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‘Mamma Mia’ Music Producer Nick Gilpin’s Stylishly Revived Georgian Manse

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‘Mamma Mia’ Music Producer Nick Gilpin’s Stylishly Revived Georgian Manse

January 14, 2019

If houses could talk this one might say, “Here we go again.” It sits at the center of a crescent of Georgian dwellings that overlook the historic English city of Bath: Jane Austen would take long walks here for the rarefied air and the views. Used as University of Bath housing for the last 60 years, the building required a tag team of professionals to convert it back to a single family manse.

Architect Jonathan Rhind stepped up to the task of removing the institutional additions and restoring the stately structure to all that it had been. Designer Nicola (“Nix”) Harding of Harding & Read reinvented the interior for 21st century living, invigorating all five floors with her ingenious color sense. And antiques dealer-designer Christopher Howe, of Remodelista favorite Howe in London, was called in as Harding’s collaborator on the furnishings, a collection that manages to feel not only period-appropriate but practical and fresh.

All worked in close concert with the house’s new owners, Nick and Catherine Gilpin. The couple and their three children previously lived in London’s Islington and made the move to Bath following a standout decade for Nick: a musician and music producer, he worked on Mamma Mia!, the stage show, and on each the two Mamma Mia! movies. “Being a music producer, Nick loves the minutiae,” says Harding, who also remodeled the family’s London place. “He was very hands-on, donning his overalls and getting stuck in.” The process took three years of planning, construction, and finish work, plus several fast-moving final weeks for the furniture to land in place. Harding and Howe invited us in for a look.

Photography by Paul Massey, courtesy of Howe, unless noted.

The 1790 crescent was designed by architect John Eveleigh and is comprised of 10 adjoining townhouses. It’s built of the prized local golden limestone known as Bath stone and is Grade 1 listed—Britain’s status for “buildings of exceptional interest.”
Above: The 1790 crescent was designed by architect John Eveleigh and is comprised of 10 adjoining townhouses. It’s built of the prized local golden limestone known as Bath stone and is Grade 1 listed—Britain’s status for “buildings of exceptional interest.”
The Gilpin house was restored from top to bottom by Rhinde and his team, specialists in historic preservation. The glazing is original, except in the second floor sitting room, where the windows were extended down to the floor, as they would have been originally. Also new: the “balconettes,” which the firm writes are “based on the architect’s design on a neighboring crescent.” Go to Jonathan Rhind Architects to see the firm’s detailed chronicle of the restoration.
Above: The Gilpin house was restored from top to bottom by Rhinde and his team, specialists in historic preservation. The glazing is original, except in the second floor sitting room, where the windows were extended down to the floor, as they would have been originally. Also new: the “balconettes,” which the firm writes are “based on the architect’s design on a neighboring crescent.” Go to Jonathan Rhind Architects to see the firm’s detailed chronicle of the restoration.

Go to Jonathan Rhind Architects to see the firm’s detailed chronicle of the restoration.

Ground Floor

Initial work involved removing partitions and false ceilings and restoring the plaster detailing and the limestone floors and stairs (which had been covered in linoleum): “Jonathan focused on reinstating the original architecture of the building and getting the works through planning; I worked on the use of space and the decorative elements,” says Harding.
Above: Initial work involved removing partitions and false ceilings and restoring the plaster detailing and the limestone floors and stairs (which had been covered in linoleum): “Jonathan focused on reinstating the original architecture of the building and getting the works through planning; I worked on the use of space and the decorative elements,” says Harding.

Her mandate was to make the huge house feel as if it had evolved organically over time, and to keep the grand spaces from feeling intimidating: “The design had to draw out the character of the building, but, at the same time, they were desperate for it to feel approachable.” Towards that end, she deployed colors tactically: “We used dark colors to make large or shady spaces feel more intimate, and warm, uplifting tones to make grand spaces feel more relaxed.” The entry hall shown here is painted Squid Ink from Paint & Paper Library

The ballroom-scaled kitchen is fitted with a work island and cabinets from Plain English, which straddle the line between classic and contemporary. The walls are painted Setting Plaster, a Farrow & Ball pale pink that Harding says is her favorite color to live with: “It works for any light level, any time of day, any time of year. Calm, warm, fresh, comforting.”
Above: The ballroom-scaled kitchen is fitted with a work island and cabinets from Plain English, which straddle the line between classic and contemporary. The walls are painted Setting Plaster, a Farrow & Ball pale pink that Harding says is her favorite color to live with: “It works for any light level, any time of day, any time of year. Calm, warm, fresh, comforting.”

The trio of factory lights over the island came from vintage industrial lighting dealer Skinflint of Cornwall. To “bounce more light into the interior,” the original wood floors throughout were painted Farrow & Ball’s Slipper White. The arch, which divides the front and back of the room, was uncovered in Rhind’s  “early investigations beneath plaster and comparison with neighboring properties.”

