In the residential area of Hampstead, an old college—previously home to laboratories and classrooms that specialized in the study of botany—has been transformed and split up into residential units, which are still adorned with Victorian features such as the bay windows overlooking charming English gardens. It is here that an African couple from Lagos, Nigeria with two sons chose to make their second home. The family trusted Dara Huang, the creative mind behind Design Haus Liberty, to transform the 168-square-metre holiday apartment.
“[The clients] actually weren't too particular about the process and gave us a blank slate”, says Huang, who founded her firm in Clerkenwell in 2013, and also has an office in Hong Kong. “They were easy to work with and approved most of our ideas very quickly.”
In charge of the refurbishment, interior design, lighting and furniture, Huang and her team spent time understanding the owners’ culture and lifestyle, as well as the way the family interacts in order to make sure they created the right space. One of the results? “There are two living rooms: one for entertainment and one for everyday use”, the architect says.
Huang has a multicultural background; she is the daughter of a NASA scientist who emigrated from Taiwan to the United States. She is also a lover of contemporary art, pop culture and technology; she studied design at the University of Florida and architecture at Harvard University; worked at Herzog & de Meuron, Asymptote Architecture and Foster + Partners; and lived in Tokyo, Basel and New York City before settling down in London. All of her experiences help her to feel comfortable combining different influences and styles throughout this project.
“The architecture was already laid out so we really wanted to create a very rich environment inside with African inspired colours that had a lot of depth and that we found while looking at many traditional fabrics”, Huang says. “We wanted a hint of Africa but [to mix] it with Scandinavia, Paris, London and rough materials in nature, hence why we left broken edges and organic shaped glass.”
Dark turquoise (often seen in African embroidery), pink clay, burnt sienna and royal blue (from a local tribe) define each vibrant living area adorned with painted walls or bold wallpapers. “We used silks, tweed, wicker, stone, terrazzo, metal, velvet, linen, rattan and timber”, Huang adds. “Our objective was to combine both distressed and new together to form an interesting blend.”
Always guided by her will to shape a harmonious interior space as a natural extension of the architecture with an interplay of materiality, art and light, Huang incorporated in this apartment African statues, prints, artworks, textiles and hand carved relics along with furniture designed by Design Haus Liberty—such as the terrazzo tables, bookshelves, side tables and vanity units—and pieces by European brands, including Moroso, Mambo Unlimited Ideas, Pols Potten, Bespoke Sofa London, Normann Copenhagen, Gubi, Rug’Society and Designers Guild, to name only a few. In the living and dining room, the sculptural lightings by DH Liberty Lux are 100% British made by artisans working for DH Liberty and assembled at the London headquarters. Among some of the bespoke design features that gives this home its uniqueness are, for example, a floor standing mirror in the entrance; the TV wall of rough quartz edges and back-lit joinery; the terrazzo dining table, which seems to float on a thin metal edge; the study desk with a giant stone cube at the end; and the master bedroom’s wall panels.
Rough and smooth, light and dark, mid-century modern and craftsmanship: Despite the obvious presence of opposites, Huang perfectly united all these elements in a cohesive and harmonious way. As a result, the space expresses emotion, creates surprises and tells a story filled with the richness of diverse cultures and the memories—both of the past and yet to come—of its inhabitants.