The transformative power of good interior design, shown to the world at Chelsea

Giles Kime reports on the WOW house! and recommends a visit to view it at the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, before it closes on July 1.

Anyone in the 1970s and 1980s can remember the highly inventive, full-throttle style of the greatest interior design practitioners of that era, including David Hicks, Roger Banks-Pye, John Stefanidis and Tessa Kennedy, as well as early work by Nina Campbell. who is still at the peak of his powers half a century later. Over the next few decades, decorating with a capital ‘D’ never really went away, of course; it was just never featured in the slew of new interior magazines that were cheerleaders for decorating that relied more on shopping than paint finishes, beautiful upholstery and collections carefully selected. At a time when the icy hand of minimalism held us in thrall to many of us, others remained loyal to the cause, like a band of hardened recalcitrants continuing to secretly enjoy comfort, color, pattern and texture that classic English decorating offers.

If we’ve learned anything from the past two years, it’s that hard edges and tasteless color palettes offer little help in these troubled times. A visit to the WOW! home, on display at the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbor until July 1, eloquently demonstrates the joy of comfortable interiors and reflects a new generation of designers’ focus on the possibilities of decorating schemes carefully designed and layered. Working with brands that have showrooms at the Design Center, such as Julian Chichester, GP & J. Baker and Morris & Co, the designers have created a succession of rooms, including a living room, dining room, bathroom, a bedroom and a dressing room, especially for the month-long show.

The Courtyard Room by Morris & Co. Photo: James MacDonald

It’s the temporary nature of the rooms in the WOW! house, like those in the annual Kips Bay show house in New York, that speaks volumes about the possibilities for decorating transformation; within days, participating designers – including Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler’s Emma Burns and Philip Hooper, Turner Pocock’s Rita Konig, Bunny Turner and Emma Pocock, and Linda Boronkay and Brandon Schubert – performed this unmissable magic trick. never to impress an audience: they created something out of nothing. Designers do all sorts of amazing feats, from sensibly renovating old homes to adding ambiance and character to new buildings, all while juggling clients’ hopes, aspirations and impossible demands. At the WOW! house, they started with little but the dimensions of a fictional space and a floor plan.

The event celebrates a confident new approach to decorating that has gained momentum in recent years. It’s not just the succession of beautiful, carefully crafted pieces that impact the solar plexus, but the details that elevate them above the everyday: the hand-painted lampshades by Alvaro Picardo for the exquisite living room Colefax and Fowler, the Egyptian-inspired velvet on the walls of the Pierre Frey living room by Linda Boronkay, the dark red Westland marble fireplace in the Morris & Co courtyard bedroom by Brandon Schubert, the Blow shelves in the Julian Chichester library by Turner Pocock.

Turner Pocock’s Julian Chichester Library. Photo: James MacDonald

With a wide range of selected stellar designers from the UK and overseas, the home of WOW! could have felt disparate as visitors moved from room to room. In fact, both the quality of the rooms and the quiet confidence with which they have been decorated create a coherence that ensures they flow together beautifully. There’s no hint of a trend here, just the kind of aesthetic self-confidence that’s the hallmark of any good designer and allows them to push the envelope without scaring the horses.

Like the very first cover of The world of interiors, which featured designer Anouska Hempel’s London home in 1981, they look set to be as smart and relevant 40 years from now as they are today. Rarely has the timeless nature of great interior design been so evident.

The Tissus d’Hélène room designed by Joanna Plant for WOW!house at the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbor

The WOW!house demonstrates many things; alongside the persistence and brilliance of those who run the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, it speaks volumes about what can be created with an intoxicating mix of patterns, colors and textures – as well as creativity, spirit and significant amounts of very hard work. What adds an extra layer of fascination is the fact that the spaces have elicited such a range of different looks from the designers involved, displaying not only the transformative powers of good interior design, but also that these possibilities are endless.

WOW!house is open until July 1st. Entry costs £20 (£10 for students). A portion of the price of each ticket will be donated to charity partner Centrepoint, to help end youth homelessness. Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, Lots Road, London SW10 (020–7225 9166, www.dcch.co.uk)

Schumacher Garden Room by Campbell Rey at Design Center Chelsea Harbour. Photograph by James McDonald.


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