Harding led an art workshop with the Gilpin kids and hung the results high in a row over the sink counter. “We used quality paints  and beautiful paper. We wanted a collection of pieces that would immortalize their imaginations and stand the test of time.”
Above: Harding led an art workshop with the Gilpin kids and hung the results high in a row over the sink counter. “We used quality paints  and beautiful paper. We wanted a collection of pieces that would immortalize their imaginations and stand the test of time.”

The counters are black basalt and the brass bridge faucet is a Plain English reclamation yard special. The vintage Brass and Aluminum Wall Chart Lights came from Felix of Bath. Photograph by Claudia Rocha via Howe.

Invitingly small-scale, the breakfast corner is furnished with a Howe replica of an Arts and Crafts Round Oak Table and its Camembert Chair, both in a surprise bright blue. A French apple picking ladder is used as a sculptural dish towel rack.
Above: Invitingly small-scale, the breakfast corner is furnished with a Howe replica of an Arts and Crafts Round Oak Table and its Camembert Chair, both in a surprise bright blue. A French apple picking ladder is used as a sculptural dish towel rack.
Nick Gilpin purchased the house in 2013—and had the resources and stamina to see it through. “His genius is in masterminding the details that you can’t see, such as the cleverly concealed uplights in all the window recesses that beautifully wash the paneling,” says Harding. “Historic houses and good design are his great loves.” Photograph by Claudia Rocha, courtesy of Howe.
Above: Nick Gilpin purchased the house in 2013—and had the resources and stamina to see it through. “His genius is in masterminding the details that you can’t see, such as the cleverly concealed uplights in all the window recesses that beautifully wash the paneling,” says Harding. “Historic houses and good design are his great loves.” Photograph by Claudia Rocha, courtesy of Howe.
Painted a slightly different Farrow & Ball pink called Dead Salmon, the other half of the room is set up as a combination eating area and hangout. Harding had the trestle table and bench fabricated by a local carpenter.
Above: Painted a slightly different Farrow & Ball pink called Dead Salmon, the other half of the room is set up as a combination eating area and hangout. Harding had the trestle table and bench fabricated by a local carpenter.

The fireside seating includes Howe’s outsized St. Bernard Armchair: “most of our chairs are named after dogs,” says Howe, a canine lover who always incorporates perches for pets in his designs. Modeled after a Victorian piece, the  armchair is upholstered in a patchwork of vintage cashmere suiting fabric. The rug is from Howe’s collection of vintage Swedish kilims.

The breakfast table blue, Blue Gum, reappears in the Plain English-furnished pantry offset by walls in Squid Ink (both colors are from Paint & Paper Library). The back door leads to the garden.
Above: The breakfast table blue, Blue Gum, reappears in the Plain English-furnished pantry offset by walls in Squid Ink (both colors are from Paint & Paper Library). The back door leads to the garden.

The Snug

The kitchen was originally set downstairs in the partially above-ground basement, now used as a family room or “snug.” (Note the preserved Bath stone hearth; just about all of the house’s fireplaces were brought back to working order.)  Here, Harding painted the walls Tanner’s Brown and the ceiling and window trim Stone Blue, both from Farrow & Ball.
Above: The kitchen was originally set downstairs in the partially above-ground basement, now used as a family room or “snug.” (Note the preserved Bath stone hearth; just about all of the house’s fireplaces were brought back to working order.)  Here, Harding painted the walls Tanner’s Brown and the ceiling and window trim Stone Blue, both from Farrow & Ball.

Howe’s Bassett Sofa is upholstered in Ruby Cunard, a chenille from Claremont. The antique oak recliner is an Arts and Crafts design and the layered cushions on the ground are Howe’s Princess and the Pea Dog Bed.

A Howe bestseller, the deconstructed Gainsborough Stool, serves as a seat, footrest, and coffee table. Howe says the set of painted drawers next to the fireplace came out of a Vespa shop in France with labels intact. They’re topped with a collection of vintage Penguin paperbacks.
Above: A Howe bestseller, the deconstructed Gainsborough Stool, serves as a seat, footrest, and coffee table. Howe says the set of painted drawers next to the fireplace came out of a Vespa shop in France with labels intact. They’re topped with a collection of vintage Penguin paperbacks.

Home Office

A painted Hepplewhite chair stands on the half landing between the first and second floors
Above: A painted Hepplewhite chair stands on the half landing between the first and second floors
For Nick’s home office, Howe supplied a pine table and BA3A Ernest Race Armchair with a Union Jack-patterned backrest. The rug is another vintage Swedish design. The walls are Farrow & Ball’s Claydon Blue.
Above: For Nick’s home office, Howe supplied a pine table and BA3A Ernest Race Armchair with a Union Jack-patterned backrest. The rug is another vintage Swedish design. The walls are Farrow & Ball’s Claydon Blue.
An antique mantel in its original paint was added to the room along with a wood-burning stove and vintage workman’s light. Photograph by Claudia Rocha courtesy of Howe London.
Above: An antique mantel in its original paint was added to the room along with a wood-burning stove and vintage workman’s light. Photograph by Claudia Rocha courtesy of Howe London.

