Big architectural moves make more space for beloved designs in this London townhouse

Claudia Skaff, a partner in architecture firm Mariagroup, literally raised the roof in her home

mariagroup claudia skaff home living room
Stephan Julliard

When Lebanese-born interior designer Claudia Skaff and her husband bought this house in Chelsea, they made a conscious decision to do some significant structural work. That involved not only raising the ceiling height of the lower ground floor by 60 centimetres, but also creating a new basement level.

Overseen by Michèle Chaya and Georges Maria (Claudia’s architect partners in the Beirut- and London-based firm Mariagroup), the construction process sounds quite hair-raising. It consisted of the whole structure being temporarily suspended on a series of thin metal columns. ‘It was terrifying to walk under,’ admits Claudia.

mariagroup claudia skaff home kitchen outdoor entertaining
Stephan Julliard

Gravity-defying sleight of hand aside, another challenge was to bring in as much natural light as possible. To that end, a series of skylights and light wells were created, and the dining room was housed in a glazed conservatory. ‘When you’re used to Mediterranean light like Claudia,’ notes Michèle, ‘London can seem very dark.’

A last-minute decision was made not to hang curtains in the living room to keep the windows as open as possible, despite, adds Michèle, the fabric already being bought.‘I still have it,’ she says ruefully. ‘It was not cheap.’

mariagroup claudia skaff home dining room
Stephan Julliard

When it came to the décor, Claudia didn’t set out with any specific style in mind. ‘I didn’t think of giving it an English touch or an ethnic touch,’ she says. ‘I just went along and collected and collected.’ She calls herself an ‘instinctive buyer’, and her passion for design is evident.

One of her early finds was the pair of fan-shaped Ingo Maurer wall lights that hang at different heights above the living room fireplace. Nearby is an original Oscar Niemeyer ‘Rio’ chaise longue that had been sitting in storage for years. ‘There wasn’t space for it in our old house,’ Claudia explains, ‘but I loved it and said to myself, “One day I’ll use it somewhere.”’

mariagroup claudia skaff home bedroom
Stephan Julliard

The decorating process was a collaborative one between Claudia and Michèle, both of whom adopt a fearless approach. ‘We do like to think outside of the box,’ admits Michèle. In their hands, serious collectible furniture is juxtaposed with colourful artworks and vibrant wallpaper. Graphic red floor tiles flow out from the kitchen into the back garden (the latter was created by the up-and-coming British landscape designer Alexander Hoyle).

‘The house is playful,’ says Claudia. ‘If I like something, I go for it.’ This gut-decision-making process seems to be a winning approach. ‘A lot of friends come over and don’t want to leave,’ she says. ‘They stay for one cup of tea after another – that’s how every home should be.’

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