My style is eclectic bohemian – I like an eccentric, quirky combination of things – nothing that’s contrived or predictable.
German jewellery designer Didi Ilse’s glamorously bohemian style is reflected in the interior of her elegant west London mews house, a secluded haven close to the hubbub of Notting Hill. When she bought the property in 2013, she gutted and rewired it, incorporating underfloor heating. She then opened up the ground floor to create an adaptable room which can be partitioned off with concertina doors before infusing the space with colour and character. An avid traveller and collector, with a discerning eye for quirky, Sixties and Seventies retro finds and beautiful objects, a lot of pieces have been gathered from far flung places across the globe such as Namibia, Mexico, Brazil, Bali, India and Morocco. You get the feeling that every single exquisite thing, from the art and accessories to the furniture and wall decorations, has been thoughtfully chosen to create an ode to her nomadic lifestyle which has taken her on walking safaris in Africa, feather-finding and crystal-sourcing in Brazil, dancing in the desert at Black Rock city, barefoot on the beach in Tulum and Goa to carefully scouring the markets of Berlin, Marrakech and her locale Portobello.
What most appealed to you about this house?
I loved that it was a gated mews therefore safe, secluded and quiet yet also only a stone’s throw from Portobello Road. I was specifically looking for a mews house as I didn’t want to live in a flat anymore – originally I was in Bassett Road. I was lucky as this was the first property I looked at. The rooms in the flat were larger however I wanted more overall space and there’s something appealing about having your own front door and stepping directly into your own space.
How did you reconfigure the space?
I didn’t do too many changes; I opened up the guest bedroom space next to kitchen. I wanted it to be more open plan so put in three panelled sliding doors so you can still separate the two rooms however with this style of folding door it allows a kind of spacious open plan feeling. Originally, there was a spiral staircase going up to the top floor sitting room which was very flimsy so I put in a more solid stairway. I also opened up the fireplace so it would be a working fireplace.
It’s not a typical London interior. Can you describe the style and vibe?
My style is kind of eclectic bohemian – basically all kind of things I’ve picked up travelling and from various markets. I grew up outside Dusseldorf in a house that was both contemporary and classical – a lot of old furniture in a modern house. Here I have very much done my own thing. It’s an expression of myself. I love contrast; I have always liked mixing up styles – Moroccan, Indian, African, tribal, bohemian, nothing too slick or modern. I particularly love the Seventies look – for clothing and interiors.
The colour palette is bold and quite unusual (such as the burnt orange kitchen) – can you explain how and why you chose the colour scheme and wallpaper and which brands you used.
As the climate in the UK is so grey and dull I wanted to go for colour to brighten up the atmosphere. I’ve always had strong colours. The burnt orange is such a warm, welcoming, comforting and happy colour. It works with virtually everything. I went to Papers & Paint (papersandpaint.co.uk) to get the colour mixed. I described exactly what I wanted and they made it up. The wallpaper in the guest room was designed by Marthe Armitage (marthearmitageprints.com) who creates detailed hand block prints. She co-ordinated the print with the burnt orange in the kitchen. I gave her a sample of the colour and she matched it. The other colours are by Farrow & Ball. The bathroom is a very warm, feminine (lilac) colour and a good contrast with the turquoise Moroccan tiles. The eau de nil shade is very calming for the bedroom – you want a bedroom to be like a sanctuary.
Where did you source most of the pieces – furniture, accessories, fabrics etc
A lot of the furniture came from various shops on the Golborne Road. Some pieces are from Alfie’s Antiques Market. I have a lot of Moroccan pieces from Marrakech and the carpets and fabrics are from India.
You like the contrast of retro and modern – please elaborate and say why this appeals to you.
I like an eccentric, quirky combination of things – nothing that’s contrived or predictable. I am attracted to pieces that tell a story and many I have found on all my travels and are Mexican, Moroccan or Indian.
You have lots of unusual art on the walls – where is it from?
Some of it I picked up on Golborne Road, some paintings are by friends and the one of two cockatoos came from Bali which I found in an antique shop on Kensington Church Street. I had it in my previous flat and amazingly it picked up all the colours in this kitchen so works really well. All the art just happened to work well with the burnt orange walls.
What are the most unusual things you found on your travels?
All the crystals I found in Brazil. As a jewellery designer I am drawn to gem stones and crystals. I also found all the feathers in Brazil.
There’s a bit of a bird theme going on – please explain.
Subconsciously I have been drawn to birds since I was a kid. I had budgies as a child although I always secretly wanted a parrot. I love birds and what they represent – freedom, flying, colours. Birds have always appealed to me so I have collected bird-themed items all my life. This is also reflected my jewellery as I create a lot of bird-related designs.
How did you get into jewellery design? What you are up to creatively?
I’ve been making jewellery for the past 20 years. My mother and grandmother were heavily into jewellery and I started making things when I was a teenager. I trained in Germany and in London (I came here 26 years ago). I have always made necklaces and earrings. Most of the designs have a charm and trinckety feel and always based on animals – birds, tigers, lions, horns, owls, lizards, bugs – anything connected to the animal spirit. I have a wax carver and give him my designs and he carves every piece in wax first then I get them cast in silver or gold. I pretty much design everything from home. I then get the finishing touches done in Hatton Gardens.
Do you entertain and how does the house lend itself to this?
Very much so although I go through phases of having either little intimate dinner parties or gatherings and cocktail parties as you can open up the ground floor – it’s a great space for entertaining. Often parties start downstairs then move upstairs to the top floor sitting room.
What are your decorating tips?
I would start with a colour and also look at existing pieces you have and make that the main starting point and then you choose from there – the fabrics, bits & pieces – but with colour foremost in mind. When I travel I see things with the colour in mind. The Golborne Road is one of those special roads where you can always find something original or quirky whether it’s objects, paintings, lights, furniture – it’s a treasure trove. You have a good variety of modern, contemporary, old, artisan, bohemian. There are Moroccan shops, and Les Couilles du Chien (lescouillesduchien.com) for lights and crystals. You could deck out a whole house from shops on the Golborne Road.