The Icing on the Cake – Ros Fairman – Telegraph Magazine
Words and Styling: Emily Wheeler
Photographs: Ingrid Rasmussen
With a knack for searching out vintage finds and a flair for decorative whimsy, Ros Fairman has transformed her early Victorian villa in east London into a home that blends the best of French rustic style with a British sense of eccentricity. The four floor, three bedroom house – beautifully proportioned with huge sash windows and painted in soft shades of off-white – is the perfect environment to show off Fairman’s collection of French antiques and vintage curiosities, which she has collected over the past 25 years.
She bought the house, which she now shares with her husband Bob, a project manager for a property developer, two standard poodles and three Siamese cats, in the late 1980s. “I fell in love with the size, the scale and the grandeur of it’ she recalls.
Fairman, who studied at West Sussex College of Art and Design and has previously worked as a fashion illustrator, takes a painterly approach to decorating, building layers of colour and texture. She also has a rare talent for creating vignettes that inspire and delight. Rooms are filled with antique French furniture, crumbling statues and vintage portraits. There are religious icons and glittering light fixtures. Mix and match chairs surround a large farmhouse table in the kitchen, while elsewhere a feather-trimmed costume that looks as though it came from the Moulin Rouge, hangs nonchalantly by a dressing table.
Fairman started collecting vintage and antiques when she bought the house and has a rare talent for finding treasures at flea markets, charity shops and auction houses. “I don’t mind if things are crumbling or broken, I just buy things because I find them beautiful,” she says. Some of her favourite haunts are Spitalfields Market and Camden Passage in Islington, while regular trips to stay with friends in Normandy provide further opportunities for a good rummage. “The style of the house was never a conscious decision, it just grew from what I found and developed from there in a certain direction,” she explains. “It’s a ‘folie de grandeur’, I suppose you could say. We came with nothing and the first piece I bought for the house was the huge mirror in the sitting room, which set the tone, although you have to be careful of creating tableaux of a life you don’t lead – a home has to be comfortable and easy to live in.”
When she bought the house, it still had its original fireplaces, sash windows, cornices and ceiling roses. Removing the carpets also revealed the house’s original floorboards. One of the few structural changes that was made immediately was to open up the two large rooms on the raised ground floor. Now one large space with large sash windows at either end, it is filled with plush antique French sofas and chairs which give the room the feel of a Paris salon. Lengths of faded bunting add to a sense of playfulness that runs throughout the house. “Often if you knock through two rooms you end up with one end that no one uses’ Fairman says. ‘But having sofas at both ends makes it much more cosy.” While the first floor houses a family bathroom and the master bedroom, the couple recently knocked two bedrooms through to create a large guest room on the top floor.
Downstairs, the country style kitchen was fitted when Fairman first moved into the house, and a free standing wood island in the centre of the space is used as a breakfast bar and for food preparation. She has recently turned her hand to making bespoke cakes for private clients and local patisseries, and it is here that she conjures up creations fit for an 18h century banquet. The marzipan flowers and fruit that cover the surface of the cakes are hand painted and look like Old Masters.
A collection of glass cloches, vintage china plates and objets d’art sit atop a huge wooden sideboard that takes up the length of one wall, while a traditional larder cleverly hides the fridge and provides additional storage space for food. A retro juke box is on standby for impromptu celebrations. “We entertain here a lot so the juke box is wonderful and we’ve had some great times around it’ she says. ‘It looks rather brutal, but it’s one of the best things we’ve bought,” .
KITCHEN: The marble floor in the kitchen, originally from a Mappin and Webb showroom, was bought by Fairman on impulse as architectural salvage.
The large gold mirror was the first thing Ros bought and set the tone for the way she decorated the rest of the house.
Fairman bought most of the furniture at auctions and the vintage yellow corner sofa came from Ebay. The vintage paintings, flags and bunting were bought at markets, while the disco ball was a gift from a friend. The statues and lamp came from Rosemary Conquest Antiques.
The roll top bath is the only reproduction piece in the house and is overlooked by a vintage painting.
A vintage brass bedstead takes centre stage in the bedroom, while an antique French dressing table from Rosemary Conquest Antiques sits opposite. Vintage circus costumes and a crystal chandelier add glamour.
I never buy reproduction, but I won’t spend over a certain amount on anything. I can’t buy really valuable paintings, but old paintings are still very affordable so I buy them in markets and auctions in London and France. A lot of my smaller vintage paintings were bought on eBay or in charity shops and I love Spitalfields market on a Thursday.
I don’t buy anything as an investment because I would never sell anything. I would have to be kidnapped and everything sold as a ransom or someone in need of a vital organ! Otherwise never.
I collect vintage china because it’s very satisfying, I use sugar bowls as eating bowls because things should be used, not hidden away.
Bobby is more minimal. He’s very good at seeing how things might go together. He has his house at the bottom of the garden and it is like a little ship.
Nothing wrecks a house as quick as cats, one of ours takes care of ripping and shredding and the dogs take care of bringing in mud from the park. We have dog blankets on all the furniture to protect it.
I think it’s extraordinary that such personal things as a portrait ends up on eBay or books of old photographs end up in markets. It’s so sad because these were people with loved ones and it was a big deal in those days to have your portrait done, so I always wonder how they end up there.
Funny things happen – I saw our bed once in an interiors book from the 1970s and then I met the woman who used to own it, completely by chance.
I buy almost everything from markets and auctions but my favourite antiques shop is Rosemary Conquest. We share similar taste and she’s able to find the most beautiful French antiques. I’ve bought a lot from her over the years and we’ve become great friends