When it comes to home decor, people tend to shy away from bold colours and pattern clashing, but not interior designer Sarah Vanrenen. The Resident takes a peek at her latest project, a stylishly eclectic Georgian townhouse in Chelsea
Words: Madeleine Howell
Sarah Vanrenen’s vibrant style pays homage to bold colour schemes, riotous patterns and rare antiques. ‘I don’t like minimalism,’ she asserts. ‘A house should look lived in, as if the person who lives there has collected personal effects all their life. It should reflect their character.’
Vanrenen grew up surrounded by designers, ‘being carted around’ by her mother, Penny Morrison, one half of accessories brand Irving & Morrison and herself a designer famed for her hand-printed designs on natural linens and cottons.
But where does Vanrenen draw her inspiration from these days? ‘It’s everywhere,’ she says. ‘I read absolutely every interiors magazine I can get my hands on, and I travel a lot. Instagram has been amazing for finding people with similar tastes in the industry. It’s opened up a new world.’
Her favourite haunts are the Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair in Battersea and the Ardingly Antiques and Collectors Fair down in Sussex, where she’ll often be found ‘making a day of it’ with a friend or a client. ‘If you really like something, and it’s a one-off, then pay a little bit more – you’ll look at it forever and love it,’ she advises.
Vanrenen describes her ideal look as modern, but eclectic. ‘I often like to have a classic base, a blank canvas with simple architectural lines, and then I’ll add colourful textures and textiles,’ she explains. It’s a dash of daring, and a love of one-off pieces, paired with elegant staples. She often goes for her tried and tested suppliers, such as Vaughan lighting ‘which I’ll always use, because it’s just so classic, and such good quality’ against an outlandish pop of colour by way of contrast.
A glance at one recent pet project, a Georgian townhouse in Chelsea, shows that she’s far from afraid to clash prints. ‘Contrasting fabrics should work well together. You just need to be brave enough to find out what works,’ she urges. That said, Vanrenen emphasises that she works carefully to read each client, and according to their preferences, is always happy to ‘calm the whole thing down’.
Vanrenen’s preferred style is on show in all its glory at the townhouse. ‘It was for a client that I’ve had for many years – I’ve worked with her since 2002. It was great fun because she always says “yes”! I was able to implement a lot of American influences, which I love, and really go for it.
‘In both the sitting room and the drawing room we’ve mixed bold, vibrant fabrics together. I adore her brass chest of drawers, another brave choice, and the Martha Armitage wallpaper in the bedroom. We went for an acid lime green colour in the downstairs loo, which looks amazing.’
Whether you’re one for brights or not, Vanrenen’s signature use of texture works well with any colour scheme. ‘As with print, I like to use unexpected combinations of fabric and texture,’ she says. ‘Rich velvet paired with lovely thick, woven linens and silk lampshades works well.’
Fireplaces are also a key focal point for Vanrenen in terms of structure. ‘Wherever possible one has to have a fireplace, whether gas or real, somewhere in the house, that you can dress with a mirror, flowers and photographs,’ she says. ‘It’s the best way to make a house feel lived-in. I’ve even been known to put fireplaces in where there hasn’t been a flue.’
What’s her own house like? Vanrenen laughs: ‘I’m doing it up at the moment, and I suppose it’s going to be pretty bold too. I’m going to have very dark, lacquered purple walls in my sitting room, juxtaposed with light, pale bookshelves, so it won’t be oppressive. And of course, I’ll have all the things I’ve collected over the years in there.’
For more about Sarah Vanrenen, visit vanrenendesigns.com or call 020 7371 8465