DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE
This darkly glamourous London Penthouse offers a more personal take on the super-prime local aesthetic, with Art Deco touches filtered through a masculine 1970s lens.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: KATE MARTIN
With a ‘natural history’ theme, the dining area includes lighting made from a piece of driftwood cast in bronze, and a Damien Hirst, Exhilaration, made from butterflies and household gloss.
I n the world of super-prime property, the western end of Knightsbridge, as it trails into Kensington Road, is a newly crowned king. On this short strip sits one Hyde Park, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and candy & candy’s fan of glass towers on the park; the Bulgari hotel, London’s most pricey overnight stay, with its eight apartments; and The Knightsbridge, a complex of more than 200 top-end residences. These homes may offer an exquisite level of luxury alongside attentive service and lockdown security, but there is still something publicity-seeking about living at such a signature address. If you’re a bit more discreet and discerning, fortunately, you don’t have to look far for an alternative, in the form of KHN design’s 440 sq m penthouse apartment in Rutland gardens Knightsbridge’s only private gated road.
Inside, the plush and shimmering deco-infused style that has become a byword for luxury design is here treated to an injection of 1970s glamour that sets it apart from its near-neighbors. For once, it looks like a designer has sat up and taken notice of wider trends – in fashion and film, as well as interiors – a rarity at this end of the market, which so often appears to exist in its own cushioned style-vacuum.
KHN’s creative director Carl Bignell confirms that “we’ve come at it more from a design perspective than a development perspective. This apartment was developed around the idea of a Sean Connery, early1970s vibe, with that exotic influence that was around then – wood veneers, rusty bronzes, and golds. I feel like the 1960s and 1970s in design are heavily coming into their own: look at what Prada’s brought out lately, or all the concrete furniture that’s around. I think people are going to start to enjoy that style more.”
Of course, these influences are filtered through a luxury lens: a calf-leather chair wrapped in fluted panels was inspired by the façade of a Brutalist building, but the ‘concrete’ from which it looks to be made, on closer inspection, is fine Italian stone, complete with microscopic fossils. Bignell explains that it was important that the apartment didn’t slip into a retro territory, not least because his prospective buyer (most probably Russian, Middle Eastern, or Hong Kong Chinese) has no time for 96/97 antiques. The ubiquitous Deco details are here in spades, in the scalloped-edged armchairs, mirror detailing, and exotic veneers, but it feels edgier when it’s combined with the 1970s influence, a bit like Biba’s reimagining of Deco was 40 years ago. The art, meanwhile, includes work by Damien Hirst, Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin, and Steven Meisel.
Bignell says that he had been “tracking this building for the last four or five years; it had changed hands two or three times. It was originally a maisonette, two apartments, and two offices, spread over three floors, so it was hard to conceptualize what it would look like as one apartment. But now, it feels like it has been here forever.” The varying floor heights across each story have been unified to create a much more harmonious space, which Bignell says was “very difficult to achieve, but we felt we had to do it,” and the lift that previously only reached the bottom of the three stories now goes all the way to the top. A roof terrace with 360-degree views offers an additional feature that most comparable properties in the area cannot.
Lateral space is seen as more desirable in these super-prime developments, so the staircase that runs up the center of the apartment has been made an impressive architectural feature in itself, with a textured bronze wall running the height of the void, creating the required vibe – Dr. No’s lair meets modernist Brazilian hotel.
The staircase, made a design feature in its own right with a textured bronze wall and an abacus-like balustrade.
Plump scallop-edged chairs add a dash of 1930s glamour to the mix.
The master bedroom features a lighter, feminine style, with a white marble console to echo the black one in the living area.
Although there is a recurring palette of colors and materials used throughout – with lots of bronze, smoked glass, and almond gold – there is also a nice tension between masculine and feminine. The feature lighting on the top floor, made bespoke by Otoro (as was all of the lighting), is a case in point. The living area has a tubular brass and glass fixture that is all regularity and right-angles while hanging above the dining table in the adjacent room is Otoro’s interpretation of a ‘natural history’ brief, a piece of driftwood cast in bronze, dripping with smoke-tinted crystals. “We wanted something structural and substantial [in the living area] that dominates the ceiling, whereas, in the dining room, it had to be elegant and glitzy,” says Bignell. The master bedroom suite mixes hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper in the bedroom itself, with a more masculine look for the adjacent bathroom, with walls and countertops in Sahara Noire marble, a black stone with dramatic slashes of white and bronze. Swathes of book-matched marble and timber veneer are recurring features throughout the apartment.
Subtly iridescent details include mother-of-pearl marquetry on the skirting, and Venetian mirror on the headboard.
A visual pun in one of the bathrooms, where the zebras match the marble.
Most of the furniture was made by Manzard, a sister company to Otoro, with the same design and manufacturing team; its bespoke work includes marble-topped console tables with roundels of antiqued Venetian mirror, and more marble and mirror for the multi-level coffee tables, set into a frame of flamed steel. The impressive dining table has a polished timber top inlaid with slices of agate, with bronze legs. Everywhere you look, there are lustrous touches that give off a subtle gleam: unsurprisingly, this is a place that transforms at night, when artificial light picks up every reflective surface, from the platinum-brushed oak floors to the mother-of-pearl marquetry set into the skirting boards in the master bedroom. Bignell says the space makes “a hell of statement”, both in its unusual aesthetic and its quest for perfection down to every detail. “I’ve always lived by the philosophy that design is invisible unless it’s broken. When you walk into a room, the things that you notice are the things that are wrong; if you don’t see anything, you know that everything just fits.”