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St James's Gardens

10th Oct 2017

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We get it: a neutral palette is a great way to dress a home elegantly – it makes it easy to achieve a sophisticated aesthetic without ruffling feathers or going too much out on a limb. But while beige is all the rage and taupe is dope, it’s often nice to be splashed in the face with a good wallop of colour (properly orchestrated, of course) and woken from our caramel comas. Lucky for us, art-collector, Vanessa Branson, has a house at St James’s Gardens which has just come on for rent through Domus Nova – delivering just the hit we’ve been looking for.

Bursting with awe-inspiring eclectic design, this astonishing five-bedroom house is the ultimate antidote to neutral tones, blurring the line between gallery and living space. The layout is refreshingly simple. The kitchen and dining room take up most of the lower ground floor, leaving a generous amount of space for the essentials (wine storage included obviously!). Bi-folding glass doors open the space up even further into a huge garden. Encompassing an entire floor, the main reception room is nothing short of spectacular, boasting beautifully maintained period features such as herringbone parquet floors, notably high ceilings with cornice detailing and two impressive fireplaces. The first and second floors mirror each other: two double bedrooms and a large family bathroom on each.

If the rest of the house doesn’t have your jaws on the floor, the master bedroom suite on the third floor will no doubt take your breath away. It’s white. Like a pure white light that’s about to hit a prism and get turned into an array of rainbow colours. So actually, that makes sense! The appreciation of colour is not just confined to the many pieces of art and sculpture that bedeck the interiors; every wall has its own statement hue or moody tone. So far, we’ve counted eight distinct paint colours which somehow all work in a peculiar sort of harmony throughout the volumes of the house. All tastefully implemented, they are perhaps united by their overriding cheerful nature.

We have a lot of respect for anyone who can pull off such a diverse array of looks with such elegance and style. Curbing our curiosity, Vanessa was kind enough so answer some questions we had for her about the house.

The walls of your house are just COVERED in some of the most wonderful and intriguing artworks we’ve seen – it’s almost hard to imagine they were ever bare. How did all of these works come together?

I’ve been collecting art for the last 30 years. I used to have a gallery just off the Portobello Road in Blenheim Crescent and began to buy works from the artists I represented. My collecting has been haphazard – a combination of buying from friends and supporting young emerging artists. When I moved into St James’s Gardens five years ago, I had the perfect opportunity to take a fresh look at all the art work and rehang every piece with cohesion.

How on earth did you arrive at that amazing array of wall paint?

The colours in the staircase were all taken from the pair of Fred Pollock curtains hanging there. He is a wonderful Scottish Abstract painter – I knew I was on to a winner by ripping off his palette!

Have the interiors formed over time or was there a specific look you were going for from the start?

The interiors are a sort of reimagining of past family environments. When I first bought St James’s Gardens, I moved from a beautiful Georgian house in Notting Hill. The new owners were going to rip out all the interiors and said I could take anything I wanted – so I did! Much more than the furniture, that included the stunning teak floors, the York stone, the solid oak doors, and even the bathroom fittings… it all came with us. As soon as we moved in, the house felt like a home.

What do you think is the importance of art within a home? How does it contribute to a home environment?

I think that anything with the touch of hand is special and painting comes top of those criteria. Every work of art at the house tells a story. They are souvenirs of my life, my career, my relationships and my travels. My children have grown up surrounded by art and artists. It has certainly encouraged their curiosity!

How would you describe the relationship between art and interiors?

It’s fun making connections between the art and the room. Sitting over the kitchen sink, there’s a beautiful little sculpture by Stephan Balkenhol of a man covering his face in anguish. It makes me chuckle each time I see it: “Oh no, not the washing up again!” Perhaps not quite what the artist was thinking, but that’s how it works for me!

Your house at St James’s Gardens offers wonderfully large living spaces. In terms of colour and furnishings, what is your rule of thumb when dealing with big proportions?

I don’t have a rule of thumb really, I just think it’s important to celebrate the space, get the lighting right and make sure that there are still cosy areas to snug into.

From where do you draw your design influences? How do they tend to manifest in a home setting?

I have a hotel in Marrakech, El Fenn – it is extraordinarily beautiful. I’ve learned a lot over the past 15 years as my partners and I have restored and decorated all 30 rooms there individually. I think the prolonged learning experience somewhat guides the design decisions I make at home.

What is your favourite room in the house and why?

Each room plays a role: the kitchen is a family space – cooking is our hobby. The sitting room doubles as my office; I love being able to look out onto the gardens and church. And then there’s the master bedroom which brings me joy each and every day. The quality of the light, the privacy, the scale and the layout… it is true perfection.

What is your favourite piece of art in the house?

I don’t have one favourite – each piece is part of the jigsaw that makes up the whole story.

And what a remarkable story it is! For more information, view St James’s Gardens, currently for rent through Domus Nova.