I’m spending this in between week trying to clean out my apartment. It feels like every time I get everything neat and tidy and squared away, new deliveries arrive, and not always things I’ve ordered myself. Although, I have ordered a lot during this pandemic and right now, it just feels like I have too much stuff. That made me think about some of the interiors that feel just right, not too cluttered but also not too minimal. One of my all time favorites is the former London apartment of interior designer Veere Grenney that I first saw published in Vogue Living Australia in 2008. The bed sit room that he created feels like the most like my apartment, as far as color and style, and it’s inspiring me to pare things down and declutter so I can stop stressing and relax in my apartment this winter. It was also fun to go back and read Veere’s description and thoughts on this old space.
“After I left Colefax and Fowler to set up Veere Grenney Associates, we moved into our present office on Hollywood Road. I was fifty, and I was looking for a new project for myself. One day in 2003, there came the particulars of this lovely property, which occupied the wide first floor of a grand house designed by Richard Norman Shaw in the 1880s for the Countess of Wemyss on the river embankment at Chelsea. There were elements of much later art deco detailing, including an exceptional full-height fireplace in travertine in the old drawing room, which I made into my bedroom. This room had an Adam ceiling, which was typical of Norman Shaw. The house in which the apartment occupied the principal piano noble floor was built in the Arts and Crafts aesthetic of the late nineteenth century. It had been reworked in different styles over the past 100 years. I decided to give the apartment a distinctly 1930s glamour, while keeping all the original features that remained. It took about two years to renovate the apartment. It hadn’t been touched for a long time, and it was part of a listed building. Its three large, interconnected rooms—an enfilade along the river that I made into a dining room, a drawing room, and my bedroom—cried out for high glamour, so I detailed as much as I could within the planning restrictions.”– Veere Grenney
In an article, Veere Grenney’s Dos and Don’ts of Decorating, from House & Garden, Veere said his favourite piece in the apartment is his writing table, which was commissioned by Billy Baldwin for Villa La Fiorentina and made by Maison Jansen in the 1950s. It strikes a masculine contrast against the softness of the Claremont curtains and walls upholstered in a pale blue/grey antique serge twill.
The fireplace in the bedroom was installed by Joachim Von Ribbentrop in the 1930s when he lived in London as the German Ambassador to the United Kingdom. An 18th-century chair is painted with original decoration and in Bowood Chintz from Colefax and Fowler sits next to a 1950s Florence Knoll designed coffee table piled with books and a contemporary red lacquer box made by a Japanese artist. I’ve added a Bowood throw pillow to my desk chair this year which is funny because I forgot the pattern was in this apartment too.
The New Zealand born and raised Grenney has called London home since the mid-1970s, and has spent much of his time since working in interiors and design, starting out touting antiquities on Portobello Market (“A great way to get to know the who’s who of the design trade,” he remembers) and eventually landing jobs with the likes of Mary Fox Linton, Colefax and Fowler and his own design hero David Hicks.
“Harmony and comfort are the driving forces in any room I design,” he furthers. “I create rooms, beds, sofas, chairs for living in – they might look beautiful but they also have to work. It is about balancing colours and textures to make a room feel very personal, and also bringing the architecture to life.” Proportion and scale are all for this designer.
You’ll certainly find little frilliness or froufrou in his décor designs. After all, it is the modern order and preciseness of David Hicks’ 1960s designs that Grenney holds so dear (and indeed inspired the simple patterns of his own hand-blocked linen collection), but he confesses he is not above a bit of chintz here and there. “Injecting something slightly off-key, like the old comfortable chintzy armchair in my bedroom where I like to sit and watch television at night. It’s a proper old friend,” he grins.
Veere Grenney in his bedroom with Islamic artwork and a 1950s Italian models of pyramids and orbs.
The 1940’s chair is vintage Italian.
The apartment had huge volumes and spectacular scale, although great volumes can be more difficult to decorate. I decorated the entire space in a grayish-white palette but used different treatments to create variety and stave off monotony. I changed the dynamic of the enfilade by having a painted room, a plain-fabric-covered room, a patterned room, and a specialist-paint-effect room. At a quick glance, it looks monochromatic. But in fact, each room has its own unique personality.
