WHEN you work in an old-fashioned gentlemen’s outfitters in Chelsea, it’s nice to come home to something a little different.
‘I like a modern, neutral home as it’s the polar opposite of where I work,’ Kristian Robson explains, adding that his shop, Oliver Brown, has the biggest collection of smoking jackets, dinner jackets and waistcoats in the world. ‘Our shop in Chelsea has a lot of wood panelling and brass so I like coming back to a space which is completely open.’
Kristian, his wife Davinia, their two-year-old son Knut and their Australian Mist cat called Olaf are currently living in rented accommodation — a modern 1960s mews house in Kensington. This is because they have embarked on a two-year renovation odyssey of their regular home — another 1960s mews house nearby — which will see the home expanded from 2,000sq ft to 3,500sq ft.
Their rented house has a lot in common with their regular home, though — neutrally decorated with wood floors and big windows. The minimalist rental has also maximised light by incorporating a glass staircase. The glass stairs ensure light in the first-floor living room/dining area flows from the large floor to ceiling windows at the rear all the way through to the front. The stairs have also proved popular with Olaf, who enjoys sitting on them and keeping an eye on what’s going on.
Kristian’s vision for his renovation includes the addition of a huge new basement area, which will include a media room, snug and their main living room. The basement will also feature light wells and windows at the rear, to give a feeling of space, as well as a moveable wall so the living room can be one large space or two smaller ones.
However, due to the controversy surrounding new basements in affluent Kensington over recent years — with some notorious mega basements being excavated by the ultra wealthy — it proved tricky at first to get planning permission.
‘The council has clamped down on double basements, but we’re not doing that and I don’t understand why people have them. Even getting permission for a single basement was hard work,’ says Kristian. He had to replace his original architect, who failed to get his plans approved. ‘You have to follow the rules of the borough and he didn’t do that,’ says Kristian. Success was achieved when he got estate agent Savills’ planning department involved. ‘We were very impressed by the new architect’s design and it was approved,’ he says.
Kristian is particularly keen on his dressing room. ‘It’s going to be massive; it’s the most important room in the house due to my tailoring,’ he says.
His neighbours weren’t thrilled by the excavations, though. ‘Some of them still aren’t happy but most have come round.’ His immediate neighbour has been supportive despite the work. ‘We need to excavate three metres of concrete which has to be cracked — it will be very noisy.’
Kristian will be keeping his neutral décor scheme when his home is overhauled. When he moved into the rented house, he painted all the walls a Farrow & Ball shade of white and it’s remarkably clutter-free. Even decorative items are understated — the cheeseboards on the wall in the dining area are unobtrusive and match their dining table — a bespoke oak piece that cost £1,000.
‘I like to keep things light and neutral. Wood, light, big windows. I’m not into marble or gold or things of that flashy developer style. With neutrals you can put a bold colour into the room and it will work,’ he says, pointing to a large orange art work on the living room wall.
Other art pieces include a colourful abstract done for the couple by a friend, a huge portrait of Kristian’s late father hanging in the hallway and a couple of landscapes by Norwegian artist Sigurd Eriksen.
While Kristian is averse to clutter he has brought his work home with him — with one of the bedrooms serving as a temporary storage room to a few dozen top hats. They make a striking sight all together and Kristian is permanently on the lookout for more. ‘Dealers sell them to me from all over the world. We refurbish them and then sell them — Ascot is our busiest time of the year. We have also designed waistcoats, ties and socks for Ascot in linens, cottons and pastel colours.’
The build will hopefully be finished next year and Kristian and family can’t wait to get in. ‘The architect has done an amazing job,’ he says. ‘We want to have another child, and need more space, but moving house didn’t seem sensible, as it’s very expensive and the stamp duty is a killer. You save money doing what we’re doing in the long run and we’re very excited to move back into our home when it’s all completed.’