Sharing her two-bed garden flat with Eddie the terrier, this interiors writer proves that stylish lateral living can be canine friendly.
Photography by James Gardiner
What makes a house a home? For some it’s calming décor, for others it’s a vibrant family kitchen… For Geraldine, it’s the pitter patter of tiny paws. “It was my daughter who, after years of grinding me down, persuaded me to get a dog. I’ve never looked back and will always have a dog in my life now,” she smiles. “He sits at my feet when I’m writing, he sleeps on the end of my bed, and he sits on the back of the sofa guarding our home from intruders… He’s always getting photographed!”
Eddie, a proud Battersea rescue dog named after his famous lookalike in Frasier, is one of the beloved pooches featured in Geraldine’s recently published book, Cool Dogs, Cool Homes. Inviting us to snoop around some inspirational abodes – and meet the four-legged friends who guard them – Geraldine shows us how a canine companion can fit right into a modern home without having to sacrifice on style. There’s even a chapter titled Design Dogs, in which high profile designers such as Abigail Ahern and Nikki Tibbles show us their beautifully curated but nonetheless dog-friendly residences.
Geraldine’s own apartment, a masterclass in restrained glamour with its wealth of natural textures and mono accents, takes up the ground floor of a large Victorian semi. With a separate entranceway, high ceilings, two double bedrooms and a sizable kitchen/diner, she describes it as having “a rare sense of space”. “I was attracted to it initially because of the size. So many Victorian houses are small, but there are only four houses of this size in the street. The others, although a mixture of styles, are of a more conventional size,” she says.
Despite its pleasing footprint, the flat has seen some extensive improvement work in the 25 years that Geraldine has lived here. This includes replacing period features that had been removed. Architecturally sympathetic coving, internal doors and a huge marble fire surround were lovingly reinstalled. More recently, Geraldine has given her bathroom a makeover, reclaiming space from an old airing cupboard and significantly extending it to include a walk-in shower. She has also widened the doors to the garden and created further double doors into the sheltered area at the side of the kitchen – now a dream indoor/outdoor space complete with dining table, a painted bench with cosy scatter cushions, an assortment of vintage chairs, climbing jasmine and vine leaves overhead. “This really came about when my neighbour built an extension using lovely bricks,” she says. “It then made sense to create an outdoor covered dining area using the space. It is one of the best things I’ve done.”
Along with Geraldine’s indoor dining table, the one outside came from an antiques fair and has been in her possession for years. When restrictions allow her, procurement of interesting furniture pieces and accessories takes her across Europe. “I love shopping in the Sablon in Belgium to buy mid-century furniture. My dining chairs come from there,” she reveals. “Pezenas in south west France has over 50 antique shops, I love going there and I never return empty handed. And I love Fornasetti in Milan for really mad quirky items, and Merci in Paris for glass and ceramics. I’ve broken so much returning on the Eurostar over the years,” she laughs. “And I’ve collected textiles from everywhere: African mud cloth from Brussels, Hungarian linen sheets from Kempton Antiques, cushions from Anthropologie and Soho Home…” It is good old Ikea for basics, though. Geraldine has recently added two glazed front cabinets to the kitchen, which she calls “a real game changer.”
Although an avid collector, there is a discipline to Geraldine’s interiors shopping habits and the way in which she gives her favourite pieces space to breathe – the apartment is anything but cluttered. “I have never had a look in mind and mostly what happens is that it evolves and I drift from one aesthetic seamlessly to another,” she says. “I used to like a much more decorated aesthetic, but now I instinctively want a pared back look and I find myself stripping back, giving things away or loaning things.” Artwork features heavily in the flat, too, all lovingly curated, of course: “Some of my favourite items I’ve collected include an oil painting of a couple of Flamenco dancers, which I bought at the Montpellier antiques fair; a white linen dress oil painting in my bedroom, painted by my good friend Richard Nott; and a huge oil painting in my kitchen of a tutu in turquoise and green, painted and gifted to me by Laurence Amélie. “It is so striking and adds so much to any room – I have moved it around my flat.”
Like so many of us, Geraldine’s lockdown experience has been a mixed one: “Family visits were on the doorstep, in fact my granddaughter had her first birthday on the doorstep,” she recalls. “But it’s also true that we’ve reconnected with our homes. I used the first lockdown to really get to grips with home tasks I’d been meaning to do. I’ve spent time making small changes, getting better organised, replacing an old rug…” Without question, Geraldine’s commodious kitchen/dining space, which spills out into the garden, proved a godsend: “It really came into its own last year when we were allowed six friends outside,” she says. “I have lights outside and plenty of seating. When lit in the summer with all the doors open it’s a great space, perfect for parties. It’s magical… And of course Eddie’s favourite place is wherever I am – apart from when dark falls, then he’s in the garden for hours hunting foxes.”
Cool Dogs, Cool Homes by Geraldine James, £19.99, published by CICO Books (rylandpeters.com)