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Interiors

An East London Art Deco Flat for Family

by Annie Werbler

Our very own London-based contributor Rohini Wahi — a trends forecaster who also runs the design and lifestyle blog The Beat That My Heart Skipped — started jotting down thoughts on her home three years ago. Back then, she and husband David Burpitt, a games developer and owner of Big Pixel Studios, couldn’t imagine the flat they loved would adapt so seamlessly to suit a daughter, one-and-a-half year-old Aarya. Regularly traveling to the US and India, Rohini and David drew interior inspiration for these changes from global influences, but they adore their family life at home. Rohini’s cousin lives opposite them, and her mother stays there during the week to help look after Aarya. In the bucolic Wanstead neighborhood of the big city, this first-floor two-bedroom apartment also provides good old-fashioned community.

The couple used to walk past this unusual block of 1935 Art Deco flats everyday from a rental home on the same road, dreaming of one day living there. The development reminded Rohini of the candy-colored apartments she saw growing up in Mumbai and Calcutta, and she would feel heartsick for them each time she passed. When the perfect one came up for sale, it felt like fate to them. The Grade II listed development (a historic preservation designation) causes visitors to feel like they’re walking into a time warp. Upon entering the complex, two curved arches lead to a circle of 40 units looking like they belong in sunny 1930s Palm Springs as opposed to misty England.

Rohini and David never thought they would be able to acquire and renovate their dream home. The apartment, at the front of the development, fills with daylight streaming in from its original Crittal windows, wrapped around the entire exterior. Having two outdoor balconies in London is also a rarity and a luxury. The family wanted to create an elegant home with good bones, and sourced the best materials for their renovation budget. Three long months spent stripping, painting, sanding, and tiling details in each room — and replacing bedroom and living room flooring — paid off, as did a Cararra marble-tiled hall inspired by Rohini’s grandparents’ home (her favorite feature to date). When they imagined their beautiful, restful sanctuary “that is a balm for sleepless nights and long days,” they envisioned a home that would work hard for them so they would be able to relax. The historic and listed nature of the property means they can’t put their own stamp on any of the original features, but it’s not like they would want to, anyway. —Annie

Photography by Jon Aaron Green

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The tailored Wanstead, East London flat of Rohini Wahi and David Burpitt.
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Rohini Wahi, David Burpitt, and their one-and-a-half year old daughter Aarya.
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"I love contemporary art that looks a hundred years old," Rohini shares, "This is a print of British artist Marco Crivello's painting called Morning Mist, and it makes me feel like I am standing on a stormy cliff in a costume drama when I look at it!"
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Plush throw pillows in gray and ochre add pops of muted color to the sofa.
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Bright sunlight floods in from the living room windows and balcony doors all year round.
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Rohini's cozy reading nook, where a small library wraps around one half of the living area. David gave Rohini the Clare Elsaesser print for her 30th birthday.
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Feeling that hallways are the window to a home, Rohini works hard to make hers welcoming. Carrara marble tiles were the one big splurge in which the couple indulged during their renovations.
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When Aarya was born, Rohini and David created a gallery of ancestors in the hallway to look down upon her and establish a loving environment in which she can grow.
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The homeowners wanted their bedroom to feel calm and tranquil. An oak four-poster was one of their first purchases long ago. It reminds Rohini of the colonial beds she grew up with in India, and always makes her and David feel like they've woken up someplace exotic.
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Englarged prints of Dutch still-lifes by Surface View, from the archives of The National Gallery and Royal Academy. "We have fresh flowers in our bedroom every day," Rohini says.
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To Rohini, a dressing table is a tableaux of a family's life - jewelry removed after a long day, cherished photographs that you want to keep near, and a memory box with celebratory champagne corks and precious notes.
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When the baby is asleep, Rohini sits in this comfy chair with a cup of tea and her laptop, watching the charming street and old church across the way. From this vantage point, it almost feels like the room is outside because of the huge picture window and the garden and shrubs that surround this corner of the flat.
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Another dressing table tableaux, with Kantha stitch artwork from a craft boutique in Calcutta, where Rohini visited with her grandmother.
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The neutral palette of Aarya's room will be a consistent base for a constantly evolving stock of toys and accessories.
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One half of the nursery is covered in polka dot stickers, and Rohini uses the picture rail to display clothing - like this "confetti dress" from Aarya's first birthday.
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An IKEA Expedit storage unit organizes Aarya's toys and books, with boxes and baskets in which to hide her many tiny things.
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Rohini made the star garland while pregnant with Aarya. "It's amazing how simple objects made with love at a specific moment in time can feel so imbued with emotion," she shares.
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The couple renovated this classic kitchen inspired by Nancy Meyers movies with glass-paned crockery cupboards, but also love how contemporary it looks with the grey paint finish and added brushed brass handles.
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The opposing wall in the narrow kitchen was kept as cabinet-free as possible to allow for maximum light in the kitchen and hall. The back door opens out onto a kitchen balcony filled with herbs and a climbing jasmine plant.
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Rohini takes a moment here before each day begins, "With the balcony door open...dreaming into my coffee."
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A long copper rail from a DIY store keeps pots, pans, and utensils organized for daily use.
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The bathroom finishes were inspired by hotels Rohini and David stayed at during their travels in the States.
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Filament lightbulbs turned down low transform the bathroom into a spa. Outdoor lights are from Garden Trading, and the brass mice candlesticks are a family heirloom from India.
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A custom-built floating walnut cabinet hides toiletries within, and displays choice items above.
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The back balconies of the building are connected to the neighbors' by fire escapes.
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Rohini and David laid down IKEA clip-in outdoor wooden floor tiles that transformed both balconies, this being the front.
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The historic and listed nature of the property means the original features must remain, but the single glazed windows produce condensation in the winter months, so dehumidifiers run around the clock.
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Amongst rows and rows of Victorian buildings on a long road, the block of Art Deco flats reminds Rohini of the candy-colored apartments she saw growing up in Mumbai and Calcutta.
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A coral rosebush on the grounds is Rohini's favorite plant at the front of the property.
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"What I love about our home is that it felt like home even before we moved in..." - Rohini Wahi
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Floor plan of the two-bedroom Art Deco apartment outside London.