Second Floor Sitting and Dining Room

Stretching the length of the second floor, the sitting room had to be resurrected from a library “brutally inserted into the space,” according to Rhind. “There was a huge metal beam put in to support the weight of the books,” says Harding. She notes that in addition to her careful color choices, “bringing in lots of pieces with a sense of history, and layering patina and patterns help to fill and warm the space.”
Above: Stretching the length of the second floor, the sitting room had to be resurrected from a library “brutally inserted into the space,” according to Rhind. “There was a huge metal beam put in to support the weight of the books,” says Harding. She notes that in addition to her careful color choices, “bringing in lots of pieces with a sense of history, and layering patina and patterns help to fill and warm the space.”

Nick composes at the piano. The room is painted Shaded White with Slipper White trim, and, in lieu of curtains, the windows have wooden shutters.

Howe’s  horse-hair-stuffed Weimaraner Sofa is based on George IV design; it’s upholstered in a rough silk. The brass lamp is one of an Edwardian pair that Howe says probably came out of a grand hotel.
Above: Howe’s  horse-hair-stuffed Weimaraner Sofa is based on George IV design; it’s upholstered in a rough silk. The brass lamp is one of an Edwardian pair that Howe says probably came out of a grand hotel.

The Jacobean console table came from the Gilpins’ former home and, Howe tells us, the ornately carved mirror has a provenance that can be traced to Blenheim Palace: “The frame itself is 17th century Dutch and I have a feeling once upon a time it was taller; it probably framed a portrait and later was repurposed.”

The rear of the room is used as a dining area. The nine-foot Holland & Sons mahogany table dates to the 1860s and Howe, says, was probably made for a government building or library. Harding chose to go rug-free here to preserve the sense of space and to “show off the legs of the table.”
Above: The rear of the room is used as a dining area. The nine-foot Holland & Sons mahogany table dates to the 1860s and Howe, says, was probably made for a government building or library. Harding chose to go rug-free here to preserve the sense of space and to “show off the legs of the table.”
“Matching dining chairs where would have created too much of a visual block,” says Howe. He and Harding mixed Made by Howe tufted Salon Chairs with 1930s Art Deco Dining Chairs in their original turquoise leather. Photograph by Claudia Rocha courtesy of Howe.
Above: “Matching dining chairs where would have created too much of a visual block,” says Howe. He and Harding mixed Made by Howe tufted Salon Chairs with 1930s Art Deco Dining Chairs in their original turquoise leather. Photograph by Claudia Rocha courtesy of Howe.

Third Floor

The main guest room features a canopy bed of wrought iron based on a 17th century Italian original: “It took me years to find a blacksmith with the skill and courage to make it,” Howe tells us. The bed curtains are linen as is the hand-dyed lavender bedspread; both are from Howe’s vintage fabrics offshoot, Howe at 36 Bourne Street.
Above: The main guest room features a canopy bed of wrought iron based on a 17th century Italian original: “It took me years to find a blacksmith with the skill and courage to make it,” Howe tells us. The bed curtains are linen as is the hand-dyed lavender bedspread; both are from Howe’s vintage fabrics offshoot, Howe at 36 Bourne Street.
Harding assembled the guest bath’s sink, taps, bathtub, and mercury glass light from “various antiques shops and salvage yards.” She painted the room Farrow & Ball Railings and the tub turquoise.
Above: Harding assembled the guest bath’s sink, taps, bathtub, and mercury glass light from “various antiques shops and salvage yards.” She painted the room Farrow & Ball Railings and the tub turquoise.
A wooden grain sorter is used as a bath tray.
Above: A wooden grain sorter is used as a bath tray.
The master bath’s stately sink came from a reclamation yard. The mirror is also antique and the Bone China Wall Lights are from Felix Lighting.
Above: The master bath’s stately sink came from a reclamation yard. The mirror is also antique and the Bone China Wall Lights are from Felix Lighting.

Kids’ Floor

The family’s kids, ages 9, 12, and 14 share the top floor. The 1950s map was made for a classroom and an old vellum-covered trunk is used for toy storage. The walls here are painted Slipper Satin.
Above: The family’s kids, ages 9, 12, and 14 share the top floor. The 1950s map was made for a classroom and an old vellum-covered trunk is used for toy storage. The walls here are painted Slipper Satin.
The kids’ bath features an Antique Cabinet Basin from The Water Monopoly and one of Harding’s most inspired mix of colors: Farrow & Ball Setting Plaster on the walls, Hague Blue on the woodwork, and Smoked Trout on the washstand How did she come up with these? “Just a gut feel. I love dreaming up soulful combinations.”
Above: The kids’ bath features an Antique Cabinet Basin from The Water Monopoly and one of Harding’s most inspired mix of colors: Farrow & Ball Setting Plaster on the walls, Hague Blue on the woodwork, and Smoked Trout on the washstand How did she come up with these? “Just a gut feel. I love dreaming up soulful combinations.”

To see Christopher Howe’s shop and weekend retreat, go to The Downstairs Plain English Kitchen and A Gloucestershire Barn by London’s Eccentric Antiquarian.

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