Interior designer Egon Walesch’s beautiful Edwardian home in Blackheath is an homage to mid-century modern design. Nikki Spencer takes a tour…
When Egon Walesch and his partner Richard Goodwin first set eyes on their four-bedroom home on the edge of Blackheath in the early 90s, neither envisaged that doing it up would lead to a new career for Egon. But two years ago, with redundancy looming and their beautifully refurbished house as a testament to his skills, the former project manager took up interior design full time.
‘I love design and the idea of working as an interior designer has always been at the back of my mind,’ explains Egon. ‘In my late 40s it seemed like a good time to make the leap.’ Egon signed up for a six-week introductory interior design course at City Lit and before it was even over he started to get offers of work from the neighbours. And he has already garnered quite a bit of attention. His enviable upstairs home office/library complete with relaxing Farrow & Ball Stone Blue walls, custom built wooden shelving, 1950s Ernest Race chairs and driftwood mantelpiece recently won Best Professional Office Space in the prestigious Remodilista Considered Design Awards.
In September, over 120 people looked around their home as part of Open House London and in October it was on the cover of 25 Beautiful Homes magazine. Back in the summer Egon also took part in the second series of BBC2’s The Great Interior Design Challenge, transmitted in November.
‘It was great fun,’ he says, although very different from the way he usually works. ‘I like to sit down with clients and then go away and come up with a design, but [on the show] you had to do it all over two days, so it was quite artificial. I didn’t win but I did get work out of it,’ he reveals. ‘The owners of the house we were working on in the show asked me to do some work for them and one of their neighbours did too.’
Many of the homes Egon has worked on so far have been Edwardian or Victorian properties that are ‘looking a bit tired’ and he says his aim is always to ‘bring out the personality of the home and the people who live in it’, something he has certainly managed in his own home – although he’s certainly not claiming solo credit.
‘Doing up the house was very much a joint thing. Richard works as a management consultant but he is a trained architect too. In 1991 it was very different to how it is now,’ says Egon as he takes me on a tour. ‘You could tell it was a beautiful house but the décor was not my style – lots of stripped orangey wood and it was stuffed full of furniture.’
Before they moved in they did some work on the bathroom, installing a cast-iron bath and walk-in shower, and in the kitchen they retained the existing 1950s gas cooker.
‘I like old things and it just seemed so wasteful to throw it away. I didn’t want a sleek kitchen,’ he says as he tells me about the large antique gas light hanging in the centre of the room that they brought back from France and had rewired. ‘We went with Richard’s cousin who thought we were crazy buying it and bringing it home on the ferry!’
Modern appliances do have their place, however: ‘We cook and entertain a lot so it’s great to have a big American fridge and we have an additional worktop electric oven too.’
Innovative storage solutions are clearly one of Egon’s fortes and the kitchen in particular is full of them, from a tall spice rack and open shelves, which hold a large collection of China mainly inherited from their families, to an old haberdashery cabinet, used for storing cutlery and tableware, that they bought on eBay and had shorted by a carpenter.
The most recent addition to their home is their new ‘garden room’, built two years ago to replace an old lean-to. Rather than adding a conservatory the couple opted for a ‘proper extension’ and the bespoke reclaimed brick and timber structure was designed by Sasa Works, who they came across at the Tent London design show: ‘We really liked how they worked,’ says Egon. ‘We took the best part of year throwing ideas around and sketching and then they came up with this’, he says as he highlights the handcrafted woodwork including the ceiling, a day bed and yet more ingenious storage including a hidden food prep area.
It’s a substantial extension and Egon mentions that the foundations of are actually deeper than the house. ‘This will still be standing when the rest is long gone!’ At the same time they redesigned their garden, replacing decking with a paved seating and dining area and creating an oval lawn.
Egon attributes his love of mid-century modern design to his childhood in Ireland and particularly to his father who built their family home in the 60s: ‘My mum was Irish but my dad was German, and very creative. He designed our house himself and furnished it with the trendy stuff that you see now, like leatherette sofa units.’
When Egon’s father died a few years ago, he inherited a small timber cabin on the edge of Lough Ree that he has recently restored and furnished with vintage Ercol furniture and 1960s Louis Poulsen pendant lights. It is available to hire when they couple are not using it.
‘I just think that in the 50s and 60s they valued design more. The furniture is all very liveable and works very well here,’ he says, pointing to a 60s record cabinet that was another eBay find. ‘The thin legs are just much more elegant than modern media units with their chunky design.’
It’s obvious just how much care and attention the couple have put into decorating and furnishing their home, from the statement wallpapers by Timorous Beasties and Cole and Son to the beautiful rich red stair carpet and bold prints by British artists such as Joe Tilson and Patrick Caulfield. Many unique pieces have come from the old Moores Auction Rooms in Greenwich (now The Auctioneer pub) including a huge mirror in the bedroom and a beautiful piece of old pub glass that they had fitted into the bathroom door.
‘For a while I worked in Greenwich and a colleague and I used to go there all the time and egg each other on to buy things,’ says Egon adding that one of the perks of his new career is that despite having finished their own home he still has a reason to scour antique markets and vintage shops. ‘I’ve had to stop buying things for the house, but it’s wonderful that I can still buy things for clients.’