The life of fashion designer Ann Louise Roswald is all about bold patterns, colour and prints. You see it in every fashion collection she’s ever launched, such as her signature florals; you see it in her new interiors collection, and you see it in her east London home – there’s not a boring beige wall in sight. Instead, when you visit her L-shaped loft apartment in Limehouse – where she lives with her husband Nick Hartley, a businessman and partner in the Wren Press, and their two-and-a-half year old son, Harry – you are struck by how homely and comfortable it is. But there’s no mistaking the indelible stamp of a designer’s vision. This is real open-plan living that only New Yorkers and Scandinavians seem to create to perfection. Indeed, it’s something that Ann Louise attributes to her Swedish heritage.
“We have always fancied having an open-plan house,” she says. “My family in Sweden have always lived open plan and it’s definitely embedded in me from when I was a child. It’s funny that it is so popular over here now. I love the idea of being in the kitchen when Harry is playing on the rug in the front of me where I can see him.”
With a first-class honours degree in fashion with printed textiles from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Ann Louise was snapped up by Liberty’s at her graduation show. But it was inevitable she would become her own boss. “I was brought up in a self-employed family,” she says. “My parents had a clog shop together, and a takeaway restaurant. So being my own boss is in my blood.” Over the past ten years, the company has gained a starry clientele, including the likes of Katie Holmes and Jessica Biel.
Ann Louise, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, and Nick are both from near Scarborough. But they met at a Paul Weller gig in London. They set their sights on this amazing loft apartment that sits atop a converted warehouse when they first saw it in 1998 while visiting a friend who lived in part of the complex. “We knew this flat was being developed by the previous owner, so we wrote to the managing agents of the building. But we didn’t hear back for a while, so we forgot about it. Then, suddenly the agents got in touch – and they sold it to us. We loved the complex so much that we bought it having only seen it through the letter box, so we were expecting it to be a lot smaller. When we eventually saw it, we loved the space, even though it was a state.”
The couple restored some of the lost features, such as the original brickwork, and made it open plan. The only thing they kept was the bathroom. “It was one of those Eighties’ honeysuckle suites,” says Ann Louise. “We cheesed it up even further with a shag pile carpet. Everyone who came to stay loved the carpet, but before Harry was born we needed something a bit easier to clean.”
The Aesthetic look of the apartment was a team effort. Ann Louise and Nick settled on the design together and remained true to the spirit of the building. “We wanted to get back to the original flooring for the whole of the flat, so we cleaned the floor. That was a big mission to get it back to its previous glory – it was filthy and covered in varnish. The next mission was getting back to the original brickwork.”
A huge table in the open-plan space just off the kitchen and the lounge acts as a great centrepiece at the heart of family life and easily seats 14. “This table is great for just about everything,” says Ann Louise. “And we do really like to entertain. Well, we did. We still do, but nowhere near as much since I’ve been pregnant.”
Their red kitchen is fabulous and epitomises Ann Louise’s style. Big impact – on a budget. “When we first moved in we had just set up the business. We didn’t have any money and we were just about to get married,” says Ann Louise. The kitchen doors are MDF painted with gloss, while the use of reclaimed wood for panelling on the walls instead of tiles is a bold statement, but not a hugely expensive one. And it looks stunning. The doors throughout the apartment are old-school doors from Brick Lane, but they have their share of classics, too, such as their Arco floor lamp. “I’ve always loved that light,” says Ann Louise. “I bought it for Nick as a wedding present because I wanted it. Terrible really, he didn’t have much of a choice in it.”
French windows from the kitchen open onto the communal roof garden. With incredible views across London, it places you slap bang in the centre of urban living. An obvious honey pot for all the children in the complex, the roof garden is strewn with toys, left out for everyone to share. “Apart from Harry, it’s all the girls who go out there to play, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. He loves it.”
The bedrooms are at the opposite end of the L-shape to the lounge, and use original textiles from Ann Louise’s interiors range, such as a giant silk quilt bursting with colour. Harry’s room is a proper boys’ room, with all his helicopters and toys and a huge window looking out over the vast views across Canary Wharf. Some of Ann Louise’s beautiful children’s clothes hang on pegs with Harry’s name embroidered across them. On the walls are some paintings of her original designs. “I used to do all the original textile designs straight onto canvas but now I need to do too many,” she says. “That is one thing that I miss. It is hard being your own business manager as well as the designer, but we’ve got lots of people working with us.”
Now the couple have got a taste for renovation, and recently bought a house in County Clare and renovated it from scratch. “In Ireland, things are a bit cobbled together,” says Ann Louise. “But I like things to look real. It’s not like I want everything Eames. I like places to feel homely. There is nothing worse than feeling like we can’t relax – it’s all about comfort. Nick has a good eye; he has a very three-dimensional view, so I just sit back and trust him. We did our Irish house in sections. We got so far with the builders, then we stopped them once they’d put up the walls and Nick and his father did the rest. They would do a five-week spurt, living out there while I was back here. We’ve learnt from it and on our next project we are going to have an architect.” That project is a farmhouse in a national park, back up north. “The building is quite derelict,” she says. “But the plan is to move there. We have a lot of friends in Scarborough. We’ll still be able to work in London as we will live 45 minutes from the station and the train journey to London is only two hours. We’ll either like it or we won’t. We’ll have to see.”
Meanwhile, surely their London home is nearly perfect? “It isn’t completely finished yet,” says Ann Louise. “We’ve still got plain glass windows on the doors to the bathroom,” she laughs. “We’ve been meaning to get them frosted for ages. It drives our families mad when they visit and want a bit of privacy. But we’ll get there in the end.”