Time for another home tour, it has been a while and the current pandemic hasn’t made it easy to do home tours but we managed to photograph Kemi’s gorgeous North London cottage over the summer. It was a typically British summer dreary day, but the house is full of so much colour and personality that the brights still popped – just look at the green kitchen! I’ll pass you over to Kemi to talk you through her home, style and everything inbetween.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
My name is Kemi Lawson, I am based in Stanmore, which is a leafy area on the outskirts of London. I am half Nigerian, half Jamaican, 100% Black British. I have two daughters aged 7 and 8 and a husband and we all live in a cottage set in a conservation area. After a career spent in the City, I have recently co-founded The Cornrow (coming soon!), a home accessories and lifestyle goods online store. We will sell an affordable edit of beautiful goods tailored to the modern Black aesthetic, for everyone to enjoy.
How long have you lived here?
We moved in a week before lockdown! So about six months. We were so pleased (and lucky!) that the main bits of our renovation and redecoration work was completed just before lockdown and so we could move in!
What work have you done to the property?
Luckily the house was in pretty good nick. It was clear that the previous owners were pretty house proud, so we didn’t have to do anything too structural. Its also a Grade II listed property so we would not be able to do anything too dramatic even if we wanted to! One thing we did do is add some bespoke cabinetry as we knew that as a family of 4 you simply can’t have too much storage. We created a shelving system under a staircase, we built lots of cupboards and I also found a little nook where we built a desk and shelves to make a home office for me.
We did do a comprehensive redecoration however. I saw the cottage as the perfect canvas to convey the stories I wanted to enjoy about myself, my family, and our African and Caribbean heritage. So everything changed, from carpets to wallpapers. It got Cottage Noir’ed! The aim was to redecorate in a way which centres my two young black daughters, in a country where they are a minority, by celebrating them and their culture in the most joyful way possible.
What drew you to this particular property? (obviously, it’s gorgeous!)
Thank you! So I certainly wasn’t looking for a centuries year old cottage when I was surfing Rightmove! I didn’t even know properties like this existed in this area. However on our first viewing I fell in love with it immediately because it has so much charm and character. The layout was interesting, the fireplaces were beautiful, I loved all the beams! None of the walls or ceilings were straight, but that didn’t matter I thought that was fun! My husband took a bit of convincing as he was hoping to move into some kind of ‘The Modern House’ minimalist cool! However it was 3 against 1 so he was outvoted! Now he loves it too!
The cottage was originally a baker’s cottage, and supplied bread for the estate of the Duke of Chandos which is nearby. It was built around 1760 as a Georgian workman’s cottage. The first inhabitants that have been able to identified was a baker and his family living here in the 1841 census. The cottage was used as a bakery up until the end of WW2 and there are still traces of the original bread oven in the kitchen and lots of tales of eccentric previous bakers! I was able to know all this as we inherited a book when we moved in on the story of the cottage from 1760-1990, filled with facts and history and photos of the cottage. It was a wonderful gift to receive as we moved into the cottage and we will be continuing the story of the cottage in the book to pass on to its next custodians. I think everyone should do something like this for their homes, its really special.
What would you say is your interiors style?
My interior style is a complete mash up of African heritage, stately home vibes and memories of my Jamaican nana’s front room. I call it Afro-aristo meets Caribbean nan chic! I am influenced by my heritage, by British country life (having grown up in boarding schools and visited my English friend’s homes) and by how I lived at home as a child. The African heritage is reflected in my love of colour, of geometric shapes and by my art and sculpture choices for my home, The stately home vibes you will see lots of curtains and canopy action, particularly in the girl’s bedrooms and I also have made the most of the fireplaces. The Jamaican nan chic is the pictures, paintings, the little artefacts that pop up everywhere, basically in the more is more vibe!
How did you decorate your kids rooms, did you work together on the style? Any advice?!
I took my kid’s rooms very seriously indeed! Even if we were living in renovation squalor I wanted them to be all settled and happy. I wanted their bedrooms to be spaces where they would feel cosy and completely inspired. Where they would have magical dreams and form forever memories. Places where they could concentrate on homework but also have fun with their friends – no easy task then! I asked the girls what their favourite colours were, my older daughter said purple and my younger daughter said grey, and I took it from there. That was the only input I really asked from them: mother knows best!
My advice would be give the kids some decisions but not all, their tastes change all the time, and you know best as a parent, maybe shortlist three paint colours or fabrics and let them choose their favourite. That way they still feel empowered but its within your control. Now the room is done, I am not being precious about it at all, I know wallpaper is going to get scuffed, pictures will be stuck haphazardly on the wall etc. In fact my little daughter told me this morning that she has starting putting all the school stickers she is awarded on the radiator. Lovely I said, I want them to feel comfortable in the room, its their retreat.
What are your favourite brands to shop for your home?
My favourite brand to shop is of course my own brand, The Cornrow, everything I have sourced and love for my home I have shared on The Cornrow and I hope other people will love it too! I also love shopping at Pooky, Rockett St George and Heals. I love these brands as they have good quality, design-led products. However I love them even more as they have signed up for Design for Diversity pledge. This is a pledge that brands are taking to seek out Black Asian and Ethnic minority inclusion in their design, recruitment and marketing work. This pledge has been initiated post the murder of George Floyd and hopefully is the start of a much needed change in the interiors industry, which is startlingly un-diverse.
I love your ‘ancestor wall’ – how did you style it? Did you plan it out or did it evolve organically?
My ancestor wall has been swimming about in my head for years and I was so excited to move into the cottage and to finally find the perfect place for it to reside. I have been collecting images of my ancestors for years, begging and taking copies of images from extended family whenever I found one. So when we moved in, most of the images were all there, just waiting for a home! So it all went up in a day. I must say it actually got pretty emotional putting it up, look at all our ancestors, and thinking of all their acheivements and all their struggles. I thought of my girls, and how they are the next chapter of the story and how in many ways, they are their ancestor’s wildest dreams.
Thank you so much for inviting us into your home, Kemi! Hope you enjoyed this home tour, it was nice shooting somewhere other than our own kitchen!