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Comments

  • A beautiful home, serene and welcoming. I especially like the family gallery. Do you recall the name of the paint color on your one wall in the bedroom? Thanks.

    • Thanks Isabel! Yes it was India Yellow by Farrow and Ball. I’m very cautious with colour but this was just delicious – i’m so glad it’s on! : )

  • Love that terracotta plate with your daughter’s name in Bengali! The account of the colonial 4 poster and the stories on your blog about Calcutta made me nostalgic. Such a shambling, poverty stricken city, but with such a gentle, joyous, soul. *Feeling nostalgic for the city I grew up in*

    • Hi Swati, I’m so glad you spotted that plate. My mother drew the design and her name with her fingers using rice flour during her ‘annaprashan’ (first rice ceremony). I was born in Calcutta and return every year it is such a special place and yes so gentle as you say…

  • What an elegant,gracious home! And I love the ancestral gallery wall for little Aarya! I am also intrigued with the tiny ottoman in the main living area. Wherever did you find it? I must say that this is one of the very best sneak peeks-thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Madlyn, thank you so much – the ancestral gallery needs a lot more work – lots of memories framed waiting to be hung!

      We use the ottoman as a coffee table and got it from a great store here in the UK called Homesense the homeware arm of TK Maxx (TJ. Maxx in the US). It’s great for entertaining and also Aarya to climb on!

      • Actually,I’m talking about the little 5 sided one with the zig-zag pattern-next to the blue chair-perhaps it’s a storage box?

  • I cannot remember the last time that I looked at pictures of a home that I loved as much as these. Every single element of your home is simply lovely to me. I especially like your ancestral gallery wall and your stunning hallway. Your home must be like a constant hug and cuddle for your daughter – well done!

    • Wow Mary Beth, I am humbled by your praise. Our home is simple but I have strived for it to be warm and emotive – so glad that it comes across that way to someone else! Thank you so much for your thoughtful words.

  • So lovely. I am particularly enamored with the ancestor gallery, that little pedestal table in the hallway, and the little mosaic hand mirror (?) on the dressing table. So many beautiful little details.

    • Thanks Jen! The pedestal table was one i found on sale many years ago from the Conran Shop and the hand mirror was actually another sale item from Anthropologie.

  • the tiny ottoman with the zig-zag pattern-perhaps it’s a storage box for toys?i wonder where you purchased it? I scrolled your home again this morning and it really is the best!

    • Ah I see! That is a kids beanbag (also pretty suitable for adults) its by a great Spanish company called Nobodinoz and comes in lots of other great prints.

    • Hi Barb, We got it around 6 years ago from a UK store called Dwell… I don’t think its still available but there are lots of similar modern four posters out there on the market right now. Good luck!

  • This home is perfection, not just for its magic combination of timeless aesthetics and personal touches, but for the sentiments expressed by the owners. The thoughtfulness you put into every aspect of the design is inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your process and the incredible end result!

    • Hi Rachel! They were a family ‘heirloom’ passed down by an animal loving aunt – they look pretty cute at Christmas table too. I just googled ‘mouse candlesticks’ and some pretty similar stuff came up so give it a go? Oddly the exact same set appears to be sold out on Ebay. Good luck!

      http://www.ebay.com/itm/361361826147

  • What a beautiful space! Where are the large scale floral prints from? I can’t seem to find a source for them. Thanks!

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