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Tim Gosling, designer to the rich and famous, creator of superyacht interiors, moulder and shaper of libraries, dining rooms apartments and stately homes is known for his clean-lined style, meticulous attention to detail and, above all, restraint. His services have been employed by a sprinkling of royalty plus giants of industry and history, from Lord Browne to Sir Elton John, and across the world from Beijing to the Hamptons. So who better to advise on how the high-end global home might be decked out this Christmas?
Gosling’s large 18th-century home in Clapham Old Town, south London, is difficult to identify from a distance because it is screened from the street by trees and a large, gawping crowd. Draw closer, though, and the reason for the gawping becomes clear. The house is dripping with Christmas lights, illuminated Merry Christmas signs, Santas, gnomes, reindeers, bambis and ribbons in a display which may explain why the UK’s National Grid is struggling.
Then there are the life-size polar bears lurking on the stucco portico.
Gosling materialises at the top of his steps. He is wearing a Father Christmas outfit. Whenever he appears in the FT’s How to Spend It magazine he dresses in tweeds, brogues and linen. I struggle to understand his sartorial cultural shift, but before I can broach the subject Gosling invites me on to his three-ton cherry picker. This is a first. As we ascend, he explains that the cherry picker is an essential tool for his annual decorative outrage.
About 20ft up, the platform judders to a halt and the cherry picker’s alarm sounds loudly and repeatedly, attracting an even bigger crowd. We are stuck. I am not good with heights. Gosling is reassuring and calm for at least 90 seconds before he decides on a more pragmatic, if less masterful, approach and starts shouting “Help! Help” at the fire station across the road. A ladder arrives and soon the cherry picker is working once more.
Inside Gosling’s insane grotto, a pair of sunglasses is advisable. Gold and reds, mixed in with any colour likely to bring on a migraine, splash across candles, plastic gnomes, mushrooms (“they are not plastic, they are glass,” points out Gosling) and other decor, which swirl up the main staircase and scramble across antique furniture, up mirrors and over oil paintings of people who appear to be unamused by the excess.
“I like to think of my work, and the pieces of furniture I design, as having great gravitas and longevity,” he says.
I try, unsuccessfully, to apply the G word to the author of this statement whose Father Christmas outfit is now drooping in an alarming fashion.
“In fact,” says Gosling as we examine a nest of crocheted Ferrero Rocher covers designed to look like mini Christmas puddings, “I spend a large amount of time discussing with clients what will happen to the tone of their furniture as the wood deepens in colour over the next 300 years . . . I guess people might expect that same ethos and seriousness in my Christmas but in fact I love the fact that it’s silly, not taken too seriously and is a great exuberance of colour, craziness and is totally theatrical.”
Lucinda Magraw, Gosling’s marketing manager, shimmies out of a seasonally decorated, silver-and-diamanté side room where a painting of the late Queen Mother adds a note of relative restraint to the interior. Magraw mentions, en passant, that Gosling organises a triennial pantomime in London’s Garrick Theatre with luminaries of the design world, and costumes created by Vivienne Westwood, Zandra Rhodes, Jasper Conran, Valentino and Jean Paul Gaultier. Last year Gosling’s costume featured lobster claws and thigh-length boots. I wonder what plotline would justify such an extraordinary outfit.
A strong cup of tea appears. It is much needed. Gosling’s drawing room is a lot to take in. It is painted “Atomic Red”, with a blazing fire surrounded by dangling swags of red-spotted mushrooms, a central table piled with brightly coloured sweets, and a 13ft-high Christmas tree bowed down with baubles of questionable taste and a toy train puffing around its perimeter.
Gosling winds up an ancient gramophone player for a few bars of “White Christmas” and then slides across to the piano to stroke the ivories and trill an aria. He then leads the way into the dining room where the table, designed by Gosling, would seat 20 with room to spare if it weren’t for the Venetian cherubs, candelabra, Romanov crystal, exquisite silver, “flower trenches” and starched napkins which take up a few acres of space apiece. I am beginning to lose the will to live.
In this explosion of style, colour, form, perspective and abandon, is there any underlying aesthetic philosophy I wonder, as a naked Father Christmas bauble glints in the distance?
“Mixology,” replies Gosling. “For instance I tend to change the colour of the drawing room each year, and I mix up the kitsch and the beautiful, the glass baubles from Fortnum & Mason and the less expensive ones from B&Q.
“I’ve been collecting decorations for years — some that I’ve been given by friends, some that I’ve picked up in Salzburg on summer holidays to remind me of magical times I’ve shared with friends.”
Gosling family Christmases were also a big influence. His father, the late Professor Raymond Gosling of DNA discovery fame, was an enthusiastic creator of OTT Christmases.
He is probably also responsible for Gosling junior’s model train mania, which expresses itself in the dining room, high above the table of opulence, where a second model train puffs its way around the top of the room.
“No Christmas would be complete without a train set. Eventually it will go into the library on a motorised platform so I can raise it into the roof space as it takes up so much room. It’s a model version of London 1940s Blackfriars.”
Why focus on this historically grim area of London?
“It’s part where you can glimpse St Paul's Cathedral,” says Gosling, who creates the buildings for this miniature world, as well as the railway itself, in painstaking detail.
“The model-making part is my passion and, as well as dropping the blood pressure, it gives me such a sense of happiness researching the detail and architectural design of the buildings. It’s where I find a space to sit down quietly to create a new world.”
Another new world seems to appear outside as the winter light fades and a galaxy of lights twinkle in the trees between the street and Gosling’s home. I think about the rustic quiet here when the property was built almost three centuries ago, and when glow-worms rather than fairy lights might have lit the surrounding trees and hedges, as the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell puts it in “The Mower to the Glow-worms”:
Ye living lamps, by whose dear light
The nightingale does sit so late
The nightingales have fled, and so have I, back to FT HQ’s black Lubyanka where restraint is the order of the day: austere modernism, monotone decor and relentless rectilinearity.
I can’t help hankering after tinsel, lights, plastic robins, a cheery Santa and a couple of life-size polar bears.
Jane Owen is the editor of House & Home
‘Classic Contemporary: The DNA of Furniture Design’ (2015) by Tim Gosling, Thames & Hudson, £45
Photographs: Rick Pushinsky