When it came to renovating her own home, New Zealand-born London-based interior designer Ana Foster-Adams embraced England’s past.
Interior designer Ana Foster-Adams whetted her appetite for colour and pattern at her first job, on the showroom floor of Mokum Textiles in Auckland. She spent every spare cent on European interiors magazines, pouring over the creative and cutting-edge homes within.
Seeking involvement in that world, in 2005 she moved to London, securing a junior role at high-end interior design firm Godrich Interiors. The Holland Park-based company designs and builds interiors for well-heeled UK business people and celebrities. Its portfolio is tantalisingly labelled by place, such as Knightsbridge, Notting Hill, Ibiza and Majorca.
Foster-Adams says she developed a passion for sourcing while working under director Ed Godrich. “I was exposed to amazing mid-century and antique furniture dealers. Ed had a huge number of contacts he’d worked with over the years, I was fortunate to be passed this knowledge and to have the kind of projects that allowed us to source beautiful pieces.”
Over seven years Foster-Adams worked her way up to a senior designer role. During her long work days she became friends with fellow designer Esther Booth. The pair decided they would make ideal flatmates and, importantly for them, they saw eye-to-eye aesthetically.
An unfruitful search for flats in East London, with its prohibitive rental prices, led them to scan the ‘for sale’ column instead. A few months of searching landed them a three-bedroom Victorian terrace in Clapton – a rough-and-ready East London suburb – which they bought together. Close to the so-called ‘murder mile’, the suburb had yet to be gentrified as other East London neighbourhoods have been.
In stark contrast to their day jobs where budgets stretched to millions of pounds, the friends had little money for renovating. Vacating the house was not an option, and flatmates were necessary. “It was chaos,” Foster-Adams says. “We ripped out the kitchen and did the dishes in the bath. It was the middle of an English summer and it rained incessantly. We bought a barbecue and had to stand under an umbrella to cook. We ended up living off takeaways. Our flatmates were amazing, they didn’t complain once.”
The main work was in the kitchen. Foster-Adams and Booth removed the back wall and replaced it with bi-folding glass doors leading to the garden, bringing in much-needed light. “The kitchen had originally been dark and dingy,” she says. “We wanted to create a space that was light-filled and warm and that not look over-designed. We achieved this by opening up the back wall and installing large glass doors that open out to the garden as well as layering different materials to create a warm and relaxing environment. The kitchen was always going to be the space we used the most so it needed to be functional and practical yet feel good.”
With the help of watermelon pink Neisha Crosland wallpaper, they converted an unnecessary side entrance to the kitchen into a powder room with personality. “We wanted to make something a little crazy out of the toilet, which you can always do well in a small space.” The candy coloured wallpaper from Crosland was the starting point.”
Foster-Adams’ sourcing experience became useful as the pair combed websites and reclamation yards for affordable, stylish second-hand fixtures. They bought a kitchen worktop that began life in a school, and cabinets that once housed specimens in London’s Natural History Museum. Among their second-hand finds were an oven and a pale-blue Smeg fridge. Pages from vintage Shakespearean books became wallpaper and light fittings left over from jobs allowed for different lights to be used in each room.
The previous owners had done a half-hearted job of modernising the house, which Foster-Adams and Booth reversed by reinstating classical cornicing in the living and bedrooms. They tiled the bathroom in traditional railway tiles. “Our boss Ed found us the wash basin in a reclamation shop. It had the original taps, which didn’t work when we plumbed them in. These are the things that happen behind the scenes, which is why people hire designers. So they don’t have to deal with the hiccups,” says Foster-Adams.
“The thing I love about working in London is the spaces I have the opportunity to work on have amazing bones. It’s exciting to create something that’s new, but sympathetic to its architecture and character. It’s important you don’t remove too much.”
The pair used their well-honed knack for mixing modern pieces with antiques and artwork. “I try to be sympathetic to the classical elements in the house. I work very much with my clients,” Foster-Adams says. “A home is such a personal thing, I don’t believe it’s about how I think it should look. Interiors evolve over time, so you give the client a base to start with. It doesn’t stop when you give them the keys.”
This collaborative but experience-based approach has put her in good standing with clients since she started working under her own name in 2013. Recent projects include the renovation of a Victorian sandstone apartment in Mayfair, a music studio in Hackney, a branding agency in central London, and the flagship cafe for East London, Curators Coffee Gallery.
“I love how London offers spaces with amazing bones that I can work with,” she says. “It’s exciting to create something new, yet be sympathetic to its architecture and character. It’s important you don’t remove too much.”
Q&A – Ana Foster-Adams shares her interior secrets
Where do you look for inspiration when starting a project?
My boyfriend lives in Paris so I’m lucky to spend a lot of time there. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I’m constantly inspired by the effortlessness, elegance and classic style of the French. I also refer to blogs, Pinterest, magazines, art and fabric collections.
What makes a good interior?
Two key things for me are layers and mood. I like to experience an interior that you can see has evolved over time, is interesting, warm and inviting. It should also reflect the people who live there.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to people undertaking their own renovations?
Don’t rush unnecessarily! Everyone is always desperate to finish and move in, but don’t make a deadline so short that you end up compromising on the finish.
Is there a piece you’ve sourced for a client that you can’t get out of your head?
I was designing the interior of a very modern home in India and my client and I shared a love of mid-century furniture. I sourced a very rare and eye-wateringly expensive pair of Paul Evans cabinets from a dealer in New York. I had the nerve-wracking task of trying to get them through Indian customs unscathed. No easy feat!
Where do you like to hang out in London?
I like to keep it pretty local. Starting with coffee at Curators Coffee Gallery, a visit to Dover Street Market in Mayfair, then a delicious lunch at Raw Duck in Hackney followed by an evening at Sager & Wilde for the best wine and cheese selection in London. If cocktails are required The Clove Club in Shoreditch makes a mean Campari Negroni and has a beautiful interior.
Where would you send a visitor to London with an interest in interiors?
- The Victoria & Albert Museum – Not only is the building beautiful, it houses interesting collections of decorative arts and design.
- The Design Museum – A contemporary museum of all things design.
- Church St & Alfie’s Antique Market – My mid-century heaven.
- Pimlico Road antique showrooms – One of my favourites is Rose Uniacke where I used to work. She has an incredible collection of antiques and her own range of bespoke furniture.
- Sir John Soane Museum – Formerly the home of the architect John Soane, it houses his amazing collection of antiquities, paintings and furniture.
Writer: Karlya Smith. Photography: Jon Day.