Inside 77 Eaton Terrace
Words by Jake Russell
A designer’s tour of a London townhouse with an exceptional interior
Eaton Terrace was built in the late Georgian period, around the same time as the famous square that shares its name. The houses on this street are smaller than the square next door, but many more of them have remained complete properties. Like No.77, a five-story, four-bedroom house recently purchased through Russell Simpson.
Back to the origins
No.77 was expanded in the 1980s, with a mansard roof and an extension over three levels at the back, increasing the size by almost a third. It was also decorated in the traditional style popular at the time, the windows hung with heavy swag curtains, while the stairs were lined with panels of wooden wainscoting. It made the place seem a little old-fashioned, and when Roger Jones of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler was asked to redecorate, his priorities were clear. First, take the house back to its origins; second, update the style for more modern tastes.
Views of 77 Eaton Terrace exterior and the garden.
"I’m always keen to get the architecture as true to how it might have been originally as possible, bearing in mind practical restrictions."
Space in a new light
‘People have to live their lives in the twenty-first century, so you have to take that into account. I wanted to make the architecture much closer to the original, but I don’t think that needs to follow through in terms of colours or the way the place is furnished,’ says Roger.
This method can be seen in the ground-floor dining room, a cramped space when the clients bought the house with barely enough room for a dinner party. So, Roger re-opened the blocked-up double doorway to the next-door kitchen, creating a wide corridor through to the garden side of the house, and allowing more light and space in the room. He also replaced the fancy, eighteenth-century-style cornice with something much simpler and restored the window glazing to its original pattern. Finally, a fireplace from the 1820s – maybe a decade older than the house itself – was put back on the chimney breast. The room remains smart, but it’s also a much better fit for the rest of the house.
Spaces full of natural light.
Designed for this house
A similar principle was applied to the ground-floor family room, the first-floor drawing room, the four bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, and the terrace looking out over the garden. Even though the interior decoration is simpler than before, a great deal of care was taken with each choice, and almost all of the furniture was designed for the house. What’s more, each room has something original or distinct, whether the recycled wrapping paper that lines one of the bathrooms, or the beautiful blue linen on the walls of the drawing room.
While working on the house, Roger was faced with a few challenges, but in each case came up with an elegant solution.
For example, the staircase was difficult to illuminate from above, so he designed special wall-mounted lights instead. Or, in the study, with its imposing bookcase from the previous owners, he offset the heavy wooden unit with a mix of furniture from different periods – a contemporary desk, a 1960s armchair, a 1930s desk chair – and electric colours for the blinds to make the room much brighter.
As well as these innovations, Roger was keen to recover something of the history of the original property.
This can be seen in two pieces of decoration: the first, a case in the drawing room containing toothbrushes, dominoes and skittles, from a tiny set of toys discovered when the floorboards were removed. Meanwhile, the second is a series of letters, also found under the floorboards, which Roger had framed for the wall of the study. The letters date back to 1839, sent between a couple called Maria and Mr Keating, and one of them was blackened with soot, as if somebody had tried to burn it. ‘Reading between the lines, they tell rather a sad story,’ Roger explained, ‘but I enjoyed piecing them together’.
A series of letters found under the floorboards of 77 Eaton Terrace.
The owners of the house were long-standing clients of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, and Roger had previously worked for them on another property. No.77 Eaton Terrace was designed for the second generation of the family, who gave him a lot of freedom with his choices.
What’s more, thanks to the size of the extension and the length of the garden, the house is unlike any other on the terrace. And returning to the address after several years, Roger remains proud of his work: ‘I was always very pleased with this house. It was great fun coming back here again. I like the way it’s decorated, which is close to my own personal taste. There was a generous budget and an owner who was keen on having things done properly. So it was sort of a dream project.’