Winnie Lok: Angel of the East

Winnie Lok‘s ex-council flat bursts with colour – influenced by her East-West heritage, girlie style and quirky, fashion designer’s touch. Interview by Danielle Demetriou
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The Independent Online

The first time I stepped into this building, my immediate thought was: "Oh, no". The 1940s purpose-built block is clearly ex-local authority with its generic staircase, metal railings and concrete. It's clean and well looked after but looks clinical.

The flat had tenants and was in a state. There was woodchip wallpaper, a nasty green Sixties-style kitchen with doors hanging off and a horrible bathroom.

And so I think the estate agent was surprised when I put in an offer. But despite the state it was in, I could see its potential. I knew I could transform it into a space I'd love to live in.

A year and a half on, I have no regrets. When people walk through the door, they often can't believe that it is so light and spacious.

I lived in Angel for about 10 years before moving in here. My old flat was a bad conversion in an 1870s period property. It was in a fantastic location next to Angel Tube, but it was very dark.

As a result, my main priorities for a new home were more space and more light. I am on the third (top) floor and there are windows on all sides. Ex-local authority buildings have solid foundations so they are noise-proof and tend to be very spacious – this flat covers about 900sq ft.

I ripped everything out and put down reclaimed pine stained very dark brown, knocked down a wall in the living area and put in a new bathroom and kitchen. I set myself a deadline of two months before moving in. As a woman, it was difficult dealing with builders who clearly thought I knew nothing – there was a lot of teeth sucking and staring when I told them what I wanted.

My deadline meant I had very little time to be indecisive – I had to order kitchen and bathroom units quickly and just pray that they would look OK. Fortunately, I have no regrets.

The flat is made up of a main living space with a sitting area, dining table, kitchen and balcony. It also has one bedroom and an office. It is all very girlie. There are lots of butterflies and cherry blossoms, which match my tattoos.

My mother is from China, my father from Hong Kong and even though I grew up in Hereford, my childhood home was always full of artifacts from Asia. Being born in the West but having a heritage that is Oriental, these influences cross over quite naturally for me in terms of how I think and how I live.

My parents gave me the large white Buddha which sits in the living room when I moved in. As a woman living on her own, I think they hoped it would protect me and bring good fortune.

My mother also gave me a beautiful embroidered banner decorated with cherry blossoms and calligraphy from China, which I've hung on the wall.

I love travelling. I spend a lot of time abroad both for work and pleasure, and I always bring home reminders of my trips. In my bedroom, a strip of embroidered fabric from a recent visit to a vintage kimono shop in Tokyo lies on my bed.

My bedside lamps sit on dark green ceramic dragon stools from China. I have a selection of framed butterflies as well as a work by Tracey Bush, The Beloved Butterfly, which is made up of butterflies cut out from lined sheets of love music, and a framed "Winni" doodle which was a present from a friend, the illustrator Will Broome.

The hallway is known as the Hall of Horns – it may not be politically correct, but I like a little bit of taxidermy. I have three sets of animals horns lining the hall – one is a gazelle, the second an impala and I'm not quite sure about the third. The horns go well with the large log leaning against the wall. I found it in a flat I moved into in Liverpool when I was studying there.

The walls throughout the flat are a constant work in progress. I tend to stick up anything that catches my eyes or sparkles. There are pages torn out from magazines, photographs and little post-it notes that I've kept from friends.

In the living room, I have stuck cherry blossom lights from Habitat on one of the walls, along with a number of colourful butterflies. My white Eames Rocking Chair is nearby. I'd coveted one of these chairs for a long time and finally bought myself one when I moved in here. It sits on a cow hide rug which I got from Stepan Tertsakian, one of the best in the trade.

A large wooden sculpture of Shiva hangs on the wall opposite the glass dining room table. I picked it up during a trip to Kerala – and was very concerned about bringing it back in one piece.

A small balcony opens off the living area. I have a few plants and some netting – I had terrible problems with nesting pigeons when I first moved in.

The office is where I keep my computer, books and admin. A row of Japanese dolls and a lucky cat sit on the windowsill and the wall above the computer is covered with cut-out pictures and photos that have caught my eye. I design my own collection and do most of my creative work in the main room of the flat.

The net curtains of my neighbours do twitch occasionally, but everyone is very friendly here.

One of the things I love about London is that you can find rows of multi-million pound houses on one street and ex-council estates on the next. I enjoy living somewhere unexpected.

For Winni Lok queries, email winni@winnilok.co.uk. Whistles: www.whistles.co.uk

Winnie Lok, the knitwear designer and head of design at Whistles, lives in a top-floor ex-local authority flat in Islington, north London

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