This family has one of the most shared living rooms on Pinterest
Omagh-born Wendy Aldridge has turned her darkly beautiful London home into a showcase for her online store. Ciara Elliott pays a visit.Photography: David Cleveland
If you think you already recognise the living room, you are probably right. The house belongs to Wendy Aldridge, the Omagh-born woman behind the vintage interiors online store Homeplace, a web emporium that is being hailed in the UK as the 'new Rockett St George'. The living room of her East London house is the backdrop to many of her product shots and has become one of the most shared living rooms on Pinterest.
"I think it is something to do with the fact that if you search 'dark interiors' my home will eventually pop up," laughs Wendy. "The reality is that while I adore dark grey as a backdrop to colour - and it's such a complementary tone for my vintage wares and metallics - I also love light tones and pattern. In fact, I'm working on a new project and I don't think there'll be a dark grey wall in the entire property!"
Spending her childhood growing up in the countryside a few miles from Omagh, Co Tyrone, Wendy was the eldest of five siblings who were all into show-jumping. "All of us competed on Irish pony teams at one time or another," she says. "I have such great memories of entire summers spent travelling the country for shows such as Dublin and Millstreet. I look back fondly as it was something we were all involved in as a family."
After school at the Omagh Academy, Wendy moved to the UK to do a degree in retail marketing in Manchester, before heading up events for the charity War Child, which provides support to those in conflict areas.
When she first met James, now her husband, they lived in East London for five years, during which time they also bought and renovated an apartment in Berlin. And it was in Germany that the interiors bug started to bite.
"During that time we went back and forth to do up and spend time in our flat there. We did a lot of flea markets. I'll admit that I developed a bit of an obsession for West German pottery which I now stock on the website. I am a huge fan of vintage items - you just don't get the same character with shiny new stuff, it never tells the same story."
When the couple sold up in Berlin - due to new laws surrounding holiday lets there - and decided to buy their current house in Walthamstow in East London, they weren't afraid of a big renovation job. (A couple of years later, they also bought another holiday let in Ramsgate on the east coast of England, which they now also run as a holiday let.) At the time, Wendy was pregnant with her second child, Arlie, now aged five, and their first daughter, Ida (now eight), was just turning three.
Over and above a complete reconfiguration of the ground floor space, the project also involved fitting a brand-new kitchen and two bathrooms, as well as replacing all of the interior walls which were lathe and plaster. They then had to decorate.
"All in all it took a bit over six months, which now seems like a miracle amount of time, and was in part down to my father overseeing some of the structural work and our builder Eric who was an absolute gem," says Wendy.
"My dad runs an engineering and plumbing company back at home in Omagh. In the end he project managed all of the structural work and also supplied the stainless-steel worktops and shelves in the kitchen. It's such an incredible material and I love having something which I use every single day that has a family tie. He has only recently handed the reins to my two younger brothers who also now do stainless-steel fabrication."
But it was in the decor that Wendy really developed her design approach.
"I was definitely inspired by the trend for interior designer Abigail Ahern's dark interiors at the time. I loved how she used dark grey as a neutral backdrop, especially as I adore colour and the Farrow and Ball colour 'Down Pipe' is such a complementary tone with which to pair so many colours and metallics."
But while their sitting room, den, master bedroom and downstairs bathroom are all in the same tone of chalky dark grey, the couple kept the kitchen, hall, landing and main bathroom white. "This breaks things up nicely, I think. While I am a big fan of darker colours, I do need to be surrounded in light, too, so having a bit of half-and-half works for us."
She particularly likes the way the space now works for them as a family: "There's plenty of room for the kids to play and also for us to have our own areas for downtime and to entertain. Ironically the sitting room is one of my favourite rooms but the one we use least as a family, as it is where I tend to store stock waiting to be packed up or shot for the site.
She has sound advice for those refurbishing a house: first and foremost, don't rush to buy all your furnishings at once. "It takes time to work out how you will use a space and the elements that are going to be most important to you, so take the time to work that out.
"I also believe lighting is hugely important. I usually go vintage, where possible, as it adds so much character. Where possible have dimmer switches fitted so you can control the ambience in a room.
"Also don't just go by colour charts for choosing paint colours, get sample pots and paint large pieces of paper to stick on the walls so you can get a proper feel for how it looks as the light changes."
The next project on the horizon for Wendy and family is the renovation of a three-bedroom mid-century property in Porto, Portugal, which they hope to have ready as a holiday let by the end of the year.
"I'm really excited about this house which will take me out of my comfort zone, leaving the dark side behind to embrace a lot more colour," says Wendy. "And I'm looking forward to working with what we have there to restore the property sympathetically and yet still put our stamp on it."