John McCall creates a dramatically colourful house from a former civic building in London

When West End producer Eilene Davidson cast a Victorian civic building in London as her family home, she called in her longtime collaborator, interior designer John McCall, to set the scene for a beautifully bold transformation
John McCall creates a dramatic bold house from a former civic building in London
Alexander James

A handsome bedroom for one of Eilene’s sons is next door, with one wall covered in John Rocque’s 1746 map of London from Iksel. And round the corner is the most theatrical room of all – a home cinema, which has a huge curving seat and appears to contain props from every Hollywood epic ever made. The velvet on the walls is printed with a Middle Eastern carpet design, there are sandstone Indian carvings, a piece of a Zulu door, Moroccan stools, and tribal masks and African baskets on the walls. The elegant metal wall lights, from the former Annabel’s nightclub, bring a tawny glow to this extraordinary space. The dining room upstairs, with its rich red damask paper and gilt mirror, is also an evening room, with more than a whiff of La Traviata. With a crystal chan- delier hanging above a large circular mahogany table, it is a room for grown-up dinners, conversation and entertaining.

John was well aware there was no question of missing the deadline Eilene had given him. First, he and Smallwood had to get planning permission, as they remade spaces, not only on the garden floor, but throughout the house. Ceilings were taken down, boards taken up for underfloor heating and walls moved. It was an immense job. John does not have a large staff in his office, but he does have a vast contacts list and a huge number of people worked on the house, all under his meticu- lous direction. No detail is too small. For Eilene’s youngest daughter’s bedroom, he made a pair of curved four-posters and, after searching for a simple cotton pom-pom trim to edge the voile hangings, he found an Indian artisan who makes fringe by hand at her kitchen table. He sent off the money in advance, with some trepidation and, weeks later, a perfect 18th-century-style fringe arrived in the post.

The real test comes, though, two days before the family is due to move in. ‘The builders are always a bit late, ironing out final details,’ he explains. John gathers a chorus of helpers who work with him and the family’s staff for two long days, making beds, unwrapping sofas, hanging clothes in the ward- robes, putting their preferred soaps in the bathrooms, cutlery in drawers, wine in fridges. ‘We have vans arriving every two hours to take away the packing boxes. Then, as the owners land at Heathrow, we walk out of the back door.’ The family arrives and sits down to lunch in their immaculate new home.

A critic wrote of one of Eilene’s shows, ‘I would give it six stars if I could.’ John’s clients say the same of him.

John McCall Interior Design: | Smallwood Architects: