‘A little London pied-à-terre with a hint of Crespi,’ was the concise brief for the Marylebone home of this design-savvy Italian manager in the fashion business. His reference to designer and artist Gabriella Crespi, a fellow Italian whose glamorous 1970s style has experienced a recent renaissance, was the ideal starting point for Maria Speake, co-founder of interior design and reclamation firm Retrouvius, who has created an interior perfect for Mad Men-style afternoon cocktails and elegant soirées.
This flat’s new look may be tinged with nostalgia, but when Maria first set foot inside it was the tobacco stains that caught her eye. A patch on the ceiling above where a desk would once have stood facing the window reminded her of a different era. ‘Maybe the previous owner was a writer,’ she muses. ‘You can just imagine him festering there, looking out onto the street below in frustration.’
Unchanged for decades, the 75-square-metre property was ripe for a rethink. ‘We did quite a lot of opening up the space,’ explains Maria, but the biggest transformation involves the kitchen. Once situated at the front of the apartment, in what is now the dark-blue snug, this room was condensed into a compact nook right at the centre of the home. It may be tiny, but it’s luxurious, with a statement sink carved from onyx. And, for an owner who is more likely to be found popping champagne corks than cooking, it’s ideal.
To maintain a sleek aesthetic, storage here is deftly hidden. The wall that divides the kitchen from the dining area, for example, is in fact a cabinet that opens from both sides. Once you know what to look for, this home has its own language: the decorative wooden parquet that adorns the walls signifies a sliding divider or a disguised cupboard. Originally intended as a flooring option, the glamorous blocks were discounted in favour of reclaimed, lime-washed pine boards as, says Maria, ‘I felt they might over-aggrandise the space’.
‘I was having to be a bit more restrained than I normally am,’ she quips. Indeed, there’s a delicate balance here between modesty and opulence. Organic, understated, off-white seagrass wallpaper lends the main open-plan rooms a softness. ‘Because this space is so tiny the lack of colour lends a generosity to the walls,’ remarks Maria. The added texture also softens the light creating the feel of living in a sepia-toned photograph.
‘There was an image of Gabriella Crespi’s house in Milan that the homeowner showed me at the start of the project,’ says Maria. ‘It had a deliciously rich, golden quality.’ This home possesses a similarly sumptuous glow. It’s an aesthetic that the late-designer and socialite would surely have approved. retrouvius.com
For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration March 2020
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.