Homes

A perfectly formed Victorian home in London

Garden designer Lorraine Johnson’s creative talent came to the fore when she and her husband downsized, with years of collected treasures now displayed to their best advantage in a characterful setting.

When the garden designer Lorraine Johnson presented her husband with the list of improvements she wanted to make to their substantial mid- Victorian London house, she did not get the response she was expecting. ‘Why not speak to an estate agent, just to find out what the house is worth?’ he said, before asking, ‘Do we really need seven bedrooms?’

Lorraine loved having room for her design studio and for her collections of porcelain, glass and textiles, but her husband was right, they did not need all that space. ‘If we move,’ he said, ‘we’ll find you a bigger garden.’ That was the clincher. Their home with its large, well-proportioned rooms, handsome cornices and tall windows, sold in a trice so, having looked at 30 smaller houses, they were beginning to feel a little bit anxious when the house they live in today came onto the market. The garden was half the size of the one they were leaving but the house was the only one they had seen that came close to what they wanted. It was time to compromise.

THE PROPERTY

‘The previous owners had torn down the wall between the hall and living room, and the planning officer said we had to close it up,’ Lorraine recalls. ‘Whereupon I burst into tears. Finally, he conceded and told us we could keep an opening the size of a pair of double doors,’ she says.

There was a silver lining, however. ‘I had had a massive book cull when we left the old house, but we still had several hundred books, and I suddenly realised that the walls we had to reinstate would hold lots of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.’ Lining the restored part walls on the hall side with Cole & Son’s Fornasetti Ex Libris wallpaper was Lorraine’s witty finishing touch to the fortunate turn of events and the finished entrance appears generous of size, while the living room is draft-free when the front door is opened.

Generosity has been her watchword in re-configuring the spaces around the house. ‘I would never design a tight, narrow path for a garden, and it’s the same in a house,’ she says. The conservatory at the back of the house, by the ‘brilliantly efficient’ Vale Garden Houses, is a case in point. It gives a light and airy feel to the whole ground floor, and provides space for a small breakfast table too. Every spring, its low windowsills are crammed with seedlings for her garden.

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