Listening to Hassan Abdullah speak, you wouldn't think any house on earth would be big enough for his ideas. The man thinks big, he thinks bold, and it shows. This four-level house in London is a feast for the eyes - the designer wanted to mix different periods and styles, cater to both adult guests and children, showcase each of the homeowners' cultures, not to mention making it eco-friendly. What makes this all particularly impressive is that the homeowners had essentially let Abdullah and his imagination run wild.
"They basically gave me carte blanche and just loved everything I bought and made for them," the designer says. He explains that in the beginning, he interviewed the couple - Yen Sum was a Chinese-Malaysian senior partner at a London law firm and Alistair Graham was an accountant on sabbatical leave - to find out what their likes and dislikes were and to discuss design preferences. In the end, however, they preferred to let him call the shots - "right down to the bed linen".
"I realised they were quite brave in terms of textures, patterns and contrasting styles. I was going for grown-up, glamorous, eclectic and chic, without it being too bling," he says, explaining that he did want to keep in mind the fact that it was the couple's first proper house, and they needed it to be both adult-appropriate and child-friendly for the sake of their son, Hugo. "They wanted an interesting house that was comfortable, where they could entertain family, friends and clients, but of course it also had to be child-friendly," Abdullah says.
He suggested that the family had a more formal living room for entertaining and a family room where they could all relax, watch TV, and Hugo could play with his friends. The garden was also key.
"I love the garden as it's really inviting and it's a great place for Hugo to play with his friends," Abdullah says, adding that he also maximised on the versatile space by including a living wall, a shaded area for relaxation, and a water feature.
Abdullah was keen to include design features that spoke to the homeowners' varied backgrounds and quirky interests. "They are a mixed race couple and I wanted to bring in both the Asian and European backgrounds," he says. "I incorporated some Chinese brush paintings that were painted by my client's father, who is an artist."
He even surprised them with two portraits of Yoda and Darth Vader, knowing that they were big Star Wars fans. These large paintings now hang pride of place in their house, one on each end of the living room. While these would have looked odd or out of place in another home, they fit in surprisingly well here given Abdullah's bold design scheme throughout the house.
The living room, for example, is bathed in a warm amber light thanks to the gold wallpaper, the floor-to-ceiling windows and the many mirrors dotting the walls.
"The golden living room is really convivial, warm but glamorous at the same time, and the clients and their friends love being there for cocktails before dinner and digestives after dinner," he says. With the sage hued sofas, lilac armchairs and swirling teal and green rug, this could easily be the most memorable space of the house, but Abdullah has ensured that every room has something unique and noteworthy.
"This is my favourite thing about the house - that each room has a purpose and a different look and ambience. I wanted to create rooms for different moods and functions - you could use the rooms depending on how you felt," he explains, adding that it was important for the home to have "an element of fun and wit" with its mix of styles, but to still be cohesive, pleasant and comfortable.
The foyer, for example, features a stunning blue-silver wallpaper, with gorgeous chairs, lighting pieces and objets d'art dotted around the space. The kitchen and dining area are at once warm and sophisticated with its mix of natural and industrial materials, while the couple's master bathroom is a vision in white.
Even the child's room, a space easily neglected by less punctilious designers, is a work of art. The warm russet and orange colour palette is at once beautifully and aesthetically in line with the rest of the house, yet still fun and perfect for a child Hugo's age, with dancing zebra wallpaper, puppy-themed rug and animal chair covers.
Looking around this home, one has to admit it takes no small amount of genius as well as considerable bravery to make it work. Abdullah says that it's about experimentation and balance.
"A lot of the times, people use under-scaled items for a room - they aren't brave enough to use big chandeliers or mirrors, for example, and things end up being lost," he explains. "At the same time, I don't want one particular item to dominate a room; they should sit harmoniously next to each other. You should give them space to breathe and respect the beauty of each item."
He says getting the stylistic mix from different periods and countries around the world was crucial to his design scheme. "It's a bit like living in London," he points out. "It's only interesting as we have people of all types, ages and nationalities cohabiting here."
Most designers would call it a day at this point, but Abdullah was determined to do his bit for the environment. This four-storey, 3,400-sq ft home is actually designed to be eco-friendly.
"The house uses geothermal energy. All the walls and windows are designed to keep the warmth in and the cold out, while the windows and bi-folding doors in particular are triple glazed," he explains. "It's built with sustainable materials, and all the light bulbs are LED and use very little energy." He also made sure that all of the house's waste management, heating and carbon emissions would be within the qualifying limits for an eco home.
It's no surprise that the family loves the home as much as they do. The couple's trust in Abdullah was certainly well-placed, and no one is happier about it than the designer himself. "I'm so happy that they love their house so much," he says. "We have now become really good friends and every time we are there for dinner, I see they have left everything as we have designed it, and it's a testament to how they really love what we have done, and we are so glad for that."
RESIDENTS The homeowners, Yen Sum and Alistair Graham, and their young son, Hugo
LOCATION Highbury and Islington, London, Britain
CHALLENGE The wooden walls and ceilings were so solid and thick that configuring the home's Wi-fi and rewiring and installing the AV systems were significant technical hurdles. "The clients are technology fans, and we had to install the latest of everything and include very good speakers," Hassan Abdullah recalls. "The amount of wires and cables was quite mind-blowing … it took much longer than we expected, but we managed it in the end."
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