Behind the ornate red brick-and-sandstone façade of a Victorian corner townhouse in London’s well-heeled Mayfair neighborhood lies an unexpected and exciting oasis of eclectic domestic design. Squat London is the fifth iteration of a traveling design-and-art project conceived in 2012 that has taken place in Paris (twice), Beirut, and Milan.
The first floor apartment has been temporarily taken over by Milan-based gallerist Nina Yashar of Nilufar Gallery fame, London-based interior designer Shalini Misra, and art collector/gallerist Mehves Ariburnu. Unlike its predecessors, which took place in both apartments and gallery spaces, the London incarnation is the first to happen in an entire home. "It’s the first time we're doing it with proper beds," Yashar says.
Yashar, whose Milan gallery is so revered in design circles that she's considered a tried-and-true tastemaker alongside the likes of Rossana Orlandi, usually displays her wares in her three-story gallery in central Milan and dramatic, balconied former factory in the suburbs. She relishes the refreshing opportunity the pop-up provides: "This is the ideal way of showing my collection," she says. "In a gallery, combining pieces like this would just look strange."
Snapped up by Misra and her business partner Ekta Varma in the autumn of 2015, the central London property used for Squat #4 had been barely used for almost four decades and was in need of major TLC. The pair immediately recognized its potential. "It’s unusual for a period home in the center of London," explains Varma, "because it has windows everywhere and there is natural light coming in from all sides."
They set about giving the airy rooms a total overhaul, removing any suspended ceilings and reinstating original features such as high skirting, cornices, and beading around the doors. They placed Chevron-patterned parquets and marble on the floors, created walk-in wardrobes and built-in storage where possible and did the bathrooms and washrooms up in precious Calacatta, Carrara, and Marquina marbles. The tall-ceilinged spaces were softened with beautiful curtains, drapes, and fabrics, as well as cushions, linens, and bedspreads by Italian brand Claudia Barbari.
Yashar then got to work filling the three-bedroom home with her signature blend of retro and contemporary design pieces, while Ariburnu (who used to run a gallery in her native Turkey) was largely responsible for selecting the art on the walls.
In the master bedroom a gold, silver and copper screen by Italian designer Martino Gamper has been used as a headboard. "A brilliant idea, and not mine," laughs Yashar, pointing out that Misra and Ariburnu came up with it. The idea to juxtapose the screen with three works by Austrian artist Markus Schinwald came to the trio after several glasses of champagne. A TV and seating area in the same bedroom features sheepskin-lined 1930s easy chairs by Danish designer Viggo Boesen. The ceiling lamp is a brass- and-blown-glass affair by Lindsay Adelman (who is repped by Nilufar Gallery in Milan), while the cast-bronze bedside tables are by one of Yashar’s other hugely successful protégés, Milan-based Osanna Visconti di Modrone.
Visconti di Modrone's spindly cane legs may look sculptural, but the furniture in the show house is more than just pretty objets. "I wanted all the pieces to be functional," Yashar says, "so that you could move in tomorrow and you would have everything you need." In the study she shows me another "functional" and hugely endearing piece, an early 1940s cabinet by Gio Ponti (manufactured for Singer & Sons) that includes a Formica-lined bar, drawers, shelves that's all illuminated from behind. "It’s incredible how a small piece can do so many things," she says.
Hopefully someone will buy the whole lot, they all agree.
Wandering about the home is a tactile, intimate, and rewarding experience, but it is also undeniably a commercial exercise for Yashar, Misra, and Ariburnu. "Everything you see is for sale," says Ariburnu. "The apartment, the pieces, even the bed sheets, and towels are for sale." Hopefully someone will buy the whole lot, they all agree. NB: They've valued the collection of design objects at £1.5 million, and the home will soon be listed at £10.9 million. (If you want the artworks by the likes of Warhol, Matisse, Schnabel, and Lucio Fontana too, expect to throw in several million more.) In the meantime, any visitor to London can enjoy the experience of an original and sensual home that oozes character at every turn.
Squat London is open Tuesday to Saturday, through October 15, 2016.