Past light: Creating bohemian vintage hideaways that ooze Hollywood glamour

Sera at her desk

Sera at her desk - Credit: Archant

Interior designer Sera Hersham-Loftus explains how tailored lighting helps her create interiors ripe for magic and seduction, which have proved so popular with Courtney Love, Sadie Frost and Patsy Kensit

“I hate overhead lighting, I hate spotlights in the ceiling, I hate all that sort of stuff,” says Sera Hersham-Loftus sitting in her Maida Vale flat, with its Colonial-cum-Rococo by way of 1970s soft porn set décor.

“I’m a real 1930s girl. The lighting in the 30s would always be wall lights and table lights and that’s exactly how I design a room. I have loads of plants and I always backlight them and I light very tall skinny candles everywhere so at night my rooms always look like very romantic, magical, mysterious spaces.”

Hersham-Loftus’s own flat is certainly the best advertisement for her design philosophy and the methods she employs professionally whether designing homes for clients, creating stage or television sets, working on her forthcoming homewares collection for fashion label Ghost, or making her signature lace lamps.

The space, which Hersham-Loftus bought from DJ friend Mark Moore of 80s dance group S’Express, and converted from a three- to a free-flowing one-bedroom flat, is filled with market finds, reclaimed items and old treasured possessions and opulent vintage textiles seem to drip from the walls.

“Mark lived here for about 30 years and he used to compose all his music here and throw fantastic parties so it had a really lovely creative vibe about it but it hadn’t been touched in all that time.

“I thought it would be such a shame if I didn’t turn it back into what it originally was, so I reinstated all the cornices, the skirting boards and I stripped the shutters and put these panels in. I stripped all the paint off the chimneys and exposed the original brick and there are fireplaces in each room so I opened up the chimneys so I could have open fires,” she explains.

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“I found these really beautiful reclaimed old vintage floorboards from a house in Amsterdam when I was there working and I also bought the panelled room that’s now next door and got it lorried over.”

This beautifully faded skeleton formed the foundation for a gloriously eclectic mixture of furniture, paintings, antique wallpaper from Hong Kong, huge mirrors to bounce light around the space, lamps (of course) and racks and piles of “far too many” clothes and accessories.

“All these cupboards are just full of clothes that I’ve collected since I was 15. I was a punk rocker then and I’ve kept all my Vivienne Westwood, all my Seditionaries clothing and my Pam Hogg. All my clothes are vintage, I don’t really buy new stuff.”

Next to the dressing room is a shower room, which Hersham-Loftus assures me was once a very clear space but now houses fur coats and the “Rude” lampshades that Loftus makes from vintage lingerie lace. With their curvaceous, corsetry-inspired shapes and boudoir fabrics, these would look at home in any fin-de-siecle Paris bordello and can be found in celeb homes the world over – Patsy Kensit and Liam Gallagher bought the entire first collection and Courtney Love owns several, while other celebrity fans of her louche interiors style include Howard Jacobson, Twiggy, Babara Haluniki, Yoko Ono, Sadie Frost and Rachel Stevens.

Even Hersham-Loftus’s off-duty outfit manages to incorporate a healthy dose of bohemia – apparently she’s just back from the gym but has still accessorised her grey marl tracksuit bottoms with a pair of heeled clogs Stevie Nicks wouldn’t have turned her nose up at. You expect Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger to wander past at any moment having taken a wrong turn off the set of Performance.

Such is her passion for clothes, Hersham-Loftus even used to use them as decoration before her father, an art collector and one of the first dealers to bring Russian artists to London, died five months ago and left her his extensive collection of early 20th century Russian paintings.

“Before my father died, all I had hanging on the walls was beautiful clothes. I used to hang things like Yohji Yamamoto coats or Gothic jackets or Vivienne Westwood dresses. I’ve now got these really beautiful paintings all over the walls. It’s made the space much more sophisticated bohemian, before it was just basically bohemian and a bit hippy but now it’s become much more sophisticated with the paintings and the plants.”

A stucco-fronted 19th century flat may be the obvious vehicle for this glamorously sexy abundance but Hersham-Loftus insists that she can recreate this sensuous atmosphere in any space for, even in the boxiest contemporary interior. Her blue print starts with lighting, with backlit plants in every corner, table lights and wall lights to soften any hard edges.

“I then furnish it pretty much like I do any room,” she says. “It doesn’t sit differently once you’ve got all the pieces in. I always think I could be like a gypsy, I could pack up all my things in a big blanket and then move onto the next place and just open it up and position all my things and it would have the same feel about it.”

Her understanding of the way lighting can transform the ambience of a space started at a young age when Hersham-Loftus would come home from primary school and rearrange the furniture in her room, draping her lamps with scarves pilfered from her mother as a crucial finishing touch.

Hersham-Loftus lives alone in the flat and I wonder if these almost ostentatiously feminine spaces are ever commissioned by men, or by couples. Even the title of her book, Seductive Interiors, seems to imply that homes decorated by her are designed to beguile the opposite sex rather than house them.

She insists that her boyfriend, the sculptor Danny Lane, loves it “he feels like he’s walking into a sensual dream,” although she does concede that he has his own space, which is “really man arty, with naked lightbulbs, no loo roll, all that sort of thing.

“I think men just find it quite sexy. Especially men who go off to work in banks or office jobs, they come back and everything’s perfumed and luxurious and feminine and they just love it. Real men love it.”