The Designer Magazine

The House That Rocks!

A previously neglected Arts & Crafts style home has received some full-on design treatment by Orla Collins of Purple Design, giving it a totally new lease of life

The owner of this 1910 villa on the leafy fringes of London is a businessman who has made it big in the entertainment business. He asked interior designer Orla Collins of Purple Design to give him ‘a house that rocks’.

The Arts & Crafts exterior of this Wimbledon home looks classic enough, but inside it hums with opulence: shiny black surfaces; pink and purple fabrics; marble bathrooms; and chocolate brown parquet. She chose a snakeskin leather floor for one room, bronze eel-skin for a banquette in the kitchen. Every piece in the house was designed and made to order. At the start of the project, Orla was faced with a house in a poor condition, untouched for a hundred years. It was always going to be a serious refurbishment but when stripped to bare bones, the whole house had to be rebuilt except for the external walls and roof.

Complex architectural reconstruction followed a drastic demolition job. Architectural plans involved changing floor levels, raising and lowering doors and windows, designing new plasterwork for the ceilings to be embellished by a specialist painter with glitter brush strokes of old silver, gold and bronze. All this recalls the decoration of an imperial mansion, employing an army of builders, craftsmen and artisans.

The creative concept that the client had in mind demanded a designer with a real eye for bold, ‘statement’ design. Orla Collins is an Irish interior designer who started her working life as a model in Dublin. She decided on a career in design and left the frock trade to study at KLC in London.

She has undertaken numerous luxury commissions, including some Dubai developments, and she won the 2004 Design & Decoration award for Best New Designer in Practice for a listed apartment in West London.

This particular assignment is typical of her work. Her talents would perhaps be wasted by a client wanting monochrome or minimalism. She likes vivid colours, exotic materials, and even semi-precious stones such as turquoise and pyrite. It’s an approach that can be seen throughout this extensive renovation.

The library room – formerly just a ‘space off the hall’ now becomes a sexy snug with cracked gesso walls, leather floors and highly detailed ceiling strapwork along with a new chimney breast and a pair of French double doors leading on to the loggia.

You step down from the polished plastered hall to the ‘master suite’ instead of going upstairs at bed-time. The bedroom walls are upholstered in silk damask hiding a fifty-inch plasma screen and speakers. Full height Crittal glass doors lead to a leather and lacquered walk-in wardrobe on one side, and on the other, to a bathroom and steam room.

The master ensuite walls and ceiling are clad in a rare type of French marble with mitred corners, and a hand-carved vanity table. For a touch of now, there is a polished black plaster floating ceiling with full height glass doors leading into the steam room.

The kitchen is another sophisticated tale of the unexpected, a workspace infused with fantasy: walls sprayed in virtual black aubergine paint, an ebony island unit on sharp modern lines and high gloss lacquered wall units. “In the kitchen, a sharp contrast between the traditional envelope and modern inserted elements was created,” says Orla. “The walls are traditionally panelled and sprayed in a rich aubergine colour, fibrous plaster strapwork applied to the ceilings and on top of that a floating ceiling has been added to define the modern macassar ebony linear island and high gloss lacquered inset wall units.” The kitchen itself is a fully bespoke design, made to order by Poliform and utilising Miele appliances throughout.

On the first floor comes a change of atmosphere. After the sultry night club glamour of the ground floor comes a contemporary open space. There are children’s bedrooms in the back and front of the house, but all the other rooms were knocked into one generous living space. Low ceilings were stripped to make a feature of the raking roof and most of the beams and posts.

Orla Collins compares the new children’s bathrooms to a jewellery box being dropped at each end of the space. She has given them long narrow roof light fittings which add natural light. The roof space has been turned into two tiny guest bedrooms dramatised by adding dormer windows.

Twin staircases lead from the ultra rich ground floor to the bright first floor, whilst above the staircases, three metre long roof lights were installed which add drama and can be operated by touch panels.

The latest technology is naturally de rigueur, but incorporated so discreetly as to be almost invisible: underfloor heating; a plethora of light settings; music and television as required; and electrically controlled window blinds.

A key part of the work on this house was the addition of a pool building. The concept was contemporary so as to clearly separate it from the architecture of the house. However, to provide a relationship with the house, form and materials used on the house were interpreted in a contemporary manner. The house bay windows are translated into a huge projecting glazed enclosure facing onto the garden and modern insulated through colour render finish to the structure. To maintain the identity of both buildings, the link between the two is a full glazed frameless structure.

Internally, the contemporary design approach has been followed by utilising a small palette of materials but just a single colour white, including white snake skin flooring to the pool perimeter, and white mosaics to the spa and pool interior.

Orla Collins explains: “The walls are finished in horizontal bands of white polished and travertine finish plaster, then with a subtle reference to the house, the shower room and plant room appears as if dropped into the space. This is clad in cushioned stainless steel panels stopped short of the ceiling and floor to emphasis the floating effect and at the same time to emphasis the clarity of the space.

Over the spa, a huge opening roof light has been installed to add natural light into the pool and at the same time give the opportunity to make contact with the outside world.

The lighting design emphasises the design features of the space. The fibre optic lighting set into the large shadow gaps above the floating walls send shards of colour-changing light down the floating walls faces, whilst fibre optic Swarovski star lights throw prisms of coloured light into the roof light areas. Coloured lighting within the pool throws colour across the width of the pool and colour changing LEDS hidden along vertical and horizontal faces of the floating wall add to the effect.