The apartment is the first floor of a house originally built on a rare double plot of land in the 1880s for the Countess of Wemyss, designed by Richard Norman Shaw, the influential British architect famous for designing the Savoy Theatre and New Scotland Yard. It is particularly unusual for its enfilade of three elegant rooms which allow the light to flood in and the river views to dazzle.
I had two fireplaces modeled on the ones in Helena Rubinstein’s apartment on the Île St.-Louis made in unpolished travertine, with the dry pitted surface of natural stone. These helped to unify the apartment with the monumental travertine fireplace that remained from a “modernization” in the 1930s.
I found this image of Helena Rubinstein’s apartment fireplace that he is referencing above.
The commode is 19th-century Regency while the 18th-century chairs in Grenney’s fabric Soundess. On the wall are paintings by Barbara Hepworth and Roger Nilton.
This image from November 2008 issue of Vogue with Jemima Khan and Vanessa Seward was photographed in the living room and is what introduced me to Veere Grenney.
Another detail of the living room.
The old lady who was its last occupant had blocked out its complicated Victorian glazing design, leaving just two French windows, but I replaced them all. I had highly polished dark wood floors, double doors, and a lot of travertine marble, so it became fairly stylized.
The views and the light there were quite extraordinary. Being on the piano nobile, the space looked directly into the river. Everything except a double-decker bus was underneath you, and if you sat down, the water appeared to flow away underneath the building. The thing I miss most about it is that light from the river. Extraordinarily, the Temple stands directly above a long stretch of water too.
When I moved in around 2004 I had no curtains. I liked the emptiness of the rooms, but after a while, I hung 1930s pelmets and curtains at all the windows. I covered the walls with my collection of Indian miniatures, Islamic calligraphy, and images of life in the subcontinent.
There was a table made by Paul Belvoir, at Gordon Watson, in limed oak and Austrian chairs numbered from a set—the rest are in a museum in Munich, I believe—that I bought with a family inheritance. It was a wonderful apartment for entertaining, as you could have 200 people there.
The Viennese chairs are circa 1790.
Sadly there is not much of Norman Shaw’s detailing left, except for perhaps the cornicing in the dining room and it took two years and much wrangling with those who are governing the listed building to create the cool, calm oasis that it was.
Another view of the dining room with artwork by Sandy Calder.
The very sleek kitchen as seen in Veranda magazine.
There was also what looked like a guest room in Veranda but I’m not sure where it was located on the floorplan at the end of this post.
The desk is vintage Italian.
Behind my bedroom was a large room, which I was going to make into an office until a close friend of mine, Virginia Howard, also an excellent decorator, said, “You can’t have all this glamour without a glamorous bathroom.” So I made this extraordinary bathroom with antiqued mirror and gessoed walls and marble and a great chandelier, with a very beautiful walnut-lined dressing room off of it.
From what I can tell from the original floorplans, the bathroom area was built in the area that was a courtyard between the home and the separate stables behind.
Behind thee tub wall is the shower and I’m assuming the toilet.
Each photo of the bathroom reveals different details.
Another view of the bathroom.
After I was finished putting my photos together for this post, I figured out where the apartment was located. It was on the first floor of the Clock House at 8 Embankment in Chelsea and directly faces the Thames.
A detail of the floor that Veere Grenney lived on in the building.
I found the floopland by Richard Norman Shaw from the 1879 for the Countess of Wemyss. I’m including them all so you can see all the rooms that were included for the servants and lady of the house.
Veere’s apartment was on the first floor and you can see all the principle rooms are exactly the same. The bathroom and possibly the guest bedroom were built in the area that had been open to the courtyard below or it could be the entresol area that’s included with the third floor plan. An entresol is a low story between the first floor and the second floor of a building. I wonder what became of the flower room by the stairs.
The third floor and attic plans.
The front elevation and sections. The back elevation of the stables and coach house is below.
“If I am doing a room for someone, I really care about them and not how it will look in a photograph,” Grenney reflects. “I want to make them feel safe, to make them feel important. I really want people to have a happy time when they’re in that space. Otherwise, what’s the point?”