Tucked high in an 1880 house in London’s storied Tite Street—that Chelsea lane of terra-cotta-red houses where Oscar Wilde so artfully once lived— Rose Uniacke stands in a double-height living room that is wrapped with tart shades of green that seem to tint the very air with freshness. “It’s like being inside an apple,” the designer smilingly says of the verdant, hand-blocked wallpaper, spotted in the Victoria and Albert Museum archives, reproduced, and recolored for a family that now lives in Tite Street’s most admired dwelling.
E. W. Godwin, a high priest of the art-for-art’s-sake Aesthetic Movement, designed the place, picturesquely melding Dutch and Japanese styles, for Frank Miles, a rich, handsome, young painter known for a reckless personal life and what a critic admiringly called “a series of pretty female heads” rendered in pastels. Chelsea was then “a paradise for artists,” Uniacke says, all drawn by the clear light glinting off the Thames. Whistler lived across the street, Sargent painted portraits a few doors down, and for a brief period, Wilde was Miles’s housemate.
“My clients were keen to respect that history but didn’t want an academic re-creation of an Aesthetic Movement scheme,” Uniacke explains. Instead, following a full-bore architectural restoration, she conjured up a decor in which Victorian bohemianism meets 20th- and 21st-century furnishings in a dégagé manner that is plainly, comfortably now.
In the 40-foot-long studio turned living room, the owners encouraged Uniacke to assemble what she calls “an interesting collection of furnishings.” Thus, sparkling 1890s light fixtures coexist with Godwin-design ebonized chairs in the fetching Anglo-Japanese style (“Aesthetic Movement furniture is quite undervalued,” the designer notes), a monumental Uniacke table carved from Swedish green marble, and herringbone parquet blanketed with fluffy Tibetan sheepskins.
Round the living room, atop the trelliswork wainscot, runs an iris-pattern border, the purple blossoms serving as a subtle reminder that Miles cultivated Japanese flowers while also giving the feeling that one might be sitting in a pavilion in the middle of a garden. That plein-air reverie is carried into the cozy adjoining library, a space that is swathed in an 1882 William Morris print on which rabbits and birds cavort.
“My intention was to have a surprising mix of color and playful gestures,” Uniacke explains. “The point was to take a contemporary approach to a classic Godwin interior—but softer, cleaner, and less full of things.”