A Covent Garden Pied à Terre Filled with Light and Clever Storage

This recently completed one bedroom pied à terre apartment in Covent Garden London, was sent to us by Elly MacDonald who runs a small interior design business servicing homes in London and Surrey. As always when we see a stunning project that we’d like to move into ourselves, we had a few questions….

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What type of house is it?

It’s a one bedroom flat in a modern apartment block, with a petite terrace overlooking a courtyard below.

Who lives here?

The client is very sociable, who uses it as a pied à terre when up in London, which impacted the design a little given that it’s not a full-time home. However she wanted to keep a keen eye on re-sale considerations so we made sure to still include plenty of storage etc. Insufficient storage is a perennial issue in apartments of this size, so we maximised use of space inside furniture, almost doubled the kitchen cabinetry storage space, and added built-in shelving and cubbies wherever possible, for instance either side of a mechanised TV stand hidden away inside a bench when not in use.

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How did the family/owners intend to use their home?

It’s really just used at weekends, for a night or two at a time, as it’s ideally located within striking distance of the West End and the Theatre District. We incorporated a sofa bed into the living room, and maximised the seating options in there so that the client is able to welcome family and friends over as guests. We tucked the TV away inside custom cabinetry, with an electric mechanism so that it can be hidden away when entertaining guests. The client does not do much cooking there, so we used a wipeable kitchen paint as the splashback instead of tiles to help the kitchen blend more seamlessly into the open plan living room.

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Where is it?

It’s just off the market square in Covent Garden, tucked behind a busy street away from the tourist hustle and bustle. Working on a property in such a central location came with a few logistical challenges, but the end result was very much worth it!

What was the client brief?

To brighten and lighten the space from its previous dark and dated form without it becoming a bland minimalist box; to maximise the natural light coming from windows on just one side of the property; to keep the overall scheme fairly neutral and ‘not trendy’ but to also bring in a few accents of colour; to bring in a sense of depth and history to a contemporary scheme, as the interior of the property was very new and lacked architectural detail.

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So we maximised the feeling of spaciousness by lightening up the walls and flooring but maintained interest and depth through using lots of natural finishes, from rattan and seagrass through to antiqued brass and mother of pearl, vintage textiles from Thailand and the occasional piece of antique-style furniture, and plenty of stunning accessories and artwork.

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Is there any interesting history or background to the project that will interest our readers?

We discovered just in the nick of time that the dining set the client had inherited from the previous owner was a set of authentic Charles Rennie Mackintosh DS3 chairs and DS2 table, which were discontinued in the 70s, making them really quite valuable – the client understandably hadn’t realised as it often takes a design background to spot these things, and we were very happy to give her the good news that they should not in fact just be thrown away!

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Were there any period details to be preserved or limitations on the design?

We had to work around a series of structural reinforced concrete columns and beams, which were mostly fine as we just incorporated them into the structure of the walls and ceilings and used the same emulsion paint on them to blend in. However there was one tricky column right in the centre of the main kitchen/living room wall, which we solved by wrapping a raised peninsula dining bar around its width.

What was the scope of the job? Renovation, building work, or just decorating?

Renovation of whole flat (living/kitchen, hallway, bedroom, terrace), decorating and accessorising. With client work I usually style up projects with accessories, artwork, textiles etc for my portfolio photoshoot, and then invite the client to come in and ‘shop’ for as many or as few of the items as they like – in this case the client loved almost everything so I ended up taking disappointingly little away again!

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Where do you go for inspiration when starting a new project?

I always ask my clients to give me three or four adjectives of how they would like the finished space to feel, and then use that as the basis of the project. I very commonly find that clients know exactly how they want their home to feel, but find it a challenge to translate that description into an actual design scheme, especially with the added considerations of getting things like the lighting, storage etc correct. In this case we had ‘light-filled’, ‘fresh’ and ‘welcoming’.

How do you present a new design concept to your clients? What tools do you use?

A mixture of floor plans and elevations, combined with design scheme boards and sample boards – I use a lot of stunning natural finishes in my work, and find they can only be truly appreciated by touching them and seeing in person the weave of the linen or the grain of the whitewashed wood or the patina of the antiqued copper.

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Did the client have much input into the finished design?

Yes a reasonable amount, I really love it when clients jump in with opinions or requests, or challenge me on aspects of the project. In this project the client had a few specific requests, such as the monochrome artwork over the master bed and the deep indigo Persian rug in the living room.

Did the client have existing items that needed to be incorporated into the new design?

No, everything was brand new. She was fed up of the dark heavy furniture and textiles and wanted a brand new fresh look. I do love working on projects where we have the challenge of incorporating existing items, but it’s also exciting to have a totally blank slate.

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Can you give some details of the products you used. Designer names, shops, websites?

I’d been desperate to include the stunning tan leather/metalwork bar stools from West Elm for a long time, and was so pleased when the client jumped at the chance to incorporate these.

Another favourite were the vintage Thai indigo and white Khmer silk textiles we had made into lumbar pillows – I have a huge weakness for hand-woven artisanal textiles, and own an arguably over-extensive collection from Asia that I’m slowly working my way through!

And lastly I love Nkuku as my ‘go to’ for fabulous brass picture frames and quirky accessories.

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What aspect of the renovation are you most happy with?

How well the open plan kitchen/living room turned out, incorporating the kitchen cabinetry as seamlessly as possible into the petite space. It was the first time I’ve used a dining bar peninsula, and after agonising over the design and dimensions for days I was very pleased to see it turn out perfectly! By running the Carrara marble-effect quartz worktop all the way around to the dining bar, we avoided any jarring transition between the kitchen and the lounging areas. I always try to tiptoe a little outside the box on every project I take on – design is a lot more rewarding and fun with a small amount of risk-taking!

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What aspect of the renovation are your clients most happy with?

She could not believe how light and bright it is now: ‘I can’t believe it’s the same flat!’ were her exact words! It’s my favourite part of the project seeing my clients’ eyes light up when seeing the big reveal for the first time.

Image credits - Moritz Schmittat and Elly MacDonald

Elly MacDonald Design