Designer Profile: Harriet Anstruther

The British interior designer on her love of mixing old and new, her obsession with the colour pink and the royal souvenir she keeps in her downstairs loo.

With an architect mother and artist father, it’s little wonder Harriet Anstruther developed a sense of style. She followed her dad into the art world before pursuing a career in the textile industry (you’ll find her printed silk scarves in the V&A’s permanent collection). After she was asked by her friend Kit Kemp to do some work for the Covent Garden Hotel, she decided to ‘up her game’ and studied at Inchbald School of Design, launching her own studio just three years ago. Allied to Harriet’s talent, an unmistakable sense of humour prevails in her interiors, which is why we’re big fans of her work.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE?

I’m loath to describe it, really, but others have said it’s very English in its eclecticism – comfortable yet glamorous. There’s a mix of past and present in my work. Even if I’m doing a new build, there’s so much you can learn from the past and I’m just as passionate about something that’s very ancient as I am about something new and refined.

Bold stripes make a big impression in Harriet’s Georgian living room

HOW DO YOU STRIKE THE RIGHT BALANCE OF OLD AND NEW?

I try to learn the back story of a home before I start work on it. The Survey of London is an amazing online source of information on listed buildings in the capital. I try to weave that history into the physical space, mixing it with objects that are meaningful to the owner. It’s curating, really.

An oversized toile looms large in Harriet’s revamp of a Surrey farmhouse

WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

The physical, tactile nature of art, which probably harks back to my childhood surrounded by artists, writers and actors.
I like to visit the Flowers Gallery in Shoreditch and the Chisenhale Gallery in Dalston – very cutting edge! I also love the student degree shows; they’re unassuming, but full of energy. Art forms a major part of my latest project, where we’ve commissioned six or seven artists to do very site-specific pieces for an estate in Buckinghamshire.

Harriet’s bedroom includes some of her father’s landscape paintings

DO YOU HAVE ANY DESIGN BUGBEARS?

I notice the details, so if things aren’t lined up, it aggravates me. When something’s done properly, you don’t notice the small stuff. Oddly, I had a real problem with the colour yellow for many years and I still don’t like it much – I can’t stand it with green, especially. A lot of it has to do with associations: my grandmother made me a yellow dress and it itched like crazy! I also remember my mum had an apple-green Citroën 2CV that I just adored and my father often wore pink velvet trousers.

A printed silk designed by Harriet for Kit Kemp’s Firmdale Hotel Group

HOW HAVE YOU USED COLOUR IN YOUR PROJECTS?

I have a pink basement kitchen in my house, which was inspired by the fantastic spray-painted luminous doors in the loos at the River Café in Hammersmith. I discovered the paint came from Bristol Paint and said, ‘Right, that’s it. I’m having a pink kitchen!’ The company also does a glitter paint that’s fantastic – I painted a drawing room black and then used it over the top. The result was quite astonishing.

The basement kitchen in Harriet’s pink-tastic west London home

AND WHAT ABOUT TEXTURE?

The more you layer something, the more textural it becomes, but it can still be subtle. For example, right now I’m looking at a German designer called Veronika Wildgruber. She’s done these wonderfully simple school-style chairs, with the wooden seats sculpted to look like fabric. It gives them another dimension.

A designer to watch… limited-edition Soft Wood chair, £1,300, Veronika Wildgruber at Mint

HOW DO YOU APPROACH YOUR PROJECTS?

Firstly by gauging the client’s needs, both functionally and emotionally, which can often be two very different things. It’s like giving presents: I’d never give someone a gift that I didn’t like. It’s about striking a balance between introducing them to something new, while also creating a space that gets their pulses racing.

WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR CHOOSING FURNITURE?

Ask yourself honestly what you want the piece for. If you’re choosing a sofa, decide whether it’s for looking at, or if it’s for slouching around in your jimjams and eating Pot Noodle. I don’t believe in chucking out the old and making everything new, new, new. It’s best to mix things that complement each other. Parties are way more interesting when there’s a mix of ages!

Classic design… Fitas brass table, approx £17,000, Fernando and Humberto Campana at Friedman Benda

WHERE DO YOU SOURCE PIECES FROM?

Anywhere from Habitat and eBay to one-offs and expensive gallery pieces. I love the furniture from the Campana Brothers and antique textile dealer Katharine Pole sells beautiful things – I’m a big fan of Toile de Jouy and she sells a lot of that. I also like the work of Arik Levy, who makes lovely polished-steel sculptures, but also little coffee tables and things. Tom Dixon’s stuff is great – all you need is a small piece from his Eclectic range and bingo!

Cast Mini Jack in Copper, £75; and Cast Mini Jack in Black, £50, the Eclectic range at Tom Dixon

WHAT’S YOUR MOST TREASURED FIND?

The old fire bucket I bought, which I turned into a hand basin at home. It must have been stolen from a palace because it’s got a George VI crowned cipher on it! 

The royal fire  bucket-cum-hand basin in Harriet’s cloakroom is framed by Fornasetti Malachite wallpaper, £76 per 10m roll, Cole & Son

WHAT’S YOUR OWN HOME LIKE?

It reflects who I am – that I have dogs and I like art. It also shows there are pieces I couldn’t bear to part with, such as a Méret Oppenheim table, and that I have an immature sense of humour. I’ve got a neon-pink flamingo in my office that my husband lovingly gave me one Christmas. It sits among all sorts of rather valuable things, so it looks ridiculous in context! 

More of Harriet’s printed silks designed for Firmdale Hotels

ANY TRICKS FOR QUICK FIXES?

Paint everything white; change the handles on things; look at the small stuff. Lighting is difficult to do well – it’s not a cheap thing to fix, but it can make a huge difference to how you feel in a space.

For more info, visit harrietanstruther.com

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