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Image / Editorial

Restoration Drama

by Lizzie Gore-Grimes
29th Nov 2014


Josephine bought the sculpture in the hall at an antiques fair in the South of France a few years ago. The dresser in the foreground is topped with untreated pine and the collection of vintage French decanters and candlesticks are available from Josephine Ryan Antiques.

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Josephine Ryan’s spacious Victorian terrace is stylishly spartan – but the d?cor is lovingly punctuated with flashes of her magpie personality…

WHO LIVES HERE Irish antiques dealer, stylist and writer Josephine Ryan, Howard Fairbrass,?11-year-old Uma?Rose, and Ted the terrier.

THE HOUSE A deceptively spacious Victorian terraced house in southwest London.

WHY WE LOVE IT It’s an interesting combination of original features with a modern, pared-back approach.

?We bought the house from a lovely couple ??Fred Ingram and his wife, Olive – who had lived here for 60 years,? begins London-based Irish antiques dealer Josephine Ryan. ?They loved their home and when we exchanged keys, his parting words to me were, ?You won’t knock it about too much, will you?? We assured him not and shook hands warmly. As soon as Fred ambled off to his retired life in Norfolk, we set to with sledgehammers to knock out the hideous aluminium porch that hung like a grim veil in front of the beautiful Victorian doorway? I offer no prizes for guessing what happened next. Fred had forgotten his jacket and returned to fetch it. I will never forget his face, as he left again muttering, ?I see you’ve made a start? – we were mortified!?

The year was 1997 and Josephine and her then husband had spent months looking at houses. With a baby on the way – who turned out to be their first-born son, Cathal – they were keen to find somewhere suitable for a young family. ?This house was actually the first one we viewed,? Josephine recalls. ?But it was above our budget so we kept looking but soon realised that it was a prize find. Being twice the size of the other houses on the street (about 2,400 sq ft), it offered so much potential. So we went with the – slightly questionable – advice that you should always buy what you can’t afford and stretched ourselves to get it.?

The house was built in the 1880s and was in excellent’structural?condition, boasting five generous bedrooms, but the d?cor was outdated by a good 40 years.?The first thing Josephine did was rip out all the carpets, wallpaper and net curtains. Next up, they replaced the old aluminium windows with wooden sash versions. In the kitchen, they knocked through a wall to create a large open-plan kitchen-dining room, then ripped out the old formica units and replaced them with an unfitted kitchen. ?There was an avocado-green suite which also had to go!? Josephine exclaims with a laugh. ?We then refitted the bathroom with a beautiful Travertine marble floor and an original cast-iron Victorian bath.?

In the main living room, Josephine set to work removing the fitted, mirrored Schreiber cabinets and remodelling the room with a magnificent carved antique-wood fireplace as centrepiece. ?Then in 2004, pregnant again, I decided to do an attic conversion and top it off with a roof terrace, which we love. So now there is really nothing left to do to the house except the very first job I wanted to do – which was to replace the wooden fence?in the garden with a brick wall; needless to say, that never got done but perhaps in another 17 years!?

Today, the house is flooded with light and boasts a calm, pared-back beauty. There’s a wonderfully romantic vintage feel to the interior style. From the moment you walk in through the distressed-metal front gate, you’re entering a world of refreshingly unpolished elegance, where natural finishes abound, offset by unique antique pieces. ?It’s important to remember that it’s taken us 17 years to get here though,? Josephine is quick to interject. ?I love this house – it’s the longest I have ever lived anywhere and it’s seen me through births, deaths, divorce, great parties, a wonderful new relationship? I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.?

The house has also been the creative space where Josephine has penned her three interiors books, French Home, Essentially French and Essentially Irish, and the base from which she’s built up her successful antiques-dealing business, with shops over the years in Fulham, Clapham and now Chelsea. ?The pieces in my shop reflect the aesthetic you see throughout my home,? she says. ?I only buy what I?love and would want to keep in my own home and, luckily for me, for over 20 years now, other people have wanted to buy what I?find – so my own home is not too cluttered!?

French doors

The French doors lead from the living room out into the garden.

White room with antiques

In the guest bedroom, Josephine picked up the pair of Swedish chairs at the Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair in Battersea Park, where she exhibits three times a year.Bedroom

Josephine sums up her interior style as one that embraces ?natural, organic, antique, worn and rustic,? and you can see how well this works in the guest bedroom.

Gate and front door

Josephine added the gate to the house. ?The ?Private Property? sign is tongue-in-cheek,? admits the interior stylist. ?Our house is like a train station with visitors coming and going, many from Ireland.?Book shelve with ornament

?I used to arrange my records in alphabetical order, but not anymore!?


The picturesque utility room on the ground floor.

Kitchen Island

The free-standing island in the kitchen is a vintage French shop counter, which Josephine used in her first antiques shop for ten years. When she closed the shop, she brought the counter home with her.


Josephine bought the sculpture in the hall at an antiques fair in the South of France a few years ago. The dresser in the foreground is topped with untreated pine and the collection of vintage French decanters and candlesticks are available from Josephine Ryan Antiques.

Book shelves

?We built these simple book shelves from MDF and 17 years later they’re still going strong. I love the look of books and records in a home,? says Josephine.

Pots of Agapanthus

Pots of Agapanthus and a pretty rose arch set a verdant mood. The tin lantern was picked up at a market.


The beautiful painted fireplace in the living room.

Antique Pewter Set

The pewter set is antique; Josephine picked it up at an English market.

Decorative plate

The decorative plate is French transferware depicting a rhyme. The pewter bowl in front is filled with shavings from a silver birch tree in the garden.


Josephine’s partner, Howard, built the shelves for her linen collection.

Rosary beads

?I made this sculpture from a cast of my hand and the rosary beads were my fathers,? explains Josephine.

Display items

Items on display in a cabinet in the living room, the picture is from Josephine’s parents? wedding day.

Leaves and lemons

?I love pewter and have quite a collection,? says Josephine.


The vases contain tiny porcelain hands, little clay moulds, pot pourri and dried roses from the garden.

Ornaments on mantlepiece

The guest bedroom mantelpiece.

Words?Lizzie Gore-Grimes.?Photography?James Fennell.

Partial to the pared-back look? Then you’ll love Pearl Collins’ light-filled West Cork dream home.