This London Designer Was in No Rush to Decorate, But the Lack of Storage Couldn’t Be Ignored
A bookcase that fits into the wonky footprint was a must.
Updated Feb 9, 2023 2:16 PM
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Five years before interior designer Emma Ainscough moved into her London apartment, the space belonged to her brother. “Despite living there for so long, it was still a blank slate by the time he passed it to me,” she says. But although Ainscough had free rein, nearly two years passed before she had built-in bedroom wardrobes installed and ripped out the existing kitchen.
She is confident when it comes to client projects, but designing for herself is another story. “I spend all day, every day, knowing every option that’s out there for fabrics and paint colors,” she says. “And suddenly there were no real guidelines to narrow them down.” So rather than work within her usual timelines (anywhere from a few months to a year), Ainscough kept things open-ended, living in the almost-empty white box in order to really learn what she needed. Bonus: It would help her save money on decor purchases down the line.
Eventually, though, the lack of storage had to be addressed—with only one meager closet in the place, clothes tended to pile up everywhere and seasonal decorations were shoved under the stairs. Ainscough was quick to draw up plans for a row of custom-built wardrobes with antique brass hardware to replace her overflowing bedroom dresser.
The remaining three walls got a coat of bright sage green, purposely contrasting with a traditional English floral headboard. “I find that the color makes the print feel much more modern, and in turn the wall paint doesn’t feel so loud,” she explains. One thing Ainscough was sure of was committing to three different verdant hues throughout the apartment—the color also shows up as a gray-green in the living room and hallway, and a muted pastel on the lower kitchen cabinetry.
“It’s weird—with my clients I always use a lot of blue,” Ainscough says. “But it wasn’t what the flat needed. I promise I’m not a crazy green lady!” Not only do the greens reportedly evoke a sense of optimism, they create a soothing energy that she knew she needed after a day of hectic site visits.
Of course, the apartment would have to function as more than just her sanctuary. With plenty of loved ones within a 30-minute radius, Ainscough also needed a suitable gathering space for Sunday night roast dinners. The challenge: “I didn’t have a lot of square footage to work with,” she says. “But I didn’t want to compromise on a dining table that could seat my whole family.” So the vintage six-seater fits in the only place it could: in the middle of the kitchen, pulling double duty as a makeshift island when extra space for cooking prep is needed.
A sea of green isn’t the only statement that greets visitors—a 1940s Charles Boise drawing-turned-wallpaper adorns the entire front hall. “I love that I get little glimpses of it when I’m sitting on my sofa, and I can see it through the doorway from my bed,” the designer says. “Wallpaper can feel busy and overwhelming, but here it actually ties the whole apartment together.”
The space behind that sofa isn’t wasted either, despite the living room’s haphazard dimensions. “It’s subtle, but that back wall is actually slanted,” Ainscough explains. Rather than undergo a lengthy renovation to even out the space, she got creative, building a shelving unit that gets significantly deeper as it moves left. The narrower right side acts as a perfect ledge for her constantly swapped-out artwork (the designer collects vintage botanical prints) and colorful plates, while the deeper corners house her books (from hefty design tomes to fictional thrillers) and houseplants.
“When it comes to decorating, you’ve got to be aware of the funk, the form, and the function,” Ainscough says. “So many people get carried away with aesthetics that they forget the space also has to work well.” The sentiment rings true even in the transition spots of Ainscough’s flat. The downstairs gallery wall not only allows the designer to display her own art collection, it provides a much-needed testing space for client artwork layouts. “I always go to antiques markets to buy stuff for clients but end up coming back with twice as much for me,” she explains. “So things are always changing around, but now I finally have the bones to play with.”