Tasked with describing the interior of her home in Peckham Rye, south London, Anna Burns uses the term ‘twisted domesticity’. When you see her impressive collection of quirky objects and props, which pay homage to her work as a product, furniture and set designer, creating fantastical installations and window displays for brands such as Balenciaga, Burberry, Hermès and Tiffany & Co, the phrase makes perfect sense.
Every piece in her house tells an intriguing tale, from the vintage DKW ‘Hummel’ motorbike – the first thing you see on entering – to the large wooden Pinocchio head with its extended nose. The latter was first spotted in a shop in Stockholm, but took five years to acquire because the store was never open.
Even the property itself, a characterful Victorian terrace bought in 2013, had an unconventional past life as a brothel. ‘It was in a pretty bad state – a rabbit warren of rooms and dark corridors,’ says Anna about the eight bedsits, each decorated in a garish floor-to-ceiling colour scheme.
‘I often imagine clients visiting and being sent to “Dolly in the scarlet room” or “Crystal in the mustard room”, a bit like an alternative version of Cluedo.’
Today, it’s a very different scene. Anna reconfigured the layout, opening up and transforming the house to create an office and a cosy ground-floor living room, where she and her eight-year-old daughter, Scout, enjoy watching films together, surrounded by colourful Moroccan rugs, paintings and retro furniture.
Cutting through this comfort is a boldly structural, steel-fabricated staircase, which was installed to provide light and a sense of spaciousness to the downstairs kitchen and living area. Paired with a decorative chandelier, it reminds Anna of the contrasts of styles in Parisian apartment blocks. ‘It’s a mix of classical Haussmann architecture and the industrial feel of the cages that hold those tiny lifts,’ she says. ‘I like to find contrasts that sit well together.’
Indeed, each room is like a theatrical vignette. The black-tiled, art deco-style bathroom, with its orange ceiling and patchwork floor of marble offcuts, is a case in point. ‘I wanted to capture the louche mood of the bathroom scene in Performance with Mick Jagger in the bath,’ says Anna. ‘I also love Giuseppe Bassan’s set design in the original version of Suspiria – the slightly jarring angular lines and colours were a real inspiration.’
Films Alien, Shampoo and Mâitresse are also fodder for Anna’s magpie-like imagination. ‘When I watch movies, I look past the action to the spaces,’ she says. Her latest window for Hermès was sparked by seeing the documentary Fantastic Fungi during lockdown. It showed how the underground root systems of the plants are intertwined to allow the species to thrive. She wanted to emphasise the power and potency of human connection and togetherness in a time of potential separation and isolation.
‘There are always morsels of greatness in films and, rather than looking at interior design, I find life within the scenes,’ explains Anna. ‘It can be a bit messy, but there’s often an energy, fantasy and otherworldliness.’ It’s enough to make you want to study old celluloid classics. annaburns.net; annaburnsobject.net
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration January 2020
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