It’s the house that shouldn’t be here!” jokes creative dynamo David Hodgson, about the Victorian mid-terrace in east London he discovered six years ago, when it was split into two flats and was charmingly dilapidated.
“Our surveyor said the house was never built to survive,” he explains. “The street was bombed during the war, and the house was so old it had subsidence and leaned to the left. The roof had a hole in it because it was never finished properly.”
To make it sturdy, strapping and RSJs were added, the roof was repaired and chimney breasts in the back removed.
“Naively we thought it just needed a lick of paint,” laughs Hodgson, who lives with his husband, designer Henry Holland, and their French bulldog, Peggy.
“It’s our first home and I call it my little two-up two-down workman’s cottage as I’m from up north,” says the Cumbria-born designer. “We used to live in north London but you can basically afford a car-parking space in Primrose Hill,” he says. “All our friends were moving east and we wanted to be near them. It’s a lovely area with Victoria Park right on our doorstep.”
Today, you step through the sleek black front door into the narrow hallway, where a punchy graphic print reads: “The Sun Shines Here Every Day”. The ground floor is an open-plan living-dining area with a separate kitchen painted calming plaster pink, with minty-green cabinets handmade by their builder.
The kitchen had been a dark and poky affair next to the downstairs bathroom. “You could literally sit on the toilet and see if your pans were boiling over,” Hodgson says. “So we opened up the layout downstairs to add more light, and moved the bathroom back upstairs by converting the third bedroom – and some of that space was used to extend the master bedroom and add built-in wardrobes, too.”
A small “yarden”, as Hodgson calls it, downstairs to the back of the house, is where he tends a vegetable patch. Upstairs is a guestroom-cum-office with a small terrace, the master bedroom and a bathroom with roll-top bath.
Sash windows, four-panel doors and cast iron radiators were restored or replaced to keep the Victorian character. In the kitchen, Hodgson used old marble offcuts from the flagstone floor to make the white-veined worktops. “We’ve been really frugal with designing the kitchen and bathroom,” he says, pointing out the herringbone bathroom floor. “I think I must have been influenced by the floors in Sketch (the restaurant designed by artist Martin Creed), so I drew out my design, chose different-coloured marble offcuts and had them made into tiles. It’s my favourite room in the house.”
Original decorative features were preserved, such as the hallway ceiling cornicing and the cast iron fireplace in the living room with ceramic floral tiles. They stripped back the banisters and floors in the rest of the house, later painting the staircase matt black. “The 1970s orange hue on the wood everywhere was like a thick varnish,” recalls Hodgson, “It reminded me of my childhood and my nan’s house.”
Hodgson’s resourceful and inspiring eye for design is apparent throughout. As the creative director of accessories label Lulu Guinness, which he joined in 2018, he masterminded a brand revamp and launched the bestselling Bibi tote, a favourite with celebrities including Bella Hadid and Lily James.
Previously, he ran a consultancy, advising brands from Coach to Topshop and Liberty London on their accessories collections. As with his products, his home has bags of personality.
It’s mostly filled with the fruits of his longstanding love of vintage finds – colourful pottery vases, ornamental curios, sculptural crockery, candlesticks, glassware and porcelain clocks, including one in the kitchen they recently acquired from Henry’s mum’s chateau in France. There are family hand-me-downs too, each with a story.
A trunk belonging to Hodgson’s great grandfather, a miner, which found its way to the US during the Gold Rush, now has a new life as a quirky side table; and a 1950s armchair once covered in holey red vinyl has been revived with patched-together unfinished tapestries made by his grandmother, depicting colourful woodland scenes.
“Henry calls the house my memory box. He says I always have junk – I call it treasure,” laughs Hodgson. “I can tell you where everything that’s around the house is from or who gave it to me, and I keep random things, like all my toothbrushes since I was child, and pine cones I’ve been collecting since I was a kid growing up in the Lake District. My life is basically a mix of The Borrowers and The Good Life, as I was brought up with make-do-and-mend, and to cherish stuff. If you don’t grow up with a lot, you appreciate things more.”
Their home may be a mix of sentimental decor and the odd eBay find, but more contemporary purchases come with their own stories, too. They saved for ages to buy Dirk Vander Kooij’s striking Melting Pot table, which livens up the dining room and is surrounded by 1970s X-Line stacking chairs designed by Niels Jørgen Haugesen. “We really wanted something amazing and weren’t prepared to just make do with any old table.”
There are midcentury accents everywhere too, such as Herman Miller Bubble Saucer Pendant ceiling lights designed by George Nelson in 1947, Ercol chairs, and in the bathroom an old medicine cabinet from a flea market in France. In the guest room is a G Plan wardrobe and vintage mirror.
The palette is nicely edited, mostly white, grey and natural shades throughout, with splashes of colour in the mementos, retro textiles, vibrant artworks and photography. Vintage Interview covers by illustrator Richard Bernstein – some signed by Andy Warhol – fill the walls, along with Martin Parr’s saturated beachgoers, John Booth’s bold hues and a triptych of exaggerated cartoonish faces by Spanish artist Cristina BanBan. There are pots of oversized plants too, one in a huge pink and orange stripy terracotta eggcup designed by Tina Vaia – a wedding gift to the couple.
The space evokes joy and warmth, a reflection of the couple. “It’s become our little sanctuary,” says Hodgson. “We love being at home, pottering around in the garden, walking the dog in the park – and we’re so glad it’s still standing.”
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