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Inside Nina Campbell’s Chelsea townhouse

Interior designer Nina Campbell, the winner of our Lifetime Achievement Award for 2023, has been in business since 1971, designing rooms that are elegant, that effortlessly balance tradition and modernity, and which are always imbued with a sense of wit. In this episode of Design Notes, she takes us inside her house in Chelsea, a small but perfectly formed space filled with art, colour, and her own designs for textiles, wallpaper and furniture. All the best-loved characteristics of Nina’s interiors are present, from the monograms on the pillowcases to the unexpected use of colours such as the acid green that runs through the living spaces. As Nina puts it, “I think for a house to be successful, the weight needs to go off your shoulders as you come in the front door, you need to feel that you can sit anywhere and relax.”

Released on 05/26/2023


[bright jazzy music]

I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere, actually,

because I was always on the move.

What I love is where I'm sitting now.

I've got a garden in front of me on both sides,

so I can sit here and all I see is green,

and I'm in London now, I don't want to live in the country,

so this is perfect for me.

It's like a little cottage, really.

[bright jazzy music]

I think this house is extremely functional

for its purpose for me.

There were challenges, of course.

This space here is quite narrow.

There was a sort of wider chimney breast,

and I thought, that's ridiculous.

I could give myself an extra foot

if I take that chimney breast back, so I did,

and then of course, those building people came along

and said, Well, you can't use the chimney

unless it's 12 inches deep and you've only got eight inches.

Would you like to rebuild your chimney breast?

And I said, No, not in the slightest.

As a result, I've now got rock crystal logs

and a completely Alice in Wonderland fireplace.

It's surround is brass, I brought it back from America.

The slips are mirrored, the whole thing doesn't work,

but at least it litters a bit,

and it looks, you know, there's a point to it.

[bright jazzy music]

What I love about this house is that when I look around it,

I'm looking at sort of friends,

because there is the mantelpiece,

I remember exactly where I bought it in Atlantic Avenue

in Brooklyn in America.

There's two of Tommy Mitchell's pots of flowers on the top,

and he's a friend of mine.

The candlesticks of David Hicks in Paris,

I bought with my husband years and years ago.

Sophie Corrington painting, I sort of know all the people

that are involved in here, Kate Malone's pots there,

Sunita Kumar's paintings from India.

Everything really is like a friend, so you sit in this room,

and you're just surrounded by people.

Even if you're alone here just reading a book,

I mean, they're all here around you,

and I think that's rather comforting.

[bright jazzy music]

I love color and texture,

and I think the way I'm mixing it is really interesting.

It's something that I revel in and enjoy.

As long as there's a thread of some sort,

even if it's only in your own mind, I think

that's what makes a room sort of work and come together.

I mean, this room at the moment has been through quite a lot

of colors really, but the acid green I just brought in,

and I've got these wonderful curtains

that have silk taffeta on the outside.

I've lined them in a fake taffeta of the same color

because of the sun so that they don't rot.

I love this horsehair, and I thought, well,

I've bought a sort of 18th century chair,

I'm gonna cover it not in dark green leather.

I'm gonna cover it in acid green horsehair

just because it's a little bit quirky and different,

but it's still beautiful line of a chair.

So I think that's important to just twisting things a bit.

That's what I like doing.

[bright jazzy music]

When I was sitting in the sort of dining room part,

if you like, of this space,

and this is actually quite a big table,

I suppose, for quite a small space,

but there's not much else you can do with this space.

It's on the way to the garden and it's by the kitchen.

I have had this table for quite a long time.

I bought it from Talisman when Anabel Elliot had

her antique department there, and I love it.

I like the width of it, and I like the length of it.

I can have 10 people on it or I can have six people on it.

You can talk across it,

which means that you don't get stuck.

You can have it with people at the ends or not,

and I've even got an extension, and I can get

up to 14 people on it, and that works for me.

I've got tablecloths, table mats.

I've got all sorts of different ways of doing the table,

and it really amuses me to lay the table.

I'm not a very good cook.

In fact, I'm not a cook at all,

so all of my creativity goes onto the table,

and I've got green and white China,

and I've got amber colors, and I've got pinks and purples,

and all of which live in this cupboard behind me,

which William Norwood would made for me,

hence the N on the top of the cupboard.

I've moved this here from another house where it was,

I had a taller ceiling, and it was to hide a radiator case,

which is why I dreamt it up.

But when I came here, I had to lower it,

and so we he went back to William,

and he made me the cupboard underneath.

So a lot of my China and glasses are in there,

and it's all beautifully lined out in suede,

and all the glasses are lined up like soldiers,

and the plates, and it it makes it possible

to lay the table very easily.

It's all very organized,

and it means that I can use everything every day,

'cause I sort of hate things being for best.

[bright jazzy music]

So if the reader has an eagle eye,

they will see that the chairs are different.

The chairs underneath I've just had recovered

in this acid green and white fabric

from Tobias and the Angel, which I love,

but unfortunately, they only had a few yards left.

