Rooms with a view – inside the world’s most expressive homes
What makes a home? Bunny Mellon, the late American heiress and art collector whose interiors and gardens were renowned for their elegant simplicity, always cooked apples in the kitchen of her 4,000-acre stud farm in Upperville, Virginia, to ensure that it had a welcoming aroma – she was also famous for gardening in Givenchy couture.
A home is a home because it blurs the line between ourselves and our surroundings; it represents both who we are and where we belong. We have all recently spent an inordinate amount of time in ours to keep us safe. It is a sanctuary but so much more: a reflection of our personality, our aesthetic, our prosperity, our professionalism and a repository of memories. It could also be said that homes are like dogs – they look like their owners.
Where better to showcase what we have achieved, acquired or inherited than in our houses – be it a pair of candlesticks passed down from a grandmother that have a family story attached, a long-desired Jean Royère Polar Bear sofa, a Charlotte Perriand desk with a state-of-the‑art laptop perched upon it, an 18th-century console or a biscuit tin full of sewing kit? What connects all these things is their emotional resonance.
The way we live says a lot about our interior lives. In her new book, More Than Just A House, Alex Eagle – shopkeeper, curator, designer, lifestyle guru, innovator and visual magpie – has taken these qualities, along with a healthy dose of curiosity, and created a colourful paean to contemporary life and the people who inspire her. Eagle herself has an effervescent personality and her own home, a Soho loft in London which is always full of people, life, art and flowers, reflects that. Her vast kitchen table seats at least 20 and most Sundays her friends and family gather around. Her space is designed to accommodate her working life, her family life and an extremely full social life.
Eagle has long surrounded herself with stylish, colourful people from whom she takes inspiration. The book is an extension of this. “I’ve always responded to the houses I see, from the glass I’m drinking from to a piece of furniture that I can’t stop looking at,” she says.
The interiors depicted here are seen with Eagle’s eye, and it takes in everything – from the shag-pile carpet in the desert weekend home of Hollywood executives John McIlwee and Bill Damaschke, to the frescoed dining room walls of Marina Lambton’s vast baroque villa in the Tuscan hills. “Everyone in the book is a friend, or a friend I met through a friend,” she explains. “But if I had to choose one house to live in, it would be Villa Cetinale in Tuscany. I love that part of Italy and I love that house.”
Villa Cetinale, Tuscany, Italy
It was at the age of 10 that Marina Lambton first visited Villa Cetinale. “We came as a family to have lunch with Tony Lambton, and my first memory is the pack of 15 terrifying dogs barking at the gate,” she recalls. Two decades on, Marina is now married to Tony’s son, Ned, and has become chatelaine of the historic Tuscan villa, running it both as a private family home, shared with their young children Stella, Claud and Acony Belle, and overseeing its rental to the fortunate few.
The couple’s refurbishment returned the 13-bedroom house to its former glory in a project managed by interior designer Camilla Guinness, who was a great friend of Tony’s and whose own house, Arniano, is nearby. “Camilla understands the place so well that she was the perfect person to do the job,” says Lambton. “We totally trusted everything she did and, of course, it was absolutely amazing. It now feels very clean and fresh, not crumbling at all.”
The villa’s grounds, meanwhile, are a cacophony of cypress-lined avenues, formal topiary gardens and romantically tangled woodland. Entering the shadows of the walled Holy Wood — known as The Thebaid — feels like walking into the pages of a fairy tale.
John McIlwee and Bill Damaschke
Rancho Mirage, California, USA
McIlwee and Damaschke are no strangers to historic houses. The two entertainment executives’ main abode is John Lautner’s Garcia House in Los Angeles. But when President Gerald and Betty Ford’s house came on the market in Rancho Mirage, east of Palm Springs, in 2012, they were intrigued and later bought it as a weekend house.
In terms of redecoration, the couple used the lightest hand. They were firm that nothing should be destroyed unnecessarily, so while Betty’s pink bathroom suite was discarded, other elements were repurposed. The bulbs from Betty’s vanity mirror now form a dramatic light fixture above the master bed and the shelves from the ex-president’s trophy cupboard became a bed frame. The dining room has been kept totally intact – even the lime-green carpet, which was the cause of much debate. “We’re not people who want to live in a weird time capsule of the ’70s, but when you think about it, Henry Kissinger was there, the Rockefellers ate dinner there, Bob Hope ate dinner there – why would I get rid of that?”
West London, UK
Interior designer Beata Heuman’s style is a blend of her pared-back Scandinavian heritage, irreverence and an Italian joie de vivre inculcated in Florence: “I’ve worked out my look now. It’s sometimes grand, it’s clean, it always has a sense of humour.” Heuman and her husband, John Finlay, moved into the house in west London in late 2016 and have since been joined by their daughters Gurli and Alma. Creatures are everywhere, prowling across the flag that sits above the sitting-room mantelpiece, curved around mirrors in the dining room and draped across the spare bed.
“It isn’t very big, which is really satisfying in that we do actually use the whole house,” Heuman says. “But with children running around, and my aesthetic being so colourful with a lot of things going on, keeping it tidy is very important.” With its clever use of space and extraordinary details, the house brilliantly captures Heuman’s fantastical point of view. “I like transporting people into another world,” she says. “A made-up world. It’s quite childish, I suppose, but there’s something about it I find very alluring, exciting, fun, playful and a bit strange.”
Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, USA
When Richard Christiansen was asked by a friend if he would help an elderly neighbour install a beehive in his garden in Eagle Rock, north-east LA, he little realised that in the process he would find his future home. When the house came on the market a few years later, in 2013, he didn’t need to think twice. “My work is about conjuring dreams for clients,” says the founder and creative director of US advertising agency Chandelier Creative. “With this house I’ve made my dreams come true.” Christiansen enlisted the help of Paris-based architects Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty of Studio KO, whom he met while they were consulting on André Balazs’s Chiltern Firehouse.
“I went to Morocco, India and Asia with Karl and Olivier, just travelled and travelled, collecting as we went. We agreed that no one could bring in a teaspoon unless we’d talked about it first.” The result, the pink-bricked Flamingo Estate, is a tropical cacophony of colour that takes in influences from Walt Disney. In the garden studio sits a table made from a tree in Versailles that was struck by lightning, while David Hockney’s Caribbean Tea Time screen adds verve to the sitting room. A standout feature is the poured-concrete bathtub housed in a 400sq ft, three-storey monolith inspired by ruins in the Atlas Mountains. “I call it the ‘bathing cathedral’, and it is my place of worship. It was the first room I built. I’m there for two hours every day and night.”
More Than Just A House: At Home with Collectors and Creators by Alex Eagle with Tish Wrigley is out on 6 October (Rizzoli, £40).