Poetry in space: London architect William Smalley shares his musings on how he transformed his rental flat into a sanctuary of visual calm; told in his own (distinctive) voice:
"I found this house, in its unexpectedly neighborly neighborhood, by chance seven years ago. I was looking for a cheap, central flat at the same time my friend Ben Pentreath was looking for an office. The house was too big for either of us, but when we discovered we were pining for the same place, we signed a lease on it together. We now have the odd situation where every morning I go to my office across the road as Ben comes in from his flat around the corner."
Photography by Ricardo Labougle.
Above: "To the horror of all our property-owning friends, Ben and I restored the house as if it was our own—opening up painted-up shutters and blocked-up fireplaces (discovering beautiful marble downstairs in the process), laying old stone flags in the downstairs hall, replacing vinyl with sisal, and ripping out the bright blue carpet upstairs. I painted my paneled rooms the mattest white. I need the visual calm of soft white walls at the end of the day."
Above:"My light life boat are the three big built-in cupboards, so I haven’t needed big bits of furniture. But slowly, I have added—my grandfather's ink-stained college table, a washed-out kilim, and, after much searching and sitting, a very large, comfortable sofa for the post-work flop. I can now seat friends and they have lights to read by."
Above: "I rang a friend on my first evening in the flat saying I had all I needed except a piano. By coincidence, that morning he'd been offered the loan of one in need of a home. I buy wonderful books of the most beautiful music, and play the easiest piece in each."
Above: "I scrubbed the floorboards down by hand, three a morning before work, and have left them untreated so that they take on the patina of age. None of the pictures seemed to have made it onto the paneled walls—they seem happier leaning on the floor."
Above: "There's a moment at dawn in the middle of June when a shaft of the rising sun shoots down the street, right through the house to the window sill at the back of my bedroom, lighting exactly the spot where I keep a good luck pebble given by a friend. When I first woke and saw it I thought it was the second coming (first, actually). It is humbling to think it has been doing that for nearly three hundred years."
Above: "The bathroom was as plain as a bathroom could be, and more white would have been doctor's surgery rather than monk's cell, but I couldn't face color, so I painted it silver. When the evening sun catches it, the whole room sings. The Presbyterian Victorian chest of drawers was one of three pieces of furniture (a Wassily chair and a bed were the other two) I had when I moved in."
Above: "We stripped the stair of decades of magnolia gloss, revealing beautifully carved Corinthian newel posts at each turn, and for a day the whole three stories of the stairwell were porcelain blue, but I decided even palest porcelain was too much for me, and it went white. The only art that has made it onto the wall is a huge Hélène Binet photo of an Edmund de Waal installation (A Change in the Weather) which has one pot for every day of the year. This photo hangs in the stairs and delays everyone's departure as they try to work out whether Edmund was having a good day (blue pot) or bad (gray) on their birthday."
Above: "There is a balcony overlooking the street just wide enough for two narrow chairs, where we catch up at the end of the day."