Home Tour: A Sun-Lit Georgian Villa With White Rooms In London
Nestled within an exclusive residential stretch in Belgravia, London, is the rarest of finds in the area: a Georgian Villa with its own private courtyard garden. When interior designer Alison Henry first laid eyes on this historic property, it etched an ineffaceable impression on her mind ever since.
“When I heard that this property was available, I was so excited as I had previously visited the house for a charity meeting and I remembered it so well,” says Henry, who helms her namesake design firm in London. “There was such an abundance of light, high ceilings, and an open feeling. It has a feel akin to an Italian villa due to the details and proportions, with the added surprise of a secret garden.”
Despite its alluring historic charm, the dated property—built in the 18th century—needed extensive restoration work. Besides refreshing the interiors, thoughtful reconfiguration was required to expand the layout for Henry's family of five. To do so, she sought the help of architect Rodrigo Moreno Masey, founder and principal of his eponymous architectural firm, Moreno Masey.
“I wanted to find an architect to work with me to add to and further enhance the structure. I had a very clear view of what I was trying to achieve,” says Henry. “Therefore, I needed to find someone that I could work with to create the light, airy, and feminine feel I was after. I met Rodrigo through a friend, and we immediately connected as he was also willing to push the boundaries and explore what was possible from both a planning aspect and design.”
Masey is no stranger to restoring traditional properties, for his firm had worked on other Georgian villas and mews houses prior. For the experienced architect, the townhouse held an appeal to him with its private courtyard garden, an unusual perk for the neighbourhood.
“It is an impressive house from the street, set behind a secret courtyard in a picturesque London street, but its real charm is how it opens up internally around the garden,” says Masey. “Even back then it was clear that the garden had to play a key role in how this house came together.”
It was clear that the garden had to play a key role in how this house came together
— Architect Rodrigo Moreno Masey
Executing a contemporary refurbishment within a historic context was no easy feat. The team was careful to ensure that the facelift had its maximum impact while preserving the original elements of the property.
“As with many houses of this age, years of neglect and poor decisions leave the house compromised and knotted. Our job is to strip away the complexities of time to return the house to a grand home,” Masey explains. “In a house like this, so much of it is already great, it’s just hidden.”
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Rich with history, the house features the traditional architectural elements typical of Georgian villas. This includes high ceilings, ornate decorative details, and a narrow layout for the rooms on the upper floors. “These houses are long, thin, and light in the middle, which is always a challenge,” says Masey. “Rooms are sequential, and the bones of the house are unable to easily receive modern services and technology. The ultimate challenge, however, is making the transformation look effortless and intentional.”
Upon entering the home, one would be greeted with a sweeping view of the entire ground floor layout from front to the garden at the back. “The impact of light and volume upon arrival is glorious,” Masey notes. “I think this connection draws you into the heart of the home, where several delightful surprises await one as they arrive into each individual space.”
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French doors located at the entrance hall open up into the dining room, where a natural oak wood dining table sits under baroque Murano crystal chandeliers. Complemented by twelve bespoke dining chairs designed by Henry, the large dining table was a request from the designer’s four sociable daughters. They desired a dining space large enough for them to host and entertain all their friends at the same time.
The dining room connects to the back of the house with an open-plan family room and connected kitchen. A stunning double-height crittall window is the area’s architectural masterpiece. “The dramatic double-height space allows for an abundance of natural light to pour into the space, making it feel bright and light throughout the day,” Henry revealed.
To Masey, the architectural challenge was to integrate the windows with the rest of the structure for it to appear as seemingly authentic as possible. “Despite the structural gymnastics and intricate design, the whole structure had to look effortless,” he says.
“We wanted to make sure that the aesthetic was classical and not industrial. The lightness in the structure was refined over and over again with specialists. We incorporated concealed cabling and brought the door and roof systems together on minimal structural elements. The finish was left raw in burnished steel for its tactile and warm look that's also functional.”
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The expansive windows bring in a heightened sense of light and space, while allowing the family to soak in the sweeping views of the lush foliage outside. The show-stopping kitchen, a collaboration between Henry and Italian kitchen manufacturer Officine Gullo, features chic white cabinetry with nickel detailing. Crafted from Calacatta Caldia Italian marble, the backsplash and island tabletop exude elegance and refinement. Aluminum island stools upholstered in soft white leather ties the space together.
Upstairs, the home’s monochromatic colour palette continues. The family drawing room is a nod to Henry’s relaxed glamour interior decorating ethos. A white Yamaha grand piano decorates the space, with soft seating furnishings from Rose Uniacke. Artworks such as Paper Bride by Zeng Chuanxing and Lady in White by Geo Wei add an artistic flourish to the space, while Sophie, a painting of Henry’s daughter by British painter Claerwen James, injects character to the room.
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The master bedroom is a continuation of the timeless elegance throughout the home. A large bed with an intricately carved timber bedhead from La Maison takes centre stage in the room. Miniature bird figurines add a whimsical touch to the room, displayed next to a wall-hung antique Venetian mirror that sits above a carved marble fireplace.
The master bathroom features a warm and airy aesthetic courtesy of the complete glass roof lantern that floods the space with natural daylight. Due to the low ceiling that was originally part of the structure, the team had contemplated turning the space into a drawing room. But Massey’s determination to bring in elements of the outdoors into the master suite helped make the final design of this gorgeous bathroom possible.
“We love the romance of staring up at the sky from a beautiful bath. I can’t think of anything more luxurious than having your own piece of the sky,” says Masey. “There is a long tradition of upper-level conservatories in houses of this age, and this became the starting point for the traditional lantern design. We added a contemporary twist by pushing it wall to wall so that the room feels literally open to the sky. We intentionally used the same materials as the kitchen conservatory to tie the design back to the rest of the house.”
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The working chemistry between the architect and interior designer helped restore the villa to its original grandeur, with a refreshed personality to suit its new family. Working together to deliver full renovation works and a complete internal refurbishment, the duo completely transformed the villa to a modern home that’s housed within its historic shell.
“These are ultimately old houses filled with history and character,” Masey notes. “As a team, we were conscious that the works did not strip the house of its charm. The end result is not perfectly straight or smooth; it carries the scars and patina of nearly 150 years. That was important.”
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