Let in the light: ‘We wanted openness and flow’


In her professional life Emily Huc works to strict schedules, spreadsheets and moodboards, but when it came to renovating her own home, she took a more gradual, instinctive approach. “I wanted to find pieces that could feasibly have been added to the house over the years and that suit its character,” she says.

Huc lives in this 1920s house in northwest London with her husband Nicolas Sauvage and their children, Leon, eight, Lucien, three, and baby Margot, who was born last July. Their previous home was a small basement flat in Ladbroke Grove, but four years ago they moved a mile-and-a-half north in search of extra space – and more light. “Having direct access to a garden was a particular draw for us. We were craving light after living almost underground,” she explains. This feeling of openness has become more important than ever this year, with both of them working from home.

Huc and Sauvage co-run Rise Design and Development, renovating and refurbishing local properties, but they aim for imaginative renovations rather than bland refits. Here, they excavated down and added a side-return extension to create a large kitchen-diner, then removed the wall dividing it from the entrance hall. “We wanted a feeling of openness and flow right from the moment you walk in the front door,” says Huc. “Now, everywhere on the ground floor has a view of the garden.”

So while plenty of building work went on here, Huc had no intention of papering over their house’s 1920s roots. “You need to listen to a house and its stories in order to make a renovation feel cohesive,” she explains. The couple bought this house from a woman whose grandparents had been its first owners, choosing it off-plan in 1924, when Kensal Rise was a fledgling suburb of London. “She remembered being sent to stay here during the war and playing out in neighbourhood’s wide, quiet streets,” Huc says.

Throughout her redesign and in her choice of materials, Huc endeavoured to tune into the house’s original style. For example, the old oak bannister sets the wooden tones for the house, repeated in the furniture and the herringbone parquet flooring. The kitchen cabinets are in an unfussy, utilitarian style that echoes the postwar aesthetic, while chairs and a sofa in the kitchen’s small seating area add in later midcentury curves, and a plywood chair by Issa Diabaté for Ikea introduces a more modern vibe. Overall, it feels as if all these items could have been gradually added to the house over the decades.

The original sitting room at the front of the house has remained intact as a more separate space and is used for watching TV. Reclaimed double doors are fixed on invisible sliders, so there is the option to open this room up to the rest of the ground floor, or it can stay more separate, (if, for example, not everyone wants to tune into Peppa Pig).

Throughout the house, vintage furniture adds to the lived-in, relaxed atmosphere. An old French table with plenty of rough textures and dents is used as a kitchen island and is similar to one Huc’s French grandparents owned. “They had one very like it on their farm in the Tarn, so it reminds me of long family meals at their house at the weekend,” says Huc, who grew up in Rodez, also in the southwest of France. “I like the way that furniture isn’t solely functional – it can inject emotion into your home.”

Upstairs, there is more in the way of colour and pattern, with Sandberg’s nostalgic Lotte wallpaper in their younger son’s room. Although this is a modern design, it has the air of something older, which might have even been discovered under the house’s layers of wall coverings.

In the couple’s bedroom, a partition wall (which acts as a headboard and screens off clothes storage) is painted a dazzling teal. Second-hand prints and paintings line the other walls, which Huc has kept a plain white. “I enjoy pattern and colour, but as a collector, I’ve also learned the value of white space,” she says.

Although their home is pretty full up now, the couple still love browsing markets, and nearby Golborne Road is a favourite spot. “I’ve always been a rummager – I’ll be the one delving into the bottom of a box of odds and ends to see what catches my eye. Collecting in this way helps to create rooms that aren’t uniform,” she explains. “Sometimes I wish we were minimalists, but not for long. I much prefer a home with soul.”