'Why do we buy poor-quality, mass-produced furniture? It is wrong in every way,' laments interior designer Patrick Williams. Such is his despair of our flat-pack-furniture loving generation that his website features a two-part manifesto. Citing William Morris as an influence, he expounds the benefits of a more honest approach to design, with an emphasis on quality of materials, traditional techniques and good craftsmanship. 'One often sees flat-pack furniture, returned to its flat state, laid to rest in the front garden for the binman before its "beech effect" has even had the opportunity to acquire a patina,' his manifesto observes.
As a child, Patrick's alarm clock was the cement mixer outside his bedroom window. Over a 20-year period, he witnessed his parents meticulously restore an eighteenth-century farmhouse in south-west France from a ruin. Getting his hands dirty is in his blood and something he still does both for his own projects and for clients, where possible. 'It's very important to understand building processes and how things are made,' Patrick explains, who studied fine art at Oxford. The name of his parents' farmhouse is also the name of his design company, Berdoulat, and the same ethos underpins both. His manifesto talks of his interior design as a form of restoration that places 'emphasis on reinventing and recycling…bringing new life in a manner that's sympathetic and truthful.'
Patrick decants his washing-up liquid into an old-fashioned Fairy bottle.
This flat, above an old pub in a former Victorian red-light district, is Patrick's fourth for himself. The first was derelict; this one had fallen prey to a developer. Laminate flooring, fire doors and halogen downlights reigned supreme and any sense of history had been 'magnolia'd out', but Patrick saw potential. Wilton's Music Hall is nearby and dates from the same era, the 1850's - and Patrick wanted a similar feel. 'It was out with the new and in with the old,' he laughs. Fourteen bags of rubble, including Forties cigarette packets and seagulls' skeletons, were removed from the blocked-up chimney. He and a friend - nicknamed Jack the Stripper - went through four heat guns stripping windows and woodwork of paint. He called in plasterers, plumbers and electricians but most of the rest he did himself, painstakingly, no detail overlooked.
Salvage yards all over the country provided the source for fixtures and fittings in the atmospheric kitchen-cum-sitting room - the handsome kitchen counter is from Wetheriggs pottery factory, the Georgian pillars supporting the bookcase and the round window that allows light from the kitchen into the hall were found in Epsom. The list goes on - William Morris fabric was used for cushions on the church pews, 'a nod to my God,' quips Patrick, who brought the pews back on the roof of his car.
Such is Patrick's love of detail and getting things right that he devised a way of having floating floorboards that meet building regulations whilst using traditional, solid-wood boards. The floorboards are pine; inexpensive and more authentic to the period than the now ubiquitous oak. He asked the tiler to use tea instead of water to mix the grout so it did not look too new. Light switches are Victorian porcelain, mounted on reclaimed oak blocks - luckily Patrick's electrician is as particular as he is.
Even the kettle is old - picked up at the antiques fair at York Racecourse - and such is his intolerance of 'revolting' design, that Patrick decants his washing-up liquid into an old-fashioned Fairy bottle. He does the same with toothpaste and shampoo, into artist's paint tubes that can be reused again and again. He acknowledges that it is nostalgic, 'but it's backed up by the fact that in the Fifties things were made well.'
A narrow hall - equally imbued with atmosphere by Patrick - leads through to another corridor with bedrooms and a bathroom. Here the floor is Georgian pine, the knots bearing the original tin patching, from an Abergavenny salvage yard. Patrick widened the door to the main bedroom to enhance the feeling of space - the bedroom becomes part of the hall and vice versa - and lined the corridor with yet more bookcases, partly glazed by an old sash window. 'I can't drive past a sash in a skip without saving it,' he says.
The bedroom, entirely painted in Farrow & Ball's 'Lamp Room Grey', is a haven of calm watched over by a stone statue of the Virgin Mary. Patrick enclosed the bed, hiding the original chimney breast and cleverly making use of the voids either side for a bedside shelf and walk-in cupboard. Here, the floorboards were bought on eBay at 8am, collected from a house in Clapham by 9am, and installed by the end of the day, swiftly moving from one house to another.
Around the bathroom walls, above matchboard panelling, runs a narrow shelf made from oak from a table his parents had when he was a child. A bigger piece forms the loo seat. The old bath was bought for £80 and the Victorian taps were reconditioned and de-chromed, as was the shower-curtain rail and waste pipe. The basin is from Labour and Wait - Patrick got a deal on it as it was chipped; for him this is welcome patina.
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The list of details goes on and on - even the single-slotted brass screws in the floors are made to align with the grain of the wood - and everywhere you turn are Patrick's delightful acquisitions - including eighteenth-century dust in a jar, collected from the top of a four poster. It is a wonderful world of meticulous perfection, a bygone era made relevant for twenty-first-century living. Patrick - itching to get his hands dirty again - was keen to sell up and find a new project, but at my last visit he made an exciting announcement. His girlfriend is pregnant and they intend to stay - his new personal project is turning the lodger's bedroom into a nursery. It will surely be a joy to behold; no splurges at Mothercare or John Lewis here.