When you walk into this six-bedroom, 1890-built house in north London, the grand, monochrome entrance hall gives no clue of the explosion of colour beyond. “The rest of the house is so colourful, that I wanted a bit of serenity on opening the door,” says owner Isatu Funnu, founder of design and interiors company Dar Leone, “especially given the direct view to the leafy greenery outside from the doorway.”
And it is some view. Indeed it’s what drew Isatu and her partner, Philipp, a lawyer and mediator, to the house in the first place: “We immediately fell in love with it – it feels so serene here.”
They moved to London five years ago from Berlin with twin daughters, Ella and Laura, now 11. It comes as no surprise that the inspiration behind her home comes from her extensive travels and a colourful childhood spent between USA, the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.
But before any interior design could start on the house, there was a lot of building work to do. “It needed major renovation and was gutted before we started work,” explains Isatu. Working with east London architect, Ramses Frederickx, her aim was to open the spaces up, particularly downstairs. “We knocked down walls in the kitchen area to bring in more light from the garden and to make more room for kitchen/dining.”
This room is now vast and flooded with natural light. Bright flashes of colour pop against a backdrop of soft, pale walls. The elegant vintage walnut/chrome dining table is surrounded by mis-matched chairs in brilliant white and bright red. “We are very drawn to colour and timeless pieces with a contemporary touch,” Isatu says. “The chairs are from a lovely Italian company, Bonardo. They are moulded acrylic and are really meant for the outdoors – but we loved them so much we use them as dining chairs.” Above the table hangs an ornate, glass vintage Designer’s Guild lampshade.
This formal-meets-quirky theme is repeated elsewhere. The knocked-through sitting room / library is where the family hang out in the evenings and both are a carefully controlled riot of pattern and colour particularly in Isatu’s art collection. Above one fireplace is a painting by the Senegalese artist Aboudia. “It is actually drawn on the boxes used to ship his artworks to the UK,” she says. Opposite hangs a vast floral panel by Stefan Sehler, part of a triptych (the other two parts are owned by other collectors). It measures three by two metres. “It’s a tight fit,” says Isatu, “but we love it.”
Dotted around, vibrant chairs provide yet more contrast – the botanical fabric armchair is from Roche Bobois as is the purple one, part of its modular range. And the bright colour doesn’t stop there: the red resin side table and its clear companion are part of the ‘Lens’ range by McCollin Bryan.
There are so many different colours and patterns going on so what’s Isatu’s secret to making it all work so beautifully? “The whole effect is actually much more harmonious than it may seem in pictures,” she says. “We tend to buy what we like without regard to whether colours ‘work’ together or not. The end effect is very us but definitely not for the minimalist.” That said, nothing feels cluttered. Furniture, accessories and pieces of art are considered and carefully placed, never overdone. And a clever trick is the touches of black – solid blocks in the fireplaces and the tall cupboard, from Berlin, by the window, which help to anchor the colourful design.
Hanging over the other fireplace between two sets of bookshelves, one containing Philipp’s inherited German and Dutch books, is a huge geometric piece by Berlin-based English artist, Terry Haggerty bought during the family’s time in the German capital. “Berlin has such a thriving, very easily accessible art scene,” says Isatu, “and most of our artworks are from our time living there.” The colourful figurines below are by the late Tanzanian artist Lilanga. “I find them very poignant,” she says. “Particularly the twins.”
“I’ve always had a feeling that there was a different idea of African design that I had not yet seen on the commercial market. My childhood in Sierra Leone also influences my ideas for design at work in interior design, as I tend to hark back to childhood memories of, for example, vintage textiles worn by my grandmother and incredibly detailed filigree gold jewellery worn by my mother.”
The rest of the world has shaped her style – but what about London. Has the capital had an impact on Isatu’s taste too? “London is as great as all the major cities I’ve lived in,” she says. “It seems most relaxed about what constitutes style. We are here to stay.”
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Kate Burt, Acting Editor
View all posts by Kate Burt, Acting Editor