The evolution of a Camden town house
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
A piecemeal approach to interior decorating combined with a skilful eye have helped photographer Christina Wilson balance character and style in her family home in Camden, which she shares with her husband, broadcaster Robert Elms, and the youngest of their three children.
“I like living with things, I like collecting things, I don’t like the house looking like an empty show flat,” says photographer, former interior stylist and now author, Christina Wilson.
We’re sitting in the kitchen of her Camden townhouse and there are subtle signs of this collector’s instinct all around, in the art works on the walls and the crockery and glass on the shelves but the overriding impression is of contemporary calm rather than clutter.
From the wide tiles on the floor, to the chalky pale neutrals of the walls and the bare wood of the long kitchen tables, there’s a cool, modern feel to the open plan basement space. I wonder how recently they did it up.
“We’ve been in this house for 22 years and I’ve never done a huge renovation on it. Where we’ve changed things it’s been because we’ve been upgrading or repairing them through wear and tear. Or, because the children have grown up in this house, and the youngest is now 17, some of the rooms have changed. My office used to be a play room.”
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There are many lessons in decorative longevity to be learned from Wilson’s home, which she shares with journalist Robert Elms, who has a daily show on BBC London, and the couple’s youngest daughter – they have a 20-year-old son currently at university and a 26-year-old daughter living in London. The big lesson comes from the kitchen where everything is free standing, meaning it can be replaced easily and hasn’t dated in the way that some of the ‘bespoke’ fitted options that are so popular at the moment tend to.
“I never wanted a built-in kitchen. When we had no money it just got thrown together. Then, over the years I upgraded a few things,” explains Wilson.
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“I always wanted a food cupboard that had shelves and drawers but those things cost money, so in the beginning I had something from Habitat that cost £300. Now I’ve got this new unit with all the shelves I wanted.
“Because I was a stylist I used to rent it as a location and that paid for the jobs. It’s evolved but I feel like it doesn’t age.”
A smart mix of contemporary, vintage and antique furniture and accessories helps create this trend-defying aesthetic. There’s a marble topped rolling pin table in one corner and the dining table is a battered vintage number that Wilson said she “didn’t mind getting bashed by kids.” Then there’s a newly purchased and very of the moment mid-century sideboard, filled with tea sets.
Art is also a key feature throughout the house with Wilson’s photographs featuring heavily, of course, alongside early works by artists who have since hit the big time, among them several Rob Ryan lasercuts and a large Harland Miller Penguin books painting in the living room.
“We’ll often have artists to stay in our house in Spain and I really like supporting small artists so I’ll just ask for an artwork in return. It’s how I’ve collected a lot of bits of art.”
Those bits include a painting of the southern Spanish village where the house is situated by none other than The Clash bassist Paul Simonon.
Wilson downplays any effort that goes into the house, but having spent years working as an interiors stylist at Elle Decoration, as well as time at the helm of an art gallery in the 1980s and a flirtation with fashion, it stands to reason she has a well-honed eye for detail.
It’s this eye that’s been brought into focus in her new book, a collection of Wilson’s photography with words by Elms, released in an edition of 200.
Titled Stolen Glimpses, the book is exactly that, a series of fleeting moments captured over the decade Wilson has been working as a photographer, on holidays, at home and at the family’s house in Spain.
“I’ve always wanted to put together a book because I’ve worked on so many books for other people but they weren’t my pictures,” she explains. “I felt that as my children are getting older it was like a memento to our whole family.”
“I’m always looking for the beauty in every day, rather than waking up depressed with the news. It could be anything, a night sky, windswept trees, I love the graphic quality of things.
“One lady said that the book was so beautiful it made her cry. I was really touched.”
Buy Christina Wilson’s book Stolen Glimpses, £50, from her website christinawilson.co.uk or at the Society Club thesocietyclub.com which is also exhibiting a selection of Wilson’s photographs until November 17.