It's playtime! by Oliver Stallwood
Designer Steuart Padwick’s sense of fun shines through when he’s at home too, says Oliver Stallwood.
‘Half of the house is built with eBay’
Furniture designer Steuart Padwick says he’s known as having ‘the house with the gorilla’. ‘Sometimes it’s just peering out the front window.’
The large gorilla in question arrived on the back of a trailer, much to the surprise of the neighbours. It wears a straw hat and is made from plastic.
The animal was given to him by a friend who worked on the 1980s film Gorillas In The Mist. Right now it sits in the open-plan kitchen.
The light-hearted addition of a gorilla is a good analogy for the look of Steuart’s house. While you might expect the British furniture designer, who has a hugely popular range at made.com and recently created the furniture for the William and Kate’s royal nursery, to be all finicky and designer-y, he actually has a very relaxed attitude to his home.
‘Half the house is built with eBay’, he says. ‘Everything had to be done on a shoestring, because I didn’t have a lot of money. But I didn’t want cheap things.’ The parquet floor, the slate tiles, the bathroom fittings, the hob, the extractor, you name it – it was all picked up for a song on the popular internet auction site.
Steuart bought the house in 2007 and looked around it when strapped up in a brace following a paragliding crash. He had broken his angle at 90 degrees, suffered a punctured lung and broken his back in two places. Along with being very untidy, he openly admits he is very accident-prone.
The house was originally built in the early 1800s and looked solid on paper. But the reality was an interior designer’s nightmare.
‘It was kind of like a 1970s pub aesthetic – everything had been done very badly and there were lots of swirls. There were glass and brass wall sculptures and ceiling lamps. Some are fine, if that’s your thing, but these were cheap versions.’
The property, which is now three/four bedrooms and located in Lambourn, Berkshire, was previously a Chinese, an Indian and a Greek restaurant. The kitchen was tiny so this was opened up, with an extra extension on the back to create a living/dining room. The original staircase was removed and in its place, Steuart built a new one based on ‘tansu’, a mobile storage cabinetry indigenous to Japan.
Cupboards become progressively smaller [should be taller] as they get higher and become a staircase. On the kitchen wall, you can see the silhouette image of the stairs picked out in orange against white. On the other side, the space under the stairs is given to bookshelves. Not only does it create a unique statement, but the stairs also become an ultra-efficient storage solution.
At the top is a small window, so that anyone going up can glimpse through to the kitchen. There is no bannister, something Steuart says he will have to add when he comes to sell.
The orange cupboards, which give the house a strong 1970s look, are framed with the oak from the twisted joists taken out from the kitchen floor, when it was dropped 8cm to create more space and align it with the rest of the house.
This use of wood to soften a design is one of Steuart’s trademarks. ‘I wanted to create something relaxed. Having a wooden theme in the royal nursery softened it. I don’t want stainless steel tops, they’re too harsh, and I wanted warmth to it. The wooden framing of the cabinets gives them some warmth. The slate floor is also balanced by the parquet.’
The parquet floor came from a school in Wales. Each square meter took two hour’s work just to prepare the old second-hand blocks to be laid.
‘It looks good but I wouldn’t do it again,’ he adds thoughtfully. ‘I’m good at creating lots of work for myself.’
While Steuart admits the parquet stops and the slate begins simply because he ran out of the former, it works well to separate the spaces. He consciously made the extension very modern, in contrast to the old building, saying that there is no point in trying to replicate an 1800s building.
This means the room has huge, ceiling-high windows, which were hand-made by Steuart, giving an expansive view of the garden and opening up the whole house.
Naturally, his home is filled with made.com items, some of which are the original prototypes, such as the dining room table. Its legs gracefully cross to replicate the pose of a dancer – another theme you see throughout his work.
Steuart says he is most inspired by Charles and Ray Eames, his all-time favourite piece being a RAR rocker. However, his home is an exercise in subtly referencing mid-century style, rather than being slavishly retro. There is a contemporary feel to the house, with just a twist of 1960s and 1970s.
A workshop at the side of the building has been sold, with a piece of garden, to finance Steuart’s next project. He bought a plot of land in Tufnell Park at an auction last year and is building a house. He moved out of London 13 years ago and has long wanted to come back.
This time, he is trying something even more ambitions, with a ground-breaking design that will be using all available floor space of the building, with a remarkable sunken garden on the first floor.
Watch this space.
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