest in crafts. After this, she was contacted by the Crafts Council to help foster better links between British craft workers and US buyers. This gave her an idea. "I thought it would be great to concentrate an array of such artists under one roof," she explains. So, in 1999, her own gallery, Flow, was born. The contacts she made at work allowed her to fill her home with the pared-back objects she liked.

Her obsession with crafts, Demczynska says, also comes from her upbringing. "At home in Poland we had Czech chandeliers from Bohemia and a lot of beautiful glass ceramics and tableware. My mother was very interested in interior design," she says. "But I discovered Scandinavia via the gallery when I was invited by the Swedish and Danish embassies to form links with them. I used to go to Japan quite a lot, and there's that strong link between the Japanese and Scandinavian aesthetic, with both including muted colours and a respect for the natural world." In the house, the two most interesting rooms are her ground-floor living area-cum- kitchen – which is light, airy and Spartan – and the mezzanine above it. In the lounge there is the distinctive sideboard bought from Heal's by her mother in 1973; the designer is unknown. "It reminds me of home," she says. "Where I was brought up, in Hemel Hempstead, was a very happy place. It was a modern 1960s house. My mother bought a lot of high-quality furniture."

On top of the sideboard are three glass vessels by the designer Michael Bang for Holmegaard. "I thought I needed something similar to the sideboard to complement it," she explains. "I got them from a fair in Dulwich. Alongside it are a collection of Japanese brushes, for preparing green tea, given to me by a colleague at my gallery. I try to bring back one of them whenever I go away."

Opposite is the ash table she commissioned the Cornish furniture-maker Toby Roskilly to make, decorated with a centrepiece by the Swedish artist Mia E Goransson. "What I like about her work is that she is inspired by nature but reinterprets it; this piece shows leaves, buds and birch twigs emphasising the beginning of spring." On the mantelpiece nearby, one can just make out some dead coral that was picked up from a beach in Mexico, along with two black candlesticks sequestered from a New York shop in Soho called Ochre (more souvenirs).

The centrepiece of her home, however, is the one that dominates the mezzanine above. It is called The Family Tree and is by the artist Natasha Kerr. It was commissioned when Demczynska's mother died 12 years ago, and she says it was "to let my children know where I came from. I was left some money and the children feel very English and know very little about my Polish heritage". It is made of French linen and a "special photographic process" was used to apply old pictures to the material. "Usually her work is much more colourful. But maybe she felt I couldn't cope with colour; perhaps it's Polish melancholy, and it certainly makes me feel very nostalgic. It was a very positive experience talking to the artist, telling her my story was quite cathartic." As well as family photos, the piece incorporates beautifully written love letters inherited from her stepfather.

Up another flight of stairs is a cherry-wood ladder, another Roskilly piece, which tapers out toward the top, reaching a converted loft space where the gallery owner used to work many years ago. "I'd say the art works and furniture here have evolved over time," Demczynska says. "My style has become more organic. It pared down to the beauty of the form as my eye changed."

Ten Thousand Butterflies: Colourware – Exploring Colour in Porcelain, is at the Flow Gallery, 1-5 Needham Road, London W11, to 6 September. Call 020-7243 0782 or visit www.flowgallery.co.uk for further details

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