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Photography by Dylan Thomas

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A Squat Like No Other: A Pop-Up Apartment Changes the Retail Game

Nilufar Gallery extends its tastemaker status to London with a shoppable show home in Mayfair

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."

The Mayfair apartment building at 70 South Audley Street was built in the 1890s and bears the typical red brick-and-sandstone masonry details of the period.

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.

A bulbous Lindsay Adelman chandelier contrasts nicely with a geometric screen by Martino Gamper (used as a bedhead) and portraits by Austrian artist Markus Schinwald. The striking carpet by Milanese architects Caturegli Formica (2013) was made in Tibet and is called Chromosome-P after its distinctly biological design.

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.

The centerpiece of the daylight-filled living or reception room is the early 1960s Gio Ponti chandelier made of brass and opaline glass. "It’s rare because most of the ceiling lamps in this model were larger and made to be attached directly to the wall," explains Yashar. The Anelli bar cabinet was made with vintage glass rings by Roberto Giulio Rida in 2013, the island of mix-and-match tactile bronze coffee tables are by Osanna Visconti di Modrone, the armchairs are all Federico Munari (and from the 1950s), while the hand-knotted carpet (2015) is by Ego Vicente and made in Nepal.
Martino Gamper’s Off Cut Screen (2015) defines the dining room space, which is dominated by a large Julian Schnabel canvas from 2008. Massimiliano Locatelli’s West Lake (2013) dining table stands on Yashar’s favourite piece in the house, the shimmering Petra carpet made with copper thread by Colombian rugmaker Hechizoo (2016).
The apartment’s kitchen comes decked out in shades of bronze with chevron pattern ‘white wood’ marble floors and chevron-patterned veneer cabinet doors. Appliances are all Gaggenau while the dining table is the varnished metal, brass and wood LT1 by Ignazio Gardella (1951) for Azucena and is surrounded by six seminal 691 chairs by Ico Parisi (1955) for Cassina. Patricia Urquiola’s copper-coated oversized Giant Tatou Ceiling Lamp (2013) dominates the space. "I like the idea of playing with proportions," says Yashar "and putthing something big in a small space, or the other way around."
Bedroom no. 2—a.k.a. as the Blue Room—showcases a rare golden aluminum-and-teak 1960s ceiling lamp designed by Swedish designer Hans Agne Jakkobson for Markaryd AB. Two 2013 works by German artist Nikolas Gambaroff face one another across the bed. Made of torn window film on wooden stretchers "they question the classic way of producing and displaying art, deconstructing it, and destroying it," says Ariburnu. The rug is a geometric offering from the 1960s by Danish designer Verner Panton and the chromed steel and rosewood sideboard was designed by Roberto Gabetti, Aimaro Isola, Luciano Re and Guido Drocco for ARBO in Turin in 1970.
The hallway is a blend of different geometric designs. On the floor a geometric pattern inspired by one of Gio Ponti’s 1950s lobbies was created out of white Thasos marble and black Nero Marquina and referenced again on the walls and doors. On the left Milanese dealer-cum-designer Roberto Giulio Rida’s Settimanile chest of drawers is covered in black opaline glass and vintage glass spheres while David Lachapelle’s 2008 work Statue continues the mash-up of styles.
Massimiliano Locatelli’s West Lake table (2013) is made up of seven independent elements (in this case six hand polished cast bronze pieces and one in matte mahogany) but can be made in any size and with more or less modules. The table was inspired by the Milanese architect’s travels to the Hanoi Lake in Vietnam. In it you can see reflected one of two solid brass Uplight ceiling lamps by Finnish designer Paavo Tynell (1950s).
A detail of one of two cabinets located on either side of the TV in the master bedroom, which are clad with platinum timber-finish chevron wallpaper by Maya Romanoff and a bronze metal trim on the edges. Inside adjustable shelves providing additional storage space.
A low wood-and-glass table by Gio Ponti (1950s) stands on a carpet with a chromosome-themed design by Milanese architects Caturegli Formica. Yashar has a particular affection for the world of carpets; she started out her professional life selling Persian rugs with her Iranian father.

Squat London is open Tuesday to Saturday, through October 15, 2016.

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