Colourful Combinations, Homes & Antiques, November 2015

Photography by Bruce Hemming

Photography by Bruce Hemming

All copy as provided to publication. 

Artist Torie Wilkinson, cleverly combines antique finds and mementoes from her travels with bold, colourful contemporary pieces to create a warm, playful home.

A childhood spent rummaging around antiques fairs ensured the ‘vintage bug’ bit Torie Wilkinson early. “I used to tell my parents what to buy!” she laughs. She now collects thimbles, having doubled a set left to her by her Grandmother, and is an avid collector of mid-century German ceramics, which she sources via eBay. “It started with a lamp I saw on television four years ago,” she explains. “After some research, I realised it was post-war West German Lava Pottery. They have certain shapes, but there are endless variations in glazes, so you can get quite addicted, thinking, ‘I haven’t got that shape,’ or ‘I’ve got that shape, but not in this glaze.’”

Torie’s love of antiques, combined with a degree in fine art at Oxford’s Pembroke College, and twin careers in art and advertising, have given her an eye for design that is evident in her South London home.

But it’s a far cry from the property she bought in 2009, which had been occupied by the same family since World War Two – the final occupant had retreated into just two rooms, leaving the rest untouched for decades. “Everything needed doing – central heating, rewiring, the works,” she says. “But I can remember standing in the first floor sitting room the first time I saw it, and thinking ‘It would be so lovely to host Christmas here.’” It took three years to complete what Torie describes as a “first pass,” during which time she lived in just one room at a time.

The first job was to tear up the flooring and peel off the wallpaper. “That was fun - I uncovered all these crazy layers. But underneath the house had really good bone structure - it’s got nice proportions and lovely high ceilings,” she says. The next task was to restore the house to its former glory. “It’s got great original features, like the shutters,” she says. “I can remember thinking on that first visit, ‘They’d look amazing in Farrow & Ball’s Pigeon,’ and that’s exactly the colour they are now!”

Electrical and plumbing work completed, and a good lick of Farrow & Ball throughout, Torie set about making the place her own. The first piece to find a home was a dining table she spotted in a charity shop, stripped down and waxed. “Doing that was great,” she smiles. “I felt like a proper grown up!”

Buoyed by her initial success, a key antique in each room gave Torie inspiration for the rest of the scheme. An 1880s Swedish Mora clock provides a focal point in the living room. “I’d always wanted a grandfather clock,” she says. “And then I discovered the Mora style.” Torie found a company that imports them and chose hers from a warehouse of hundreds. “Every one was different, so it was really difficult to choose,” she says. “In the end I chose mine for its difference. They are usually in muted colours, so it really stood out, and it’s probably my favourite antique now.”

In her bedroom, the key piece is the late 1800s bed with embroidered headboard. “It’s really unusual, I’ve never seen anything like it before,” she says. In the bathroom, a replica claw-footed bath sets the scene, while an oar, presented to her while captain and cox of her university rowing team takes centre stage in the entrance hall. 

Having got the key pieces in place, Torie used bright colours and bold patterns to add a contemporary twist. “I probably use more colour and pattern than most people,” she says. “I use a lot of colour in my art and I couldn’t bear to not have that in my home too.” But she does admit she sometimes has to rein herself in. “It can get a bit much,” she says. “I use strong colours, so the ceilings are often the same colour as the walls and the woodwork to keep them harmonious. And I would love to have a really striking duvet cover, but I have to keep it simple otherwise it would compete with the headboard.”

But above all, this seemingly perfectly curated space is home. “There are blankets and rugs to snuggle up in,” she says. “It’s not a show home - you’re allowed to put your feet on the chairs. And at the end of a long day, Heidi always gives me a warm welcome, which is just amazing.

Little Black Book

1.    Crystal Palace Antiques. Imperial House, Jasper Road (just off Westow Hill), Crystal Palace, London SE19 1SG, 0208 480 7042, crystalpalaceantiques.com

“Crystal Palace Antiques is a great local haunt with a floor after floor of antique gems at reasonable prices with a good mix of periods,” says Torie. “I loved and lost a very old Indian window frame here because I didn’t go for it immediately. It would have made a beautiful mirror frame.”

2.    Swedish Interior Design, The Granary, Erringham Farm, Nr Shoreham BN43 5FA, 07958 788 555, swedishinteriordesign.co.uk

“I was looking for a grandfather clock and when I got into the Mora style I found Swedish Interior Design, and my clock,” says Torie. “They’ve got a big warehouse with a couple of hundred clocks and you can go and walk up and down and every single one is different.”

3.    The High Street, Sandgate Kent CT20.

“Very near where I grew up on the South coast, Sandgate High Street is a run of antique shops from the high end to the more everyday,” says Torie. “It’s great for some serious browsing followed by fish and chips and a walk along the sea front.”

4.    Michele Varian, 27 Howard Street, New York City, New York, 10013, USA, 001 212 343 0033 michelevarian.com 

“I’m lucky enough to travel with work and I love homeware store Michele Varian in New York,” says Torie. “I’ve bought some quirky things there including a sailing shop kite I use as an art piece.”

5.    Jane Newbery, 33 Dulwich Village, London SE21 7BN, 020 8693 2634 janenewbery.co.uk

“Jane supports local artists – like me!” says Torie. “But her main shop sells a wonderfully curated collection of homewares - she has a great eye! I bought one of my bedside tables and the flowery bin under my dressing table there.”