JAN MOIR looks at work of designer who inspired Carrie's No10 makeover
Ikea it’s not! £12k for owl lantern by designer who inspired Carrie? What a hoot! JAN MOIR takes a look at the work of Lulu Lytle, the designer who has inspired Carrie Symonds’ No10 makeover
Lulu Lytle? Doesn’t she design yoga leggings or something? Beyond the salons and drawing rooms of fashionable London, few have heard of the interior designer who is said to be the inspiration for Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’s refurbishment of their Downing Street living quarters.
I say Boris and Carrie. I mean Carrie, of course, for it is the Prime Minister’s fiancee who is in the chintz-covered driving seat when it comes to sprucing up the flat above No 11. The couple have lived there for 20 months, along with baby Wilf, Dilyn the dog and — oh my goodness, I think I’m going to faint — Samantha Cameron’s glass-fronted Ikea cabinets.
Carrie has clearly decided this is simply Not Good Enough and has embarked on a plan to bring a little glamour and class to the dowdy Downing Street digs.
And who better to provide an example of wall-to-wall luxe than Lulu Lytle and her Soane Britain company? While not exactly a household name, they have established themselves as a ‘conspiracy of excellence’ since launching in 1997.
Style… at a price: Lulu Lytle’s products are very exclusive. Her own West London home is an alarming riot of patterns and pinks in a style that could be called ‘bohemian casbah’
Carrie (pictured above, with Boris Johnson in March last year) has clearly decided this is simply Not Good Enough and has embarked on a plan to bring a little glamour and class to the dowdy Downing Street digs, writes Jan Moir
Lulu has decorated some of the grandest houses in London and has at least one royal client among her wealthy patrons.
Her own West London home is an alarming riot of patterns and pinks in a style that could be called ‘bohemian casbah’ or perhaps even ‘squat chic’, but many interiors for her clients exude classic simplicity and beautiful craftsmanship.
Soane have supplied furniture, fittings and fixtures to five-star hotels, to the Soho House group, to Annabel’s nightclub and to Anya Hindmarch shops.
They supplied the casino chairs for the late David Tang’s China Club in Singapore, they kitted out a grand hotel dining room in Gstaad, Switzerland, they designed and made the scallop shell sconces that light up Bentley’s Oyster Bar in London.
They produce their own exquisite textiles, wallpapers and furniture. Everything is the best it can be and is produced by traditional British craftspeople including weavers, printers, saddlers, blacksmiths, chair-makers and upholsterers.
Miss Lytle has a particular fondness for rattan, and when Soane revived and saved the last rattan-weaving workshop in the UK, Prince Charles came to visit and offer his support.
Brass shell wall sconce – £1,500
Apparently many Soane customers go for the Shell brass wall sconces, to hold candles rather than lightbulbs, at £1,500 a pop
When the Camerons were in residence, their £64,000 makeover included extensive work on a bathroom. But perhaps Carrie would like to shower off the old and embrace the new?
Lytle’s style is less power shower and more freestanding bathtub. ‘A big room can have rugs on the floor, artwork on the walls, a sofa perhaps,’ she once said.
Apparently many Soane customers go for the Shell brass wall sconces, to hold candles rather than lightbulbs, at £1,500 a pop.
Bear sofa – £19,600
The sofa is made by British craftsmen who build wooden frames ready to be hand-sprung, hand-stitched and webbed using feather and down cushions
If Boris is hoping for bulging sofas with fat cushions, he’s not really adopting the Soane style, which is about elegant lines that let the fabrics do the talking.
But the Simplified Bear Sofa might be right up his street, the ‘elegant take’ on a Chesterfield.
He’ll need deep pockets, though, because a model with beech legs would cost £11,200 and that’s before the leather, which would be £8,750 for a cherry-red cowhide — so a total of £19,950.
The sofa is made by British craftsmen who build wooden frames ready to be hand-sprung, hand-stitched and webbed using feather and down cushions.
One piece of the furniture might involve five different trades across the country, and take eight to 12 weeks to complete.
None of this comes cheap. At Soane, corners are not cut, they are bevelled, upholstered, polished and stitched by expert hand.
Soane is so posh and high end that there are no prices on its website, although there are terrifying reports of £20,000 sofas and wallpaper that costs £700 a metre.
Whatever Carrie has chosen for the refurbishment, Boris is said to be appalled at the bills, reportedly complaining that the cost is ‘out of control’ and perhaps was even ‘over a hundred grand’. Can that possibly be true?