I do rather like the fact

of having a separate room for dining, if people come

for dinner or for lunch, whatever,

that the table remains a bit of a mystery.

And so there's a wonderful company

in Paris called [speaking foreign language].

Ian Salberg came from Paris.

He felt that he wanted the whole thing to disappear,

which I think he was totally right,

because there is that wonderful moment

when the room is one whole place,

and then there's this other magical moment,

and we did a sort of Sonya Delaunay inspired design

on the glass, and then it's mounted in brass, I love it.

[bright jazzy music]

This is now my bedroom, and this is the room that sold it

for me, because outside the window is the magnolia tree.

I wanted to put fabric on the walls, because I like

that feeling in a bedroom that when you shut the door,

you are enclosed in a sort of womb-like experience,

and so the dead quiet of having

the fabric on the wall is great.

So this is one of my fabrics quite a long time ago.

I'll probably change it quite soon

and put a different fabric on.

I did start out with just plain pink linen,

so as it's my house, it does change quite often.

[bright jazzy music]

Rather than move house now, I just like changing things,

but my bed's very important to me,

and my bed linens are something I also collect.

We've got lovely Porthault baby pillows on the top.

It's very comfortable to have a baby pillow.

Then I have a goose down sort of European pillow,

and then I have a big square French pillow

that if I want to read, I can sit up against.

It's a little bit firmer.

And then I have from Thomas [indistinct],

I have this lovely sort of large lavender bag,

which I sort of sometimes lay on top of the pillow,

and all the lavender smell goes down,

and that makes you sleep or helps you sleep, I believe.

[bright jazzy music]

So we're now in the basement of the house,

and I dug this basement, and I dug it quite deep,

so the ceilings are relatively high,

which I think gives you a better feeling in a basement.

I just redecorated this room.

When I first did it,

the children were much younger, so it was softer.

It was sort of aquas and pinks, and I've just launched

this fabric called [indistinct], so it's got

these wonderful sort of like Indian miniature flowers,

white background, magentas, and corals, and blues,

and I got a blue and white Dhurrie from Guinevere.

I sort of instantly decided to change it over a weekend,

and everything magically came together.

I kept the bed, but I gathered all these old cushions,

again from Guinevere,

and it was always hung with sort of Indian pictures,

so it's now sort of turned into my Indian room.

The pink color in this room is Farrow & Ball,

I think it's called French Gray.

I think it's a very good background color,

and funny enough, I've never had to change it.

So this is a new chair,

which actually is unbelievably comfortable.

It's also named after my dog, Archie.

I call, all the furniture gets named after children,

grandchildren, and now the dogs, and so this is Archie,

and believe it or not, although it's got a wooden back,

it's very, very comfortable, and I loved it in here,

just because I need to be able to move it

when I bring the other bed out,

so it's a very easy chair to move.

[bright jazzy music]

I am now in the guest bedroom,

which I'm just gonna check to make sure it's perfect

for the arrival of my next guest.

This room again, it's got everything it needs, really.

It's one of my wallpapers, which I think is very calming,

and the curtain is the same fabric,

it just has the embroidery on it.

I think sometimes it's nice to have

a sort of a special bed in a guest bedroom.

I think you want to make your guest bedroom

as comfortable as possible, so it's got a radio in it,

it's got comfortable pillows.

It's very quiet down here, which people love.

It's got a wardrobe, it's got a chest of drawers,

and really, it's got everything you need.

I think it's always nice in a guest bedroom

to have the water by the bed,

a little dish if you want to take your rings

or anything off, and then books.

I think it's always nice to find a book in a guest bedroom.

I have a hot water bottle in there,

because I like to have a hot water bottle sometimes,

not that it's ever cold here.

I hope everything's in this room,

and I've got very good friends who stay,

so they tell me if there's anything missing.

This bedroom is very green now.

I've painted the little courtyard green,

and put in some fake flowers,

because it's impossible to grow anything real down here,

but it just makes the room feel a bit bigger.

This is about the third time I've done this up as well.

It's been lavender, it's been gray,

and now it's green, and it might change in the future.

It's a sort of trial run

for a new wallpaper and fabric collection.

So I was definitely having a green moment,

and then I went and got the linens in green,

and put my initials on just in case I forget who I am.

I think this was trimmed differently.

I put the green edgings on.

So I've kept some of it, and some of it's new,

and I think it's important when you redecorate

to have some new and some old things in here.

[bright jazzy music]

I think for a house to be successful,

you have to have a feeling when you arrive.

I think the weight needs to go off your shoulders

as you come in the front door.

I think you need to feel

that you can sit anywhere and relax.

You just want it to be a home, and you want to entertain,

and it's a surrounding, really,

for your friends to enjoy themselves,

and other guests who come who don't know you

to relax and leave thinking they've had a wonderful time.

[bright jazzy music]

Lily, come here.

All right, you go out.

I don't get a look in if you're here.

[bright jazzy music]

Starring: Nina Campbell