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Pattern House:inside the bold and theatrical home of London fashion accessories designer Carolina Wong |

Pattern House:inside the bold and theatrical home of London fashion accessories designer Carolina Wong

Some people favour a neutral, monochrome, minimalist home — but not fashion accessories designer Carolina Wong, who bought her two-bedroom Victorian house in Southwark with her Italian husband, Marco, a banker, in 2015.

“I wanted a space that didn’t feel too plain,” says this outgoing, Hong Kong-born designer, dressed, when we meet, in an apple green jacket embroidered with hot-pink peonies. “I wanted pattern and warm, rich touches. I think we’re seeing a backlash against streamlined, Scandinavian-style interiors.”


She adds: “In fashion, people aren’t looking to minimalism now.” She cites Gucci, which, for several seasons, has wowed the fashion fraternity with its bonkers mix of Chinese-style embroidery and clashing floral prints. 

At Pattern House, as Wong’s three-storey home is known, she has certainly achieved her ambition. One of its most striking features is the floor made of porcelain tiles in a herringbone pattern that zigzags from the street-facing living room, then to the kitchen-cum-dining area and finally the back garden, with its non-slip tiles.

The kitchen units, not that you’d ever guess, are Ikea carcasses customised with a decorative, black scallop pattern studded with brass handles. A cream marble worktop is striated with swirling olive green and cream veins, adding another layer of rich pattern.

Pattern resurfaces in the luxuriously spacious top-floor bathroom, which has a theatrical feel with a roll-top, free-standing bath sitting centre stage. Floor tiles in bold black-and-white marble are bordered on one side by wooden floorboards, providing a dry area and linking visually to wooden flooring in the main bedroom, guest room and Wong’s studio downstairs. The bathroom also boasts a marble-topped vanity unit on slender brass legs.

“We only plan to have two children so we didn’t want a third bedroom,” says Wong, who studied woven textiles at Chelsea College of Art and Design, and set up her business designing handbags, hand-made by artesans in Morocco, two years ago.

“We thought, why not create a fabulous bathroom? We hang out here for half an hour at a time, and Marco reads and checks his emails there.”

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While Wong had strong views about the interior she wanted, she needed the help of an architect to realise her vision. “Marco posted an ad on the website, Servicestart, which puts clients in touch with architects,” she says. “We wanted to hire a young architect rather than an established practice, which is more likely to impose its aesthetic on clients. So we chose Aleksa Studio.”

“We clicked,” chips in Aleksa Rizova, its director. “This project was deeply personal for her. We’ve used a mix of design details to reflect her taste.”

Cost of original house in 2016: £795,000
Cost of extensions and full refurbishment: £240,000
Value of house now (estimate): £1.4 million

Many pieces of furniture, accessories and finishes were sourced by Wong in Morocco, making the interior-design aspect of the project highly collaborative. Her finds include beaten brass bowls used as washbasins in two bathrooms.

Wong wanted much more light into what had been a gloomy, light-starved house. This meant a radical redesign of the ground floor and the addition of a new rear dormer window, which houses the new swanky top-floor bathroom, complete with windows and big skylight.

“The floors were rotten and were replaced, as were the sash windows; the new ones are in the same style but double glazed,” says Risova.

The old kitchen — an extension that reached the rear boundary wall — posed the first major challenge. This was flanked on one side by a narrow patio. Aleksa Studio suggested demolishing the existing kitchen and replacing it with a new one with a rectangular patio beyond it.

A new extension, topped with a skylight, was built in place of the old patio. This is now part of an open-plan kitchen-cum-dining area, which features a whitewashed brick wall that reflects more light into the room.

A large shower room that adjoined the old kitchen was replaced by a small loo, yielding yet more space. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors front the new kitchen. And, with the herringbone floor connecting indoors and out, the sense of space has been greatly enhanced.

RISKY PROCESS

Risova admits that applying for planning permission for the dormer extension was risky. “The house is in a conservation area, thanks to its cohesive mid-to-late 19th-century architecture, and Southwark council has strict policies against roof dormer extensions here.

“We sought planning advice through a pre-application consultation with the council. They advised us to apply for each extension separately because, if the dormer extension were turned down, the kitchen extension would be automatically refused, too.

“Fortunately, we secured permission for the ground-floor extension first time round. The roof dormer application was initially refused, but permission was granted through appeal because it doesn’t extend the full width of the roof and is fairly hidden from view.”

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Building work began in late 2016. Other adjustments included removing a door separating the hall from the living room to create a more open space. The ceiling of the main bedroom was lowered slightly to give the top-floor bathroom extra height. A new skylight in Wong’s studio has transformed it into a well-lit workspace.

“We were supposed to finish in May 2017 but didn’t until September because the bespoke elements took longer to install than expected,” says Risova. It’s not surprising when you consider that the herringbone-pattern floor tiles incorporate six textures. But this level of craftsmanship and detail ultimately gives the house its character.

Another unusual feature is a shelving unit with a scaffolding-like frame made of brass curtain poles, ingeniously sourced by Wong. While browsing online, her magpie eye also spotted the Norfolk-based craftsman who supplied the rough-hewn kitchen dining table.

“He had a raw piece of oak in his garage and cut it down to the size I wanted,” she recalls. “I could have gone for a black table but wanted one that wasn’t too matchy-matchy with the other colours in the room.”

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