It is certainly no secret that many men freak if you try to buy a cushion that costs more than sixpence, and question the wisdom of buying another scented candle when you’ve already ‘got one in the hall’.
Owl lantern – £11,600
They ‘give off a sublime glow’, says Lulu, who has two Aten lights and an Owl lantern in her kitchen dining room
Perhaps Boris and Carrie will enjoy romantic dinners under the soft glow of Soane’s Owl lantern — layers of brass ‘feathers’ cut and welded by Sheffield silversmiths.
On the walls they could opt for a shell wall light, manufactured on the Sussex coast, using traditional metal-pressing methods.
The fittings can be used with real candles or with bulbs, just like Soane’s Aten fittings, so named because the concave, hand-beaten back plates allude to a sun disc — Aten in ancient Egyptian.
They ‘give off a sublime glow’, says Lulu, who has two Aten lights and an Owl lantern in her kitchen dining room.
Dianthus wallpaper – £840 (per roll)
‘I’m a great proponent of covering all surfaces of a room’, Lytle says
Soane’s social media feed is a showboard for matchy-matchy style. Like that print, Carrie? Why not have it on the walls, the sofa and the curtains?
‘Go all out,’ is Lytle’s attitude. ‘I’m a great proponent of covering all surfaces of a room — walls, ceilings and upholstery — in matching wallpaper and fabric to feel enveloped in the most cosseting way,’ she says.
She’s also a devotee of chintz. ‘The rich, saturated colours are exquisite, but can be overwhelming, which is why I have re-coloured some of my favourite patterns to be a little more muted.’
Boris will be relieved. Unless he takes a fancy to Dianthus Chintz, a botanical print Lytle has in her own bedroom — one roll of wallpaper is £840.
Door handle – £260
The Hand and Bamboo range start from £190 for a cupboard handle and £260 for a door
The Hand and Bamboo range of door and cupboard handles are cast in brass and come in three finishes: dark bronze, polished nickel and antiqued brass, and start from £190 for a cupboard handle and £260 for a door.
After seeing those eye-watering prices, Boris will probably need a drink from Soane’s 1940s-style cocktail trolley (a snip at £4,900).
Yet the Prime Minister is said to have whimpered that his fiancee appeared to have ordered ‘gold wall coverings’, which does indeed sound worrying. However, what I want to know is: could it be Lulu’s Pineapple Frond or her Scrolling Fern?
One wonders why on earth the couple are bothering, considering that they are essentially living in a rented flat and at some point in the not-too distant future they will have to move out. ‘It is simply outrageous,’ says interior designer Nicky Haslam.
‘It seems very odd to spend all that money on changing it when the next person who moves in is going to change it all back again.’
Boris is said to be struggling to fund the makeover and wants to raise cash by trying to set up a charity that would cover the refurbishment.
Venus chair – £5,900
In 2011, Soane bought Britain’s last rattan-weaving workshop, Dryad in Leicestershire
If they’ve got their finger on the pulse, Boris and Carrie will be indulging in Lytle’s passion for all things rattan.
In 2011, Soane bought Britain’s last rattan-weaving workshop, Dryad in Leicestershire. In days gone by, its workers made chairs for the Titanic — hopefully no omen for Boris.
Rattan lighting, rattan mirrors, there’s plenty to choose from; picture Carrie reclining in the shell-shaped Venus seat (named after the Botticelli painting) — ‘just’ £5,900.
Stag table – £11,600
The Stag table is an iron work of art, forged by a blacksmith on the Welsh borders
Should a few choice items of furniture be required, Soane has plenty of options which all feed into the made-in-Britain model.
The Stag table (from £11,000) is an iron work of art, forged by a blacksmith on the Welsh borders, with 50lb sections of metal lovingly moulded into the shape of deer’s legs.
‘It’s seriously tough work — he’s had to see the osteopath every time he’s made a table — but it’s extraordinary to watch him do it, and you feel his soul in every piece,’ declares Lytle proudly.
Considering his expensive divorce and Carrie’s lack of visible means, one wonders if they are living the kind of five-star life they simply could not afford if left to their own devices.
At the end of the day we are talking about the flat above the shop. We expect our prime ministers and their families to live in reasonable comfort, but does it have to be quite so fabulous or grand?
The Camerons got by without hand-painted wallpaper or leather sofas, Theresa May just made do with what was there and, in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher paid for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat herself.
I love a nicely padded chair as much as the next girl, but should Carrie start to cut her golden wallpaper according to her budget?
Picture research: Claire Cisotti
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