Extract from Life Unstyled by Emily Henson, published by Ryland Peters & Small.
You'd never guess, but a mere five minutes' walk from this tranquil apartment is bustling Brixton Village, one of South London’s most vibrant areas. For six years now, Stephanie Zak and Ben Johnson have called this bijou flat their home, creating a stylish and calm haven in the centre of town. When Stephanie bought the flat – it was her first home – it was an unfinished shell and over the years she has transformed it into the cosy retreat it is today. A photographic shoot producer working mostly in interiors, she has clearly picked up a few pointers along the way and found the perfect balance between a styled and natural look. Ben is a music producer who often works from home, so it’s important that the flat is calming and inspiring, both of which are true.
Located one flight up in a 1930s red-brick block, the flat is petite – one small bedroom, an open-plan living room with a galley kitchen and a bathroom. The couple have added storage wherever possible: there are built-in units in the living room, a large mirrored wardrobe in the bedroom and stacks of vintage suitcases filled to the brim.
Home and travel are priorities for Stephanie and Ben, who have found a way to combine their two passions. They rent out the flat to other travellers and the additional income they earn allows them to feed their insatiable desire to travel. Playing host has encouraged them to create order in their small home without sacrificing style. On display are cherished mementoes – photos, art and small collections – but care has also been taken to make it a well-functioning space so guests can find what they need.
The flat is decorated with a charming mix of vintage finds, furniture found on the street and then refurbished, and accessories collected on their travels. The Moroccan wedding blanket on their bed was found in a souk in Marrakech and was a birthday gift from Ben to Stephanie, while the turquoise sari repurposed as bedroom curtains was picked up in Malaysia. Also thrown into the mix is artwork inherited from Stephanie’s Swiss grandparents and sculptures made by her sculptor mother. All in all, it makes for an enchanting home, the kind of place that compels you to stop and take it all in.
I imagine you learn to be relaxed when you allow strangers to rent your home. You have little choice but to be chilled out about the fact that people are going to touch your stuff! And it shows in the sweetly laid-back way that Stephanie has styled, or rather not styled, her things.
I particularly love the shelves flanking the fireplace, where all manner of odds and ends jostle for space – photobooth snaps, dried flowers and branches, candles and postcards. It feels special but not too precious and it feels alive, as if it’s constantly evolving, thanks to the inspiration that the couple bring back from each trip.
Life Unstyled by Emily Henson, published by Ryland Peters & Small.
Photography by Debi Treloar © Ryland Peters & Small