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February 2018 / Homes & Interiors / by Karen Heaney

At home with Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari

The founder of NBB Design shows us round her stunning home

The founder of NBB Design studied law and languages but couldn’t resist pursuing an early ambition to work in interior design. Known for creating effortlessly elegant spaces, her own home is a charming blend of classic and contemporary.

What drew you to this house?

We were living in a small place that we’d outgrown and had been house-hunting for a while. After we’d seen about 50 places, I said, “This is ridiculous, we have to give it a break.” But we went to see this house anyway and I immediately fell in love with it. The joy of this house is its width – most London houses are narrow and have too many floors. This has four; it’s light, it has a garden and a roof terrace. Plus, it had very good vibes. We secured the sale because we got on well with the previous owners and they saw that we loved the house, just as they did.

What work did you carry out on it?

The house was very different when we bought it – the basement was a separate flat and it was divided up into lots of rooms. But I saw its potential and talked to an engineer before we made an offer, to make sure that what I wanted to do was possible. We did a massive amount of work: we moved the staircase, put in en suite bathrooms and created a fireplace in my bedroom. We also moved the kitchen from the basement to the ground floor, so that it had light and was next to the proper dining and living room space.

How did the interior design evolve?

The first item I bought for this house was the pink Yves Klein coffee table in the living room.It set the bold, vibrant tone for the house. I used a colour called Suede from Paint & Paper Library throughout the house as a background. It’s avery soft base – in the living room I used bright reds and pinks to dial it up. Next to the Yves Klein table there are two Louis XVI armchairs – I love mixing classic and contemporary. I think if a space is too contemporary and neat, it looks gorgeous in a magazine, but the minute you put your handbag down, the look is spoiled.

I wanted lots of bookshelves, too. Books are very important in my life, but bookshelves aren’t just for books. I like to incorporate lighting into them and they can be a good way of displaying art and artefacts that can bring a room to lifein a very different way.

One of my trademarks is using fabric on cupboard and wardrobe doors. That’s because I hate cupboard doors! They’re cold and they shout “I’m utilitarian!”. Fabric helps bring in colour – I used a pale ochre/orange in my bedroom and it’s softer than painting a wall in a colour. The way the light bounces off fabricis different to the way it bounces off a wall.

I treat every room as a living space – in my house, my daughter is on the same floor as me and my son is on the floor above, so sometimes we just sit on different levels of the staircase and chat. I always treat hallways and corridors as spaces that you spend time in and don’t just whizz through.

I’ve experimented a bit in this house, too. I’ve wanted to use leather with my clients for ages, but no-one has been brave enough. So the whole of the basement floor is leather. It ages fabulously, it’s soft to the touch and warm.

NBB Design bathroom

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I get a lot of my inspiration from art exhibitions, the last one that really fired my imagination was Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain. Some of the objects were very straight and angular – a window frame, for example – but they were cast in very soft, sensual materials, like resin. You felt that you had to touch them. She did a series of hot water bottles that she cast from the inside and then broke them to reveal the plaster, which is a beautiful soft pink.

Even building plaster has inspired me. We were working on a client’s house, and I visited one day at the plastering stage. It was at the point where it was drying out, and it was a very subtle powder pink colour. I used that colour around the windows of a beach house in Greece instead of the traditional blue and it worked so well that I’m starting to use it a lot. It works with every other colour.

Anything can inspire me – I have a friend, a shoe designer, who gifted me a beautiful pair of shoes. These shoes are on display right now, because they are a source of inspiration. Travel stimulates me too. Recently, I went to Russia and brought back a lot of ideas from St. Petersburg. I’m half Persian, so of course the Middle Eastern influence is also very important to me.

What qualities do you look for in the fabrics and materials that you use?

I look for something that is unusual. I love working with artisans – craftsmanship is important to me. I work a lot with Rothschild & Bickers, a young company that makes mouth-blown glass. Their designs are stunning. Textures are important too. I like to mix different textured fabrics in the same tones, like velvet with linen. How a fabric falls is very important to me: I love doing curtains in cashmere. I also like mixing classic and traditional – putting a flashy contemporary fabric on an antique armchair.

Nbb Design

How do you work with clients?

I always tell my clients, “If you don’t tell me how you live, how can I design a home that will work for you?” I always ask them, “What’s the first thing that you do in your house when you get home? What do you do with your shoes, your keys, your bag, your coat? Where do you head to?” How they respond to colour is important, too. I worked with a couple recently who were used to everything white. And I said, “At NBB we don’t really do all white. We might do in a project in Greece, where the light is gorgeous, but in London, I’m not so keen.” So I showed them lots of different colours, and the woman was particularly drawn to ochre. It triggered memories of her grandmother’s room, where she cuddled her and read her stories. In my own house I’ve been bold with colour; when you make a room dramatic, it erases the imperfections. I do this a lot with guest rooms, which are often small, awkward spaces.

What’s your most treasured item?

It has to be a Fabergé-style music box with a little singing bird that was in my father’s house. I’ve always loved it. Whenever I moved house,I always put it in my handbag for safekeeping.