Through the Looking Glass: A London Home Tour

Tucked away among the ordinary in London is a light-filled sanctuary perfectly suited for a world-class collection of art and design.

Helenio Barbetta
OF 6

Hidden from view in London’s Chelsea neighborhood, behind a pair of unassuming doors, is the home of the German art historian Susanne Kapoor and her two children. The house, designed by the celebrated British architect Tony Fretton (known for the Lisson Gallery in London as well as the British embassy in Warsaw) and completed in 2007, is not what you’d expect as you enter from the street. Above the doors is an unexciting apartment block, while Georgian houses surround the property.

Inside is a vast, continuous space, about 165 feet long and 25 feet wide, punctuated by a series of glass-walled courtyards. Although the serene dwelling was already beautifully furnished, last year Kapoor decided the stark layout needed a refresh. She enjoyed its modernity and living with so much art in a museum-like environment but felt things needed to be scaled down for everyday life. So she recruited designer Allegra Hicks, her friend of more than 20 years, to step in and lend her expertise.

It’s a tricky space to deal with. Although the house has no exterior windows (a luxury that means no one can peek in), light flows softly and evenly from a series of skylights and from the three courtyards—the first of which, near the entrance corridor, is star shaped and showcases a dramatic seven-foot-high triangular pavilion created by artist Dan Graham. The kitchen and the dining room are to one side of the house, the master bedroom is to the back, and the children’s bedrooms are upstairs. The focus, though, is the main living space, which is about 65 feet long and extends all the way to a central garden courtyard. It’s a neat mix of living room and gallery. Kapoor, who worked in galleries in Germany 25 years ago before moving to London, collects ancient Indian works and has an extensive assemblage of contemporary and vintage furniture and art that includes pieces by George Nakashima; Gio Ponti; Angelo Mangiarotti; and her husband, Anish Kapoor, from whom she’s separated.

“While I never thought in terms of ‘decorating’ my house,” says the art historian, “Allegra is someone who understands the elements of architecture and art in my house extremely well. We were able to turn the somewhat oversize main room from an art-appreciation space into a room that reflects family life.”

The Italian-born, London-based Hicks is an interior, textiles, and fashion designer well known for her textured fabrics, handmade rugs, and custom furniture. Her creative vocabulary, she believes, is in tune with the house’s aesthetic. “The architecture is incredible. I love it, but it’s unusual,” she says. “It’s a challenge to go somewhere unconventional.”

Thanks to Hicks, the resulting space is more livable. “What was very important for me was to get a rhythm,” she says. “The main room is so big that I wanted to construct two seating areas to bring the possibility of conversation. I changed the pace by softening up the room with fabrics, soft colors, and texture.” She bought three vintage sofas, designed a huge rug, added a desk and a display table, and also cleverly repositioned existing furniture and art.

Hicks also turned her hand to the master bedroom. A bespoke, hand-embroidered silk bedspread lies over a newly upholstered bed frame, accented by cushions trimmed with rabbit fur and sandwiched by a pair of glass side tables. It all feels private, contemplative, and peaceful. On the upper floor is a family room, now with leather-clad closets to hide DVDs and books. When designing a space that accommodates art and design, Hicks suggests that you “create a dialogue between decorative art and furniture and incorporate languages and periods, old and new, and respect the architecture of the house.” Kapoor agrees. “It’s an exciting space to come home to every day.”

Explore more of the home in our slideshow »