My Modern House: art director Tom O’Dell’s take on vintage interior design at his Victorian flat in Camberwell
“My style of vintage interior design is about finding objects that have meaning and a story to tell. I like the idea that buying vintage things comes with the responsibility that you have to look after and preserve what you have bought – it’s so much more valuable.
“I think I’ve always had an eye for quality, detail and beautiful things. When I was 14, I worked in a menswear store in Bedford, which was over 100 years old and very proper– think ‘Are You Being Served’?
“It was in a beautiful old arcade, and we all wore carnations in our top pockets. They sold everything: sock suspenders, collar stays, canes with swords in them, and beautiful handmade shoes.
“By the time I was 17 I knew a lot about lapels, shoe fits, alterations and tailoring. It was quite mad and when I came to London, I realised everyone else had just been working in Wetherspoons! But I had learned a trade.
“Because of that, I’ve always had an appreciation for well-made clothes. I have to say I find the current trend for 90s streetwear sad: when it came out it was crap, and now it’s more expensive and still crap, because it’s still made from polyester!
“I prefer going to markets, which in London are few and far between, but I was in Rome last week and it was great. I can buy a 1970s Italian-made alpaca coat that probably cost £1,000 at the time but is now £90 and still beautiful.
“Markets are quite limited in London, but I still go to Spitalfields, even though I know almost everyone there and what stock they’ve got.
“On Fridays, I got to Bermondsey antique market because they have a watch guy there, and I love old watches. I don’t buy one every week, obviously, but I like checking in.
“For interiors, I take the same approach as I do with clothes. I used to have my own shop, O’Dell’s, which really helped develop my interior style. It’s a space that I created myself, and I loved telling people the stories behind each piece or product.
“I’ve been in this flat for six years, and before this I had always been sharing with other people, always in south London. But, even when I was sharing, I was always very house proud.
“I remember the day I moved into this place, which is in a building that dates back from 1842. It was a beautiful day in September, about 19 degrees outside, and all the doors were open because there was a decorator finishing off. The sun was low and beamed light onto the wooden floors. I thought, this is great.
“The flat is full of things I like and, because I’m quite a collector and enjoy buying things, I really appreciate having the space to put it all in.
“You can be a master of your own time when you live alone. I’m not a great sleeper, so I can be up to one or two o’clock in the morning, reading or listening to music, which is fine for me, but might not be the same if I were living with other people. Also, I don’t think anyone would put up with how much stuff I have anymore!
“I’m an art director and stylist, but I also do a lot of brand consultancy. I work on shoots, on location abroad sometimes, at a studio and sometimes just at home, thinking about ideas for the brands I work with. Other days I move all over London on my 1960s Vespa, going back and forth to meetings.
“The start of this year is looking like it’s going to be a busy one as I am launching two new side projects. Second Hand is an online shop selling vintage watches and other collectibles, and I’m also working on a bespoke suit brand in collaboration with a good friend, menswear designer Scott Simpson.
“I like working from home. I make lists, and I get a quarter of that done every day, and then I make another list and get a quarter done the next day. But I love the amount of work I have, and the variety of it – it’s great to be constantly working with new people.
“I’m quite a constant person, but I can relax too! I like going to the pub, and I play football twice a week.
“I always say that the garden is the best room in my house. Last summer, with the heat we had, I could sit out with my laptop and work out there. The grass came out, and the grapes on the vines were growing, it was great.
“I’m not an expert gardener but I love seeing the development and growth of the plants. The garden isn’t overlooked and it’s quiet so Frank, my cat, is happy out there.
“It’s great to come back to a home I feel comfortable in. I think it’s so important, whether you have a ten-bedroom house or a one-bedroom flat, to feel like you have somewhere to be yourself in.”