TV PRESENTER Nicki Chapman, 51, is back with coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show this week — and she has a habit of bringing her work home with her.
‘There is a plant sale on the final Saturday of the event,’ she says. ‘And I always end up taking some plants back for the garden.’
A design team created Nicki’s garden, with easy maintenance as a key consideration, when work on her five-bedroom Chiswick home was completed ten years ago. ‘It’s supposed to be a Mediterranean style-garden,’ says Nicki, the space is all decked with plants in raised beds and containers.
‘Lots of the plants come from Chelsea. The biggest palms were ten inches when they first arrived but we’ll have to get rid of them soon or they’ll take the whole garden out otherwise,’ she laughs.
Nicki and husband Shacky, a record company executive, bought the property from a developer just as building work was getting under way. It was being turned back into a house after being converted into two flats. ‘We were living in a Grade II-listed house at the time,’ says Nicki, ‘but I wanted something more open and airy.’
The estate agent told them the house would come onto the market once work was complete, but Shacky insisted on looking at it immediately and meeting the developer.
‘The house didn’t have a back to it. It had been demolished as an extension was being put on,’ says Nicki, ‘but it had a lovely to feel to it and as soon as we walked in we thought it could be a home. We got on with the developer and asked if we could do the project with him.’
The advantage was that they could make changes to the original plan as work went along.
Modifications included removing the side return and broadening the width of the kitchen extension — resulting in a large open-plan kitchen/dining room/sitting room — expanding the utility room, and adding a downstairs cloakroom area.
Coats are now neatly concealed in an alcove off the hallway. ‘I don’t like seeing coats and things in the hall,’ says Nicki. ‘I veer towards the minimal.’ The cloakroom area also features a downstairs toilet with a surprisingly snazzy feature — a tank full of colourful fish.
‘My husband said ‘‘Let’s get a fish tank.’’ I said I’d never had a fish tank as a child and I certainly didn’t want one, but now I love the fish. When I’m filming Wanted Down Under In Australia I text him to make sure he’s fed the fish. It’s always a sad day when one of them goes.’
The renovation, including skylights and full-length garden windows, took seven months which, Nicky says, is down to working with a good developer and project manager. Ten years on the only change she’d make is reconfiguring the kitchen, so the sink would look out onto the garden, and adding a larger island.
Nicki took the opportunity of moving from her previous house to this one as a chance to replace all her furniture. ‘The previous house was period, in a conservation area, with cornicing and original features and the furniture I had respected that. So I used this a clean slate and got rid of everything.’
Did she find it difficult to have a major clear out? ‘No. I don’t get attached to things. I say get rid,’ she laughs. ‘When I’m presenting Escape To The Country I always find it incredible when I show someone the house of their dreams and they say ‘‘I can’t buy it because mum’s table won’t fit in.’’ I tell them they’re about to spend £450,000, so buy another table. Surely the house has got to be more important than that.’
Nicki now has a smart B&B Italia dining table, bright red lounge chair with footstool, and multi-coloured stripey carpet, made bespoke by a company in Kent.
A colourful mirror from the Ideal Home Show hangs over the sofa. ‘I saw that a year before we bought this house. I loved it but I didn’t buy it. Unbeknown to me my husband took the details and it was on the wall waiting for me when we moved in here,’ she says.
Would Nicki like to escape to the country herself one day?
‘When I’m filming I love seeing olde worlde properties with thatched roofs and original features — but we have a lot of stuff so it’s important to have a space that can accommodate a massive record collection and so on.
‘I love living in London. I thought I might have enough of London one day but I love it more than ever. It’s so cosmopolitan and diverse and there are wonderful things to see on your doorstep. When you live in London you have to make an effort to go out and see those things, but it’s the greatest city on Earth.’
■ Nicki Chapman presents daytime coverage of The Chelsea Flower Show this week on BBC Two. She also presents Escape To The Country on BBC One