When speaking to David Carter, interior designer and owner of this week's Hot House, I asked whether the home had a name that I could use in the title. He said no, but thought perhaps Best House in the World might work. In the end I went for East End Grandeur, but for many, myself included, his suggestion would stand up to serious scrutiny. I've spoken of house envy before, but for me, this Queen Anne townhouse in Stepney Green, East London takes things to a whole other level.
David, can you tell us when you bought the house; how the house looked then and about the work that you've done.
I bought the house 13 years ago – before the East End became the trendy place it is today – and it was utterly, completely derelict. There was no roof, no floors, no ceilings – nothing. You could have stood in the house and looked up and just seen sky: I mean it was a ruin. People talk about doing work to a house when all they're doing is painting a couple of rooms, but this was truly a ruin...but I fell in love with it. It was unloved, neglected but it still resonated an incredible feeling – a warmth and I just loved it. In terms of the work, I think that any good home is never finished. A home is a reflection of who we are and we're all constantly changing, so the story that the house tells about the owner must constantly evolve too. It's a journey.
Are you the envy of all your friends because you get to live in such an amazing house?
Yes, they all hate me. I never get any invitations to dinner any more, because everyone starts asking for my opinion on what they've done with their houses and I give it. I'm always saying "well, I'm not sure why you have that over there – and if I were you, I'd change this..." No – I'm not the envy of my friends at all.
Do you tend to have a master plan for the look of a whole house or do you work on a room by room basis?
It varies. If I'm working with clients I'm quick – I generally know pretty much instantly what's going to work best, just from experience and by looking at proportions, light and so on. I can quickly mentally run through and process all the possibilities. With one's own home it's always more complicated as it's very personal – it's a personal statement and can be very revealing, so when it's my home and also because I have the luxury of time, it tends to be a longer process.
How would you describe the look of the house?
I suppose a kind of Alice in Wonderland feel. The Mile End Road outside the house is a busy, chaotic road and when one opens the door and enters the dark bronze/black hallway it's a little bit like falling down the rabbit hole. Every room is different so I suppose it's a kind of decorative journey. People feel something in this house – it resonates with people and it's a place that people want to spend time. For some, it's sexy, seductive, naughty. I think there's a theatricality about it – a sense of playfulness – humour. I suppose it's a bit like a grown-up theatre set.
Do you have a favourite space in the house?
Probably my favourite room, the room I actively want to spend most time in, is the opium den-esque drawing room. There's something womb-like about it – there's definitely something special about that room.
Where did you source the furnishings to achieve the look? Do you have a list of "go-to" shops for interiors projects? Spitalfields has a great antiques market on a Thursday morning, so I go there and just lots of antique shops really. I commission a lot of things as I work with a lot of wonderful people. My style is sometimes described as 'contemporary classic', but all that really means is a mix of old and new. I'm not trying to create strictly, boringly historic interiors – I'm trying to do something new – a mix. You can't worry about things in a 'oh that's 16th century and that's 18th century so they won't go together' type way – they might. It's about creating somewhere with warmth and humanity – and using things with a history to them softens things, makes them more comfortable. You don't want people coming into a place and thinking that they can't sit on something because it's too perfect or it might break.
As well as it being your home, the house is also on the books of jjlocations as a shoot location. Is the house used a lot?
Yes, it's always being used for shoots – lots of amazing fashion shoots and it's also a venue for events – there have been some pretty amazing parties here! Actually someone extremely famous is due here shortly to have their photograph taken but I'm afraid I can't tell you who, or when or there'd be chaos. The house is also a hotel and it's where I run my business from so all in all it's a pretty hard-working house.
Can you ever see yourself moving from this house/how could you top it as a place to live?
Whenever I say "I'll be here forever" about somewhere I'm packing two weeks later. I do love the house and I hope it loves me back, especially after all the time and love (and money) I've lavished on it, but who knows. Life's a journey and I love doing lots of different things and meeting new people.
I think it's important not to feel as though one has to keep doing anything, so who knows – when we next speak I might be living in Argentina restoring an incredible old monastery. Life's full of surprises.