When decamping from Berlin to London, Isatu Funna and husband, Philipp von Hammerstein, had to find the ideal spot to put down roots and they needed a modern house with walls of sufficient scale to display their burgeoning art collection.
‘We looked at maybe 60-plus houses,’ says Isatu. But when they saw this property in North London, Isatu knew instantly it was the one.
It was a while before the couple were wrestling with hanging their collection, however. The house needed a fair bit of work as it had been subdivided into a series of flats so they stayed put in a rental, while interior architect Ramses Frederickx took charge.
‘We had to gut the whole place, then build everything back up again,’ explains Isatu, who says that finding Ramses was happenstance. ‘A good friend had used him, and I loved what happened with her home and how he brought it all together. We had a similar aesthetic, so I asked for an introduction.’
As her daughters were still very young at the time of the work, Isatu handed over the nitty gritty. ‘I wanted a liveable house, but wasn’t as focused on the development aspects,’ she admits. ‘Ramses and Philipp guided the renovation – I was more interested in the final bits and pieces.’ Once the shell was ready to go, Isatu stepped in...
The neutral, pared-back bones of the building meant she was able to introduce colour and personality with her choice of furnishings and, of course, that art.
‘I love the idea of color and I think it harks back to coming from Sierra Leone originally and that African feel and warmth,’ she says. ‘I also have a very preppy side – I love J Crew. So, it sounds bizarre, but if you combine African geometrics and American preppy-ness, that would be where my style lies.’
It’s not so bizarre when you know that Isatu grew up between Sierra Leone and the United States, where she met her husband at law school.
Isatu says the interiors have evolved organically but color and the warmth it brings was always on the agenda.
Rear living room
'This is where I feel most together, most me. It's also got my favourite painting,' says Isatu.
This room had the all important space that could accommodate her favourite painting, a three by two-metre floral piece painted on glass from a triptych by German artist, Stefan Sehler. ‘It was always about finding that wall. I thought, “We’re not moving unless we can fit in this work,” because it would be very sad to have it stored away. Even now it’s literally hanging on by a thread.’
Seeing the skilful craftspeople Ramses sourced for elements of the renovation in part inspired Isatu to set up her design business, Dar Leone – her take on contemporary African design.
‘Working with Ramses and seeing how he got designs, such as the built-in furniture, started from scratch and seen through to the end, is what gave me the bug,’ she says. ‘I also owe a lot to Eva Sonaike, who’s from Nigeria – she’s amazing. I first saw her cushions in a boutique, and I thought, “Wow! This is aspirational, it’s contemporary, it’s African, I love it.” That’s where it all germinated.’
Isatu's Oceana design on the chairs is the synthesis of US preppy style with African geometrics.
High gloss wall units add to the sleek, modern look as well as reflecting the light.
The ebullient pieces of art offer a striking contrast to the clean lines of the furniture.
A hanging sign adds a vibrant touch, whether lit or not.
Keeping the walls neutral means standout prints don't stop the bedroom feeling restful.
Isatu’s own signature print is her Oceana design and there are hints of it in different colorways dotted throughout the house.
'Buying art is a gut response, and I find that both my husband and I notice the same work, so we agree - mostly,' says Isatu.
'The vanity unit with marble top was made for us by one of Ramses' carpenters. He is amazing.'
What’s notable is that despite the wide spectrum of bold colors throughout, the overall look of her home feels edited – curated almost. This is a happy accident, claims Isatu. ‘We buy what we like, and we’re always convinced it will work.’ It’s an approach that’s resulted in a comfortable space where the family can kick back and relax. ‘I come in, close the door and feel like I really can leave the outside behind.’
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As journalist with over 25 years experience, Kara has held staff positions at ELLE Decoration, Sunday Times Style and The Express. She has been a longtime contributor to Livingetc, and also been a regular writer for titles such as House Beautiful. She has always focussed on design and interiors, and her first book, At Home with Plants, was written with florist Ian Drummond and published in 2017.
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