My Home: Will Alsop - not all the mod cons

The architect Will Alsop is renowned for dazzling colours and bold shapes– yet his own lair is surprisingly soft around the edges. Here he explains why

Interview,Sally Howard
Wednesday 30 January 2008 01:00 GMT

It maddens me when I'm accused of living a country idyll on the east coast. We have a cosy home in the centre of a Norfolk town, but I also live in this unfussy Kensington flat. I'm much more at home here. In fact, I can't stand the countryside – who wants to have to get in a car to go and buy a pint of milk?

Sheila and I moved here in 2002. It's a typical Edwardian mansion block. I like it because our friends are nearby, as is Holland Park, and I can walk to the museums, even Harrods if I had to. This area of London is home.

We hardly moved anything from our old London place – we had an instinct to buy new and to make life simple. There's a sense of impermanence in the pace of London life, and it feels in rhythm to travel light. We're lazy shoppers though, so most of the furniture in the sitting and dining rooms came from The Conran Shop. Then Sheila discovered the Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, and quirkier odds and ends began to creep in: an old chandelier here, a wooden tea tray there.

Sheila insisted we bought a flat with a garden. I wanted to be higher up, but now I realise she was right. In summer I sit out with the plants that have survived winter, and those I freshly plant each May – the mad monkey puzzle and these wild grasses. It's the perfect spot to have a gin and tonic and a cigarette and read the newspaper in peace.

The flat is scattered with the work of artists I know and love: Bruce McLean, who is a very good friend of mine; the late Terry Frost, a good old northern painter who works well next to the Australian artist Annie Grace.

The coloured blocks in the hallway are by Kate Dineen, an artist I commissioned to do a large piece at Palestra, an office building I designed in Blackfriars. Kate grinds down marble and reconstitutes it into these various blocks – they're fabulous and remind me how much I like her.

It upsets me that in other people's homes you're given a drink and there's nowhere to put it. The floor is simply not a table. For the sitting room, I designed these sofa-side metal tables to get around the problem – one is for your drink and one is to have somewhere to flick your ash. I wanted to make a third to hold a book or magazine at a good angle for reading. Annoyingly, the design didn't quite work.

On the living room wall there are two simple paintings of mine. They feature four of the things my wife loves most about our Norfolk house: a teapot, a poppy, a bread crock and a native Norfolk plant. It links the two homes and I like that.

The dining table was the first I designed. The spotlights beneath its glass top cast this wonderful dull light when it's dressed with a tablecloth. It flatters guests. The dining chairs are office chairs with wheels. Once people have sat down I don't want them to get up, and they rarely do.

One of my favourite items in the kitchen is a bar-standard wine-bottle opener, a gift from my wife. Whisky is my winter drink, and gin and tonic is for summer, but I'm faithful to red wine above everything. It's so satisfying to tug the lever down that sometimes I simply have to open another bottle immediately.

Souvenirs that are merely dust-catchers irritate me, but I understand them if they have a use. My youngest son bought me a painted bowl from a recent trip to Mexico with his wife-to-be, that also has pride of place in the kitchen. I noticed he bought another for himself that was much nicer, but I like this because it's so uncompromisingly tasteless.

At the moment, both my grown-up sons are having their flats done up, so they're back here – which I love. My daughter lives nearby and often stays the night too if she feels like it. I'm intrigued by how long my sons manage to spend in the bathroom. Sheila and I are in and out of the bathroom, so it's a simple space. I've never understood the notion of relaxing in the bath with scented candles.

Homes have their own life, and I think this flat is a friendly animal. The kitchen is the centre of life, but I like it when the guests have gone and the air still has the faint after-glow of happiness and laughter. Then I'm relaxed sitting here with my sketchbook: writing a little, drawing a little.

When I was younger I dreamt of designing my own home and did the odd sketch to boot, but now I'm keenly aware of my shifting tastes. I'm much more inclined towards the rustic as I age. Also, style goes out of date, despite the nonsense the modernists say about classic design.

Some architects do their houses up as an extravagant showcase of their work and it's often assumed my home will be the same. I wonder how they can possibly live like that, though. Supposing they changed their minds?

SMC Alsop, the architecture firm of Will Alsop, is one of the UK's most successful practices. His designs – from North Greenwich Tube station to Hamburg Ferry Terminal – are often praised for their use of bright colour and iconoclastic form. He's now 60 and lives in London and Norfolk with his wife Sheila.

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