STYLE

Hot Houses: Spitalfields' Finest

04/04/2011 12:02 | Updated 22 May 2015

Journalist, broadcaster and owner of this week's Hot House, John Nicolson lives in the heart of Spitalfields, East London in the beautiful five floor Georgian townhouse showcased in the gallery below, with partner Juliano Zini who is an academic.

John, can you please tell us when you bought the house; the kind of condition it was in and a little about the work that you've done to it.

I bought the house 15 years ago when it - and most of the Spitalfields neighbourhood - was derelict. It had never been wired or plumbed and had been last lived in during the late 1920s. In the intervening years it had been used as a sweat shop for the tailoring trade. The basement had been surrendered to mud and silt, the attic was full of damp, rotting bales of cloth and the floors in between had collapsing ceilings, a staircase which had become detached from the party wall, and rooms which were sub-divided with the original panelling hidden behind false walls. I loved it instantly!

What drew you: a) to Spitalfields; and b) to this house in particular?

I like faded grandeur and I love derelict houses. I wandered the streets of Spitalfields with amazement - I couldn't work out why everyone wasn't clamouring to get hold of one of these majestic Georgian houses just yards away from Bishopsgate and the City - especially as they were very inexpensive.

The house was built in 1722. Did its age present any particular challenges in terms of the work you had to do to it?

The house had been abused. The panels were covered in Victorian fireproofing - sheets of metal attached with hundreds of rivets. The floors sagged under the weight of machinery from the textile trade. I found Georgian hob grates rusting in the fireplaces. The ceilings had all collapsed or did so as we began renovation. There were rats everywhere. The objective however was to renovate so that the building looked not new, but like an old home which had always been loved and which had aged gracefully through the centuries.

Did you work with an interior designer or is it all you?

My partner at the time was the landscape architect Luis Buitrago - we worked on the house together. He has immense style and flair.

Do you have a favourite space in the house?

I adore the shady secret garden designed by Luis, and marvel at how he's created something so beautiful and established looking in a space that fifteen years ago was entirely covered by a Victorian lean to. I have a silver birch, and wild geraniums, huge tree ferns, and an assortment of Georgian and Victorian chimney pots rescued from skips around London and now planted with a mass of aromatic shrubs, herbs and flowers. And I love my bedroom. I lie in a huge silver bed (designed by Tom Dixon and bought at auction for a song) and look out at the Hawksmoor detailing of Christ Church framed by my windows.

How would you describe the feel of the house?

Loved, aged, tranquil.

Do you have a list of go-to shops for interiors?

I go to skips whenever I see them! And I've brought back piles of things I've found in the street. You'd be amazed what people throw out. If I'm going to part with cash I have a few favourite dealers at Spitalfields antique market each Thursday, and Sean and Augustin down at Columbia Road Sunday flower market both have a great eye.

Please tell us about the art work in the house.

I've always loved pictures and used to spend my pocket money buying pictures from auctions when I was very young. I had very gloomy, figurative tastes as a kid. Imagine what Morrissey might have bought as a child and you have some idea. I've cheered up a bit since then! But I still go to the same sources and spend very little just picking up things I like as and when at markets and auctions. I mostly collect Scottish art and am very keen on the Great Western Auction in Glasgow where my favourite auctioneer Anita Manning performs with aplomb.

People are funny about art often buying what they imagine to be 'investments'. I buy when I like things and I don't own anything worth very much. Recently I've been collecting works by a lady called Hilda Goldwag, an Austrian Jew who escaped the Nazis and settled in Glasgow. Had she been 25, people would have been throwing money at her and offering her gallery deals. But she was 95 [Hilda Goldwag passed away in 2008, aged 95] and her prices just covered the cost of her paint and canvas. Her paintings brim with life and vitality and optimism. They are a joy to hang and savour.

The 'See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil' series [see images 8 and 9 in the gallery below]

was painted by the Scottish based Spanish artist Roberto González. I bought it at my friend Michael Main's gallery on the island of Arran.

The colour palette in this house is stunning. How did you decide on it?

Thank you! I copied the blue and grey colour in my bedroom slavishly from a house I saw in Belgium. The other rooms were a matter of luck and experimentation. You just have to be bold and choose colours you like. I've always hated brilliant white and started with the premise that all the rooms should be restful.

Is there any work still left to do on the house?

Several of the floors were open plan when I got the house and I left them as I found them. I'm toying with the idea of restoring all of the original room lay outs which would involve re-instating some more panelled walls.

As well as it being your home, the house is also on the books of jjlocations as a shoot location. Has the house been used for anything we might have seen?

Various things. The house is to be the back drop for a new book about knitted cats. Apparently the book on knitted dogs was a sell out. Go figure. I do quite a lot of shoots with languorous models draped here and there around the place. And QVC have used my kitchen a few times for cooking specials.

What do you love most about living in this house?

I love the space, the light and the atmosphere. And I love the location. I feel immensely privileged to live in this beautiful old house.
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