Elephants in the hall, peacocks in the lounge, gold leaf in the kitchen – the breathtaking home of Hannah Cecil Gurney, the daughter of the founder of the London luxury wallpaper company de Gournay, is a feast for the eyes
Hand-painted wallpaper and exquisite vintage furniture fill this fairy tale home
Hannah Cecil Gurney was just two years old when her father, Claud Cecil Gurney, founded de Gournay wallpaper company in 1986 in the basement of their home in Kensington, London. Today, it is world-famous for its hand-painted Chinoiserie, paradise gardens and panoramas. “Nothing from de Gournay ever comes close to a machine,” says Gurney, now 33, who, after working as a trainee in the world of finance, now works with global marketing and development in the family business.
Gurney lives in a two-bedroom flat by Kensington Gardens, making it easy to walk her two dogs. She also has a husband, Eddie Harden, who does not oppose living in a “colour shock”. “Eddie’s conception of good decoration is limited to a big flat-screen television set, so I had to decorate.
I have an emotional attachment to wallpaper and textiles, as I grew up in my father’s magical fairyland with birds flying around the walls,” Gurney says, adding that she’s handed the cooking over to Harden. “I could live on popcorn and champagne, but my husband is a fabulous chef.”
The Kensington apartment is on the ground floor of a Georgian house with tall windows. There are two bedrooms, a lounge, dining room and kitchenette. When Gurney moved here a few years ago, originally sharing the flat with her sister, the first thing she noticed was the lowered ceiling.
During the renovation, all ceilings regained their original height except the kitchen, which otherwise would have reminded her of an elevator shaft – a risk Hannah further avoided by putting gold leaf on both the ceiling and walls. “I had an idea that each room should have its own colour and mood. It should feel like entering new worlds,” she says.
In the long, narrow dining room, Hannah tried to conjure an illusion of space with big mirrors along one of the walls. “I can understand if other people think the combination of colours and patterns is a bit chaotic. I have a sort of crazy imagination, and I am not an experienced decorator,” says Gurney.“Hopefully my style will develop in time for our next home. I would very much like to have children, and then we’ll need a bigger place.”
So is she ever tempted to try new wallpaper collections at home? “ Yes, I change wallpaper every six months or so, so I never get bored,” she says. “I prefer silk wallpapers most, as they are smoother and have more depth and texture than other materials, and they create better acoustics as well. Painted walls feel colder. Wallpaper becomes a part of the architecture – I regard wallpaper as decoration.”
Believing a home should reflect the people who live there, Gurney favours vintage furniture and has placed a total ban on anything new. “If it is too uniform and stylish, things tend to disappear. By using seemingly incompatible objects, you draw attention to them,” she says. “My favourite hobby is going to antique markets in France with my father. There I find treasures I would never find new. There is nothing better than renovating and upholstering old furniture.”
Though she’s grown up surrounded by a luxurious visual feast, when asked what makes a house a home with soul, her answer is surprising: “There must be plants and animals,” she says, adding that nothing in her home is too fragile. “A glass of wine or a dog can end up on the couch, no problem.”
Words by: Gill Renlund. Photography by: Johan Sellén/Living Inside.