Emily Todhunter on mixing the classical and contemporary
Words by Jake Russell
The celebrated interior designer describes bringing traditional English style up to date
This property on Clarendon Road is a Victorian house in Holland Park, renovated by Anthony Collett for Collett-Zarzycki and Emily Todhunter for Todhunter Earle, while the garden was designed by Libby Russell of Mazzullo Russell Landscape Design. Emily Todhunter spoke to Russell Simpson about this unique property.
From Start To Finish
Emily Todhunter was involved with the renovation of Clarendon Road from the start. When she began on the project, the house had not only been gutted, but was also completely out of date, meaning the interiors needed extensive modernisation. In addition, because the layout had been changed to create large lateral spaces in the main rooms, the interiors needed to complement and accentuate this design.
Clarendon Road was not created to match the tastes of a specific client. Often, Emily explains, this can dilute the process, as designers go for the ‘beigest’ option to appeal to the widest number of people. However, with this property, the potential occupant was very clearly identified, meaning the whole team had an idea of ‘exactly who is going to live there and how they are going to use it.’
At the same time, the house and setting provided their own influence on the design. As Emily makes clear: ‘We wanted to embody all the charm and elegance of that part of London, while also creating a contemporary and up-to-date interior.’
It's All About Balance
For instance, in the main reception room, much of the light and colour was coming from the garden. Therefore, a more restrained decorative approach was called for, but with floral touches in the cushions, the curtains, and the prints on the wall.
Or, another example, in the second-floor bedrooms, the flat ceilings were raised into the roof, to take advantage of the empty attic space. Then they were decorated with tongue and groove panelling, to match the wardrobes and give a yacht-like feel the design. ‘Whichever floor you’re on, the whole trick was to try to maximise the usable space.’
The other important principle was balance. On the one hand, it was important to give the house an urban, twenty-first century feel. So, rather than the typical detailing of the period, the cornices and fireplaces are modest, while the bathrooms and kitchen are modern. On the other hand, the dining room or study has the panelled walls and rich colours of a Victorian library, while antiques are blended with more modern furniture, to give a feeling of formality and tradition. The result, says Emily, is ‘a pitch between classical English and contemporary detailing. We’re trying to use the best of classical elements, but also trying to bring them up to date.’
‘For me it would be the total dream house,’ she concludes. ‘Just to bring up a family in that house, it’s got everything I would ever want.’
Emily Todhunter has been a celebrated figure on the interior design scene since her twenties. In the early nineties she was responsible for the interiors of fashionable nightclubs like Daphne’s in Chelsea and Christopher’s in Covent Garden. Then, in 1998, she began working with Kate Earle, and since then they are one of a small number of designers to have been continuously included in the Top 100 interior designers lists of House & Garden, Homes & Garden, and Country Life.
Over the last two decades, the company has created smart, contemporary interiors for properties around the world. This includes flats on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and ski chalets in Switzerland, as well as a range of stately homes. One of their most celebrated projects was a complete restoration of Madresfield Court, the six-hundred-year-old house that inspired Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.
Among these many projects, Emily has fond memories of 38 Clarendon Road. Despite the challenges of property, everyone enjoyed working on the house, and she believes something of that pleasure can be seen in the finished property. ‘The more fun the process is, the better the house ends up.’
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