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The North Leyton kitchen: mixing old and new

As you’d expect from the Associate Editor and Culture Director of ELLE UK, Lena De Casparis’s Leyton home is the epitome of understated style. Effortlessly mixing old and new, monochrome and colour, De Casparis’s original approach to design has ensured her Leyton kitchen is full of unique character.

Lena shares her East London home with her film producer boyfriend Scott as well as with her two daughters, whose colourful artwork adorns the fridge. We sat down with Lena to discuss her approach to interior design and the whirlwind six months that led to the creation of her beautiful new family home.

“I’m originally from Hornsey in North London, and apart from periods living in Spain and New York I’ve pretty much lived in London ever since. I was in Hackney for most of my twenties until we bought one of the Abraham flats in Leyton about 7 years ago.

Having done a fair amount of building work to that flat, we thought we would like to take on a full house project and so we found this wreck. It was a probate house and whilst the previous owner had done bits and bobs to it, like the electrics, overall it hadn’t really been touched. We only had six months to do the renovations and there was quite a lot to do. I’ve realized that to move fast with building work you have to know your tastes really well.

Before the pandemic, we both travelled a lot for work. I used to go to New York and LA, and Scott would be shooting all around the world. Like everyone else, when the pandemic happened, we suddenly had all this time at home. The flat we lived in had felt fine in that London world – I’d say we were out for dinners most nights – but suddenly we were in our house a lot. As we now have two kids, we weren’t going out so much, so we thought we should figure out a way to entertain at home more – I think that was the primary idea of creating this house.

I knew I wanted to put in a big three-metre table for everyone to sit around, and so that became the basis for the design of the space – it then became about what else we could fit in around that. We cook but I’m more of a ‘grab five things and throw it together’ type of cook rather than spending hours cooking with Ottolenghi ingredients – it’s more like wine and a tub of houmous!

I didn’t want the kitchen to feel like a showroom or to feel brand new, so I was looking at a lot of reclaim yards for items such as the sink and taps. We sourced most of the things from the house from eBay, reclaim yards or Facebook Marketplace. I think for homes, one person’s trash is definitely another person’s treasure. It’s been really nice that we were able to save things from landfill and give them a new lease of life. Everything we pulled out of the house we then sold on Facebook Marketplace – it was too heartbreaking to have it going to a skip.

Part of the inspiration for the dark cabinet fronts was Alison Lloyd, the designer of Ally Capellino, whose house has been featured on the Modern House website; it was my number one thing on all of my mood boards. I love the warmth of midcentury teak, and it felt right to combine it with the dark colour on the cupboards to stop it from looking too clinical. We’ve got quite a lot of art on the walls too, so it felt like that worked well with the black. We did put in a yellow window though!

The flooring is five finger parquet; I grew up in a Victorian house and I loved it when I was a kid so I was quite nostalgic for it. It was a pain to install though! For storage, I’ve always found top cupboards annoying as I’m really small, so we decided to put in a larder instead. I have fond memories of my grandparent’s larder and it’s such a great space for all our food. HØLTE made this lovely sliding door for it.

We were able to be quite resourceful with our materials. We needed shelves for the kitchen and larder so I emailed HØLTE and they very kindly sent us the offcuts from our kitchen to use as shelves. It’s so nice to have the shelves in keeping with the rest of the kitchen – it has given it a nice consistency.

It was important to us that the items we found and people that we used were local – everything that we could get done locally we did. We liked that HØLTE were also local and they had a good sustainability message on their website, and I also just thought they were a really nice company. They were great to deal with – it feels like we have a very personalized service for a really reasonable amount of money. I feel like I have a very custom kitchen for my space.

We’ve been able to entertain in the space a lot already. We had a housewarming which was really nice. We made lots of martinis and I think everyone was just over-excited that they were in a socializing scenario again! I think it’s going to be great in the summer – hopefully, the garden will feel like another room when we’ve got the doors wide open.

We’ve been here a month now and there are still some things to do. In the last month we’ve looked at how can we make it feel like it’s as homely as possible. I’ve bought some rolls of wallpaper so maybe we’ll get wallpapering soon!”