There’s a playfulness to our home,” says Italian architect Chantal Martinelli of the flat she shares in a converted textiles factory in Hackney with her husband Julien Desormeaux, a French infrastructure project financier, and their sons Marcel, seven, and Lucio, 10. “Nothing is too serious here.”
With soaring ceilings and huge sash windows, the architecture is elegant, offset by witty touches and jolts of strong colour that make the flat chic yet fun.
One wall in the kitchen-cum-dining room is painted chili pepper red, the backdrop to a retro tangerine-coloured Smeg fridge.
Two orange and red vintage pendant lights stylishly tie these acid hues together.
Picking up a pomegranate from a fruit bowl, Martinelli says: “Reds and oranges relate to fruit and spices. They give more vitality to the space.”
From here, a tall sliding door made of reclaimed oak flooring leads — via a small sitting room where the family watch TV — to a living room painted zingy sky blue.
Clearly, Martinelli enjoys combining hot and cool hues to startling effect.
She studied architecture in Rome, then worked for Foster + Partners in London, gaining experience designing large-scale projects.
“I worked on offices, museums, hotels, using the studio’s neutral palette of glass and steel. I rarely did residential properties. While on maternity leave, two friends asked me to design their home, which involved linking two Victorian houses.”
She found more work through word of mouth and in 2013 set up her architecture practice, Mad Atelier.
What it cost
Cost of apartment in 2009: £310,000
Cost of refurbishment: £206,000
Value of house now (estimate): £950,000
“The Mad bit is short for Martinelli Architecture Design but I also like the other sense it conjures up — crazy and bold,” she says. “It signifies Martinelli and Desormeaux, too, since we work together.
“People said they liked my projects’ holiday-ish, Mediterranean feel, their sense of freedom,” she adds. “For one client, a musician, I chose patterned tiles that brought to mind musical rhythms.”
For a couple occupying a former hummus factory, she enlivened a mainly monochrome decor with plaster-pink walls.
The latter, as well as the home of Martinelli and Desormeaux, feature in new book East London Homes: Creative Interiors from London’s East End (Hoxton Mini Press), which celebrates the pioneering, unconventional transformation of anything from coffin workshops to gin distilleries into striking, personal spaces.
Other Mad Atelier projects include The Rose hotel in Deal, Kent.
The Tarzan and Jane effect
A corridor forms the backbone of the L-shaped apartment.
Three rooms lead off it, starting with the children’s bedroom, then Chantal and Julien’s bedroom and finally a spacious bathroom.
The boys’ wooden beds recall bunk beds but, rather than arranged one above the other, are at crow’s nest height, reached by ladders.
An offbeat wallpaper here by Barcelona-based company Batabasta features outsized palm trees from which tiny, Lycra-clad human figures swing like Tarzan and Jane.
Quirkier still is a square of white netting stretched horizontally near ceiling height in the corridor just outside the kitchen to provide extra play space.
Securely fixed to the walls, this can be accessed from one of the boys’ beds. “It’s made of very strong netting used on catamarans,” explains Martinelli. “The boys even have pillow fights on it.”
She redesigned parts of the flat: “The kitchen used to be a galley kitchen where the kids’ bedroom is now, so we moved it into the larger room. Kitchens shouldn’t be separated from the rest of the home — I like to be with my friends when I’m cooking. We added a small bathroom next to the blue living room, also used as a guest room.”
Mad Atelier is conveniently based at her and Desormeaux’s equally out-there, eponymous shop on nearby Lower Clapton Road, which they opened in 2017.
Like the style of Martinelli’s projects and home, the two-storey emporium is an expression of this sparky architect’s personality — outgoing and uninhibited.
The exterior wall of the shop is decorated with a giant mural of multicoloured pixels by Spanish designer Cristian Zuzunaga.
Inside, the mood is summed up by a cushion-strewn, egg-shaped, ceiling-hung chair that brushes against a desk with a neat row of computers, suggesting that work and leisure are, not unreasonably, intertwined.
Here, Martinelli and Desormeaux, who works on the business side and helps to source products, can display idiosyncratic homeware found in independent shops in Mediterranean countries, chiefly France, Italy and Portugal, which can then be supplied directly to clients.
The shop occupies a former Victorian pub, where stripped wood and exposed brick provide a neutral backdrop for the eccentric curios, including lamps by Seletti in the shape of lifelike, gold mice clutching bare light bulbs, and plates by Maison Fragile adorned with portraits of French icons including Yves Saint Laurent and Serge Gainsbourg.
A similar vibe pervades the couple’s home, where much of the furniture and art are available in the store.
In the dining area is a huge storage unit made by Manchester-based designer Jon Male from reclaimed public library shelves, fronted with glass panels sand-blasted with the word “library”.
Martinelli likes to soften architecture’s hard edges. In the main bedroom saffron-coloured curtains filter golden light into the space, while another curtain fronts the wardrobe.
An old parquet floor in a warm, dark tone, found in most of the flat, which the couple had restored, is pleasingly unifying.
The kitchen features two parallel worktops wide enough apart to allow freedom of movement but close enough to make it easy to shift food and objects easily from one to the other.
So what work does she most enjoy? “Residential and hospitality projects are my favourites because they’re about cosiness and comfort,” she says. “I love trying to translate people’s personalities into a space.”
Get the look
- Architect: Mad Atelier
- Vintage red armchairs in the dining area: Cross by Arflex (also available new from arflex.it)
- Gerrit Rietveld chair in the dining room: Cassina
- Antique chair in the blue living room: reupholstered in Kvadrat Steelcut Trio fabric; wool cushions covered in Kvadrat Coda 2 fabric (kvadrat.com)
- Bespoke bar in the kitchen: Tadelakt (tadelakt.co.uk)
- Paints: by Farrow & Ball and Dulux (Heritage Sky Blue, in children’s room)
- Throw in blue living room: Star from Mad Atelier
- Velvet curtains in the main bedroom: Mad Atelier
- Curtains in front of wardrobe in the main bedroom: Pierre Frey
- Wallpaper and cushions in the children’s bedroom: Batabasta
- Wall tiles in the bathroom: Mutina (mutina.it); washbasin: Villeroy & Boch
- Pendant light in the dining area: DCW Editions
- Portable light in the children’s bedroom: Marset from Mad Atelier (as before)
- Wall lights in the bathroom: Urban Cottage Industries
- Art in the living room: Victor Cord’homme
- Art in the main bedroom: Heretic Spectral Nation from Mad Atelier (as before)
Photographs by Jon Aaron Green for the book East London Homes by Sarah Bagner, published by Hoxton Mini Press. Styling by Sarah Bagner. Portraits by Daniel Hambury.