[Decor] Vibrant London townhouse
As befits third-generation cosmetics royalty, Christine d’Ornano was raised with her three siblings in an expansive Paris apartment overlooking the Seine. It was a Belle Epoque riot of gilding, carving, swags, embroidery, tassels, porcelain, bronzes, silver, sculptures, and overstuffed chaise longues. “There were objects everywhere,” d’Ornano remembers. “But there’s something very cozy about my parents’ home you can’t help being influenced by.”
Indeed. In the front drawing room of the London house she shares with her husband, financier Marzouk Al-Bader, flanked by modernist chairs by Joe Colombo and Gerrit Rietveld, sits an ormolu-encrusted desk, a present from her father on her 18th birthday. “It’s a 19th-century reinterpretation of a 15th-century design,” she says. “It belonged originally to his father, my grandfather. And it was given to him by François Coty, who got my family into cosmetics.” Her grandfather Comte Guillaume d’Ornano cofounded Lancôme; her father, Comte Hubert d’Ornano, started Orlane, and after both firms were sold, he and his wife, Isabelle, launched Sisley, known for its high-end creams and other beauty products.
D’Ornano is Parisian to her fingertips; her husband is originally from Lebanon, and both attended college in the States (after graduating from Princeton, she worked as a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue). Nonetheless, there is something distinctly London about their home. It is full of contemporary art and objects, yet it is luxe and relaxed—elegant yet easy—and, to use a popular Britishism, lived-in.
When they found the double-fronted Victorian house three years ago (d’Ornano now oversees the U.K. operations of Sisley), they had work to do. Though the tree-lined streets of Notting Hill look like they’ve always been a fabulous place to live, the truth is that almost as soon as the mellow brick buildings were put up by enterprising developers, the area degenerated into a slum—the big houses were subdivided and suffered from neglect. “It was still flats when we bought it,” says d’Ornano. But the couple relished the opportunity to expand. “We’re a very good team,” d’Ornano says. “We like doing things together.”
And the structure had definite advantages: big windows, tall ceilings, a central tiled hall, and a spacious double drawing room. The walls in the front portion, overlooking the street, are lacquered gray; those in the back, facing the garden, are upholstered in pink linen. Throughout the space, works by Young British Artists (paintings by Gary Hume and Marc Quinn, and a neon piece by Tracey Emin) hang alongside large-scale photographs by Thomas Ruff and Elger Esser. But also pinned straight to the walls are curling family snapshots of the couple’s three little girls (Isabelle and Alma, both 6, and 3-year-old Inès). Big sofas by George Smith are at the ready for flopping on. D’Ornano’s mother stitched the tapestry seat for the André Dubreuil stool. “We like a sort of cozy environment,” d’Ornano reiterates. “The only things not good for lounging are the Lalanne crocodile chairs. But they’re lovely, and we only use them when we have too many people for the sofas.”
The one major alteration was a rear extension, which encompasses the kitchen and terrace, designed by Alex Michaelis, a minimalist architect known for building his own underground abode in the neighborhood. “Our style is quite different from his,” says d’Ornano, “but he knows what can and can’t be done in Notting Hill.” The result is a stunning glass-walled addition containing a monolithic white structure that holds everything from the sink to the teaspoons. “We can do small, casual dinners in the kitchen,” d’Ornano says. “It’s a bit more elegant dining in the library, and in the summer we entertain on the terrace. It’s a very nice house for parties.”
In the master bedroom and the adjacent bath/office/dressing room, the influence of her family’s decorative style is most apparent. The walls are upholstered in a large-scale 1970s abstract floral. It’s very French, d’Ornano says, to pad and cover walls this way. She had used the same fabric in their previous home, but set against a plain floor. “This time, we kind of went for it with the carpet,” she says, laughing, referring to the busy geometric pattern. The jade, gray, and mustard of the fabric, the russet of the blanket, and the navy and white on the floor make a cacophony that is almost audible. “Even my parents, who are so bold, said, ‘God! That’s a bit too much, no?’ ” admits d’Ornano. “But it’s still peaceful in there, isn’t it?” It’s her favorite room.
She is also very fond of the dining room/library, with its huge doors covered in sapphire-blue velvet and studded with brass, and its circular table surrounded by Louis XVI–style chairs. “My husband likes a comfortable chair, and I was really bent on having yellow leather,” she says. “They’re new, but they really make them well—so they look a little bit worn. My father says you should always have contemporary chairs, reproductions, which is funny when you think of how many precious antique ones they own. But he says the old ones collapse on you, and you’re always having to mend them.”