London designer Sarah Baker takes us on a tour around her Somerset home
Fashion and interiors are both synonymous with great style. As old souls with a real passion for good old fashion design, we take as much pleasure from a perfectly smocked cushion or wonderful, crisp bed linen as we do from a beautiful couture gown. So imagine our delight when, Sarah Baker, of Baker and Gray invited us to her divine Somerset home for an afternoon of tea and great conversation about beautiful room design.
Instantly, we fell in love with the exquisite furniture, the elegant ambience of the house and as Sarah walked us through her home, we got an essence of how it had come together. “It was in a sad state when we bought it, every room had to have something done to it, upstairs and downstairs, so I set about as reasonably as I could. It was a far more daunting task than I was expecting,” she explains as we wandered through one room to the next.
As we walked through to the dining room, our eyes were instantly drawn to the beautiful mix of textures. For a room that makes quite statement it’s also so cohesive, which poised the question, was there a specific piece or idea in mind that Sarah built the room around? “This was my first Baker & Gray room,” she told us. “I really wanted to have the hand embroidered panels on the chair, all in linen, and the hand embroidered curtains and this was really the beginnings of Baker & Gray, about 7 years ago. I began getting the fabric collection together and this room was really built around the chairs, the fabric, the wall paper and the fireplace.”
Ah yes the fireplace, what a beautiful thing it is. There is something so very heartening about a room gently brought to life with a cluster of flames. This one in particular has a lovely rescue story; “Somebody was demolishing an old Victorian house and those pillars come from an old window frame, the pillars are made of Bath stone and it fit perfectly, all that was needed were the marble slips and mantle which were measured and then cut. The fire looks great when it’s lit!”
It’s quite remarkable how all these gorgeous tactile pieces come together so perfectly in this space, from the lightly embroidered tablecloth, to the powerful, commanding paintings that line the walls. Little touches, from a set of silver spoons set on a sideboard, to a bust dressed in a fabulous headdress, seemingly pull the aesthetic together. Of course one has to ask, in such a well-presented room, if items are ever bought at random or if a need always precedes a purchase? “I’m firstly motivated by what something looks like,” says Sarah, “Of course, if you have a clear style you gravitate towards a certain aesthetic and you begin to collect certain things.”
The love is apparent in pieces peppered through out the home, with a real credence to purchasing items you truly adore. “Sometimes I think people have forgotten the art of waiting until you find the right thing, everything is instant these days, everybody wants things immediately and as a consequence you lose a bit of style, a bit of emotion, a bit of the heart of a building by getting a quick fix. I like houses that have grown with their owners and then you upgrade, or move to another room or slightly change and refurbish, keeping the basic statements but ‘zhooshing’ them up, because then of course, the house is constantly growing with you,” Sarah explains.
Of course the beauty of a family home is that it is constantly evolving and renewing, much like the lovely living room of the house. “The room was pretty sad when we moved in because it hadn’t been lived in for years. When I first moved here many years ago, I found the fireplace in the garage ready to be abandoned [where it was languishing] and this year [the room] has evolved further.”
Wandering around the space, it’s heartening to see the enthusiasm behind the design of the rooms, with Sarah taking a moment here and there to reflect on beloved pieces or aspects of the décor, such as the recently installed shutters. “I installed the shutters up at the window, which was great because it’s added depth and height to the room. I just love how it divides up the light and they’ve been a great success. I like French shutters and that style, the sort of diffused light they give.” The same enthusiasm is shared when discussing the striking artwork that adorns the walls, all finds from antique shops and fairs; “they’ve just been pieces I’ve liked the look of (pausing at a particular painting), he’s got a great face, I think he looks like a really nice old man, who peers benevolently at you from the frame untouched or restored which is exactly as I found it. I tend not to touch things up; it has a history to it. A piece with real character, a life of it’s own.”
Much like the drawing room, it’s the little nuances that pull the room together, from the little vintage shoes perched on a painting, “these little 18th century slippers are just a little quirky touch and one day I just thought ‘oh they look great up there’” to the chandelier that found its way over from a farmyard, the room boasts an eclectic mix that comes together, perfectly into a cohesive flow.
Of course, surrounded by so many pieces in her Notting Hill store must pose a daily want to buy new things. It makes one wonder if a room can ever been complete. “I’m always adding things, recently the mirror,” she explains. “And now I’ve got the shop so I’m always searching and really like discovering finds. For instance these French chairs, I think they look really great in here and of course I was looking for things for the business when I came across them.”
The spirit of the Baker & Gray showroom in Notting Hill is rife in Sarah’s home, or perhaps more fittingly the spirit of her home is rife in the store, strongly reflecting her personality and perceptions. “It’s the same as buying clothing and you just end up letting your tastes take you and I do think that individual shops are made up of the personalities who buy for them,” Sarah told us.
Having absorbed so many wonderful aspects of her home, we sat down for a much-needed cup of tea, served in the most delightful royal blue china. Ever the gracious hostess, Sarah along with her assistant Lucy, had a delicious assortment of cakes and patisseries presented on a cut glass cake stand for us to indulge in as we settled down to pick Sarah’s brains for some resounding decor counsel.
Because the Baker & Gray ethos is very much your own personality, do you ever look to trends?
I do, I do look to trends, I’d be silly not to but I in a way don’t want to be influenced by what everyone else is doing – trends are important but they’re not the be all and end all. Much of the showroom is built around personal preference.”
And what would be your decisive advice for creating your own wonderful space?
You can start a room with a mirror – you just need one piece – and as I’ve said before not everything is expensive and not everything is cheap but then you know, you save up and buy it, because then you’ll always love that item and cherish it.
As your constantly designing, is there a particular area of your home, or something specific that inspires you?
Music, fabric, and the garden inspire me. Frome has amazing listed houses and I like to walk around – inspiration is everywhere and I’m on a journey of my own.
You’re undoubtedly a gracious host, would you add any special touches to make an overnight guest feel at home.
I like having family & friends to stay in this house, it lends itself to a ‘good old party’ and it really comes into its own at Christmas especially. For guests I would put luxurious towels out, crisp bed lined, throws and a hot water bottle in the winter. And candles of course.
If there was just one piece you could save in a fire?
It would be my desk, I have a long association with my desk and it’s definitely the piece I would save in a fire. It’s where I’ve written letters and I suppose its one area of the house aside from my bedroom that’s my personal space and so it has evolved with me. In the absence of laptops, the desk has always been there.
It’s a powerful final note, emphasising the sentiments that grow within the pieces that make your home. Much like peering into the wardrobe of a lauded style icon, visiting the home of an admired interiors designer provided a rare glimpse into the origins of a brand we so admire. We left feeling not only inspired but with a distinct desire to reupholster our lives in Baker & Gray.
Baker & Gray, 57 Chepstow Road, Notting Hill, London W2 5BP; 0207 2432558