Open House: Emma Lever unveils the crafted interiors of the house her parents built in Notting Hill in the 1970s
Our ‘Open House’ series sees us meet the owners of some of our most extraordinary homes ahead of their sale. Here, Emma Lever unveils the crafted interiors of the house her parents built on Lansdowne Crescent in Notting Hill in the 1970s.
“I was going through some old stuff here recently and came across a bread tin I used to make yoghurt cake with when I was little. It struck me that it says so much about my parents: we had brown bread, brown flour, honey rather than sugar, we even had brown pasta … who ate brown pasta in the 1970s?!
“I think it was a purist thing. I can remember going off to Neal’s Yard to buy sacks of God knows what to make our own muesli. We’d never have Angel Delight, but we might have had elderflower jelly made by my mum.
“You could call it snobbery, but it wasn’t. They genuinely loved making things with raw materials. They spent hours at it, going to the countryside to pick rose hips or whatever, and coming back to make jam.
“It’s the same with this house, which was a labour of love and a product of their creative force. My friends used to call it the ‘wooden house’ because it’s everywhere. My parents loved wood and collected anything that was beautifully turned. They loved talking to artisans, or anyone who made things with their hands.
“We moved here in 1973 from Paddington, when the house wasn’t quite finished. I was eight years old, and my brother would have been 11. It was brilliant, and very exciting to have all the builders around. The whole house was like a playground.
“The communal garden was the thing that made it really great, and I would say it was the key feature of our childhood lives here. The spiral staircase takes you down from the terrace, and we would just tear up and down it for hours.
“We had an enormous playroom at the top of the house. That was our space. My mother’s eye for detail didn’t allow too much mess in the living room, which had minimalist furniture, some designed by my dad, to be as low as possible in order to create a sense of openness.
“The gallery was another way he created a feeling of light and space. It was fun jumping down from the mezzanine as a child if you were in a hurry to get downstairs!
“At Christmas, my father came up with fantastic designs using hazel branches, twigs and glass baubles, which he hung from the ceiling of the living room. They were both constantly busy making things.
“One Christmas my father installed a trapeze to the roof of our playroom and we swung around the room like crazy. Then, eventually, the room was converted into my mother’s office. She was an architectural historian and curator of the Drawings Collection at the RIBA. Most of the books in her library are on architectural history, but also art, design and travel, which they loved.
“They were really adventurous, and the idea of something going wrong never occurred to them. I remember going to Sicily in the 1970s, with only hand luggage and having nothing booked. We just made our way around the island on local buses.
“When my brother was six months old my parents put him in the back of their Mini and drove to Spain. My father had won a research scholarship and was studying Spanish mountain villages. They ended up in North Africa!
“My parents couldn’t go anywhere without discussing their immediate surroundings. Architecture was the backbone of our holidays and it was a bit of a joke that we could name all the English church styles as kids.
“Another thing my father instilled in us was fairness and empathy. As an architect, he was involved in some large housing schemes in the 1960s and 70s. He’d sketch out his ideas for us on table napkins and it was obvious he really cared about the quality of people’s lives and the homes he was creating for them.
“I will miss the house a lot. It was more than just home, it was an extraordinary and special place to live. I grew up here – they couldn’t get rid of me for years! – my friends have all been here and my children had great fun making tents and dressing up in the living room.
“And we used it for parties. It’s a great house for entertaining. I can remember running around pouring wine for my parents’ quite eccentric crowd of architects and historian friends. I think whoever buys this place really needs to have parties here.”