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  1. Wealth
March 29, 2010

Something Old, Something New

By Spear's

Penelope Bennett meets Louise Bradley, the interior designer famous for her antique-contemporary style. Now if only she had room for her own antiques…

Penelope Bennett meets Louise Bradley, the interior designer famous for her antique-contemporary style. Now if only she had room for her own antiques…

LOUISE BRADLEY TRAWLS for antiques for her own collection with as much zeal as she does for those of her clients, and confesses to having a warehouse full of pieces she can’t bring herself to part with. ‘I love the patina of them,’ she says of her finds, stretching a hand out and smoothing it across an imaginary surface for effect. ‘It’s something you just can’t get in a new piece.’

Bradley might succumb to the charms of a chimneypiece or some decorative stone found tucked away in a corner of a Lassco Aladdin’s cave-type repository; fall for a reclaimed cast-iron radiator discovered at an antique fair in Madrid; or discover a fabulous cabinet at a Parisian flea market on a rare trip away from her London office, showrooms and countless client projects. It’s an ongoing passion, that of spotting one-of-a-kind pieces others have missed, and a strength that contributes to her staggering success in the realm of interior design.

Now over 20 years in existence, the Louise Bradley brand is sought out by British and foreigners alike for its unique vision, established and trusted knowhow, and just that little hint of the unusual. An antique will often kick-start the design process by acting as an inspirational starting piece around which the room will be ‘built’. Then moderation steps in.

Bradley’s knack for gauging just how many antiques are required, and complementing that with newer pieces and bespoke furniture, is uncanny. ‘It’s a feeling you have,’ she says. ‘An instinct.’ Add to that a feel for colour, neither loud nor sober but rather distinctive and rich, and the only thing missing is more available space to place into her ridiculously capable hands.

For all the rush and thrill a finished LB project incites in a client, there’s a resplendent balance to Bradley’s work, a decidedly luxurious and pitch-perfect form. London-born and bred, Bradley fell into doing what she does best when a handful of friends asked her to decorate their respective homes in the manner in which she had done hers. The word spread, as did the commissions, and her signature style took shape.

To date, her two retail showrooms — on Walton Street and on the Kings Road — have played host to 18th and 19th-century decorative antiques sourced from France and Italy (the fashion for which, she notes with just a hint of resignation, ‘died a little bit’, making way for a cleaner and more modern aesthetic), and her bespoke interior design service has made her one of House & Garden’s 100 leading interior designers.
THERE’S ALSO THE small matter of the 8,000 square feet of pure showroom space she has secured — something most of her peers would die for — for the sole use of bringing samples from her bespoke range of furniture to life.

‘It’s an amazing tool,’ she says modestly, composed despite squeezing our interview in between two important presentations to major clients. ‘Whereas before we would just pull out spec sheets to show [the client] and point to a piece of furniture in a picture, the client can now walk downstairs [the showroom encompasses the entire lower ground floor of Kimbolton Court, her Fulham Road design studio], sit on and feel the quality and fabric of that very sofa.’

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Bradley is to classic contemporary and bespoke interiors what Nina Campbell is to homely trinkets, or Kelly Hoppen to simple elegance. ‘There’s a very core feel to what we do,’ says Bradley, who is dressed head to toe in black and adds jet-black nail polish to the mix for good measure. ‘A client comes to us for our ethos. We’ll adapt it to fit the client. That’s part of the challenge and the beauty of it, that you’re always stretching and evolving. And a client’s house or apartment and its location will to a certain extent dictate style.’

But too huge a departure from the LB norm won’t do. The stricter briefs will see a moderated version brought to fruition, or not at all. ‘If the communication isn’t right or the client doesn’t understand what we do and we don’t feel we’ll be able to work with them, we turn them down,’ she says, her petite frame belying the business powerhouse beneath. ‘Doing someone’s interiors is very personal, and we do it with a passion. That’s what it’s all about. We do not approach it as just another job.’

She was in line to do a boutique hotel but the client in question never went through with the project. Would she still like to do one? She pauses. ‘I enjoy giving 110 per cent to an end user,’ she says. ‘Yes I’d like to do a hotel, but there it’s more of a system and finishes, for example, have to be that much more practical. Yes, ours are, but we’re about using really exquisite finishes; those in a hotel have to be that much more practical than in a home. With bespoke interiors for a home it’s much more personalised. I enjoy going out with a client and buying beautiful works of art with them. It’s very high-end — that’s what we do.’

Which isn’t to say she only takes on projects at the upper end of the scale. ‘I have great fun on something tiny,’ she says of a small pied-à-terre garden flat she is doing up in Stanhope Mews. ‘The client was petrified it wouldn’t be big enough for us to do. But it’s nice to have diversity. To do something where space is very restricted, and then have 30,000 square feet of space to work with. The two have their own challenges and it’s nice to have both.’

Assisting her in shaping each and every project is a staff of 18, including dedicated furnishing and fabric specialists and ‘detailers’, who work at the Fulham Road address in a vast, glass-roofed studio. Also present are Bebe and Marni, Bradley’s two dogs, who quite likely take the edge off stressful situations and who follow her wherever she goes. Which, for the foreseeable future, is metaphorically far, but geographically less so.

‘I love being here,’ she says of London. ‘I am me but the company in the future will probably be in other places — hence the showroom expansion. But I won’t — I’ll be here.’ Giving every commission her all, and keeping the competition on its toes.

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