London-based interior designer Lonika Chande is known for her modern takes on classic English style. Incorporating plenty of vintage and antique pieces and mixing them with modern elements — a favorite technique of ours, as you might imagine — she devises spaces that are at simultaneously lovely and lived in.
We spoke with the in-demand designer about her favorite classic elements, her education as a designer, and her recent renovation of a unique railway cottage in West London. Read on to see what she had to say, and be sure to shop her personal curation of Chairish favorites.
First and foremost, how would you describe your overall design philosophy and personal aesthetic?
I gravitate toward schemes that combine rich colors, playful textures, and pattern in a comfortable and warm way. I love the details, mixing new, vintage, and antique pieces with curated art, books, and other treasures. There is a sort of layered eclecticism to these spaces.
You’re an expert when it comes to styling and arranging that perfect finishing touch. What are some of your tips for accomplishing that?
Number one is not to be too precious about it, and to use what you have. Also focus on varying textures and materials. A vintage terracotta flowerpot sprouting a fresh herb on a countertop adds much more than, say, a vase of artfully arranged store-bought flowers.
It’s all about the balance — something that draws the eye in, seen alongside something quite simple. For example, a heavily decorated glass decanter paired with a stack of plain linen napkins.
What’s your strategy when it comes to mixing antiques and vintage pieces with new items? How do you accomplish that in a seamless way?
You have to enjoy the process and have fun experimenting. For example, an antique chair reupholstered in a modern stripe, or a mid-century sideboard paired with a contemporary lamp.
It’s also about accumulating old pieces in a way that is meaningful to you, and for want of a better word, in an organic way: a quilt that was your grandmother’s, a pretty antique milk jug you picked up at a fair, a bamboo chair from a yard sale that you happened to stumble upon while on a trip. These make for the best bits to sit alongside the new. Even if at first you can’t work out where exactly they will eventually come to roost, if you love them enough, they will find a home somewhere — even if it’s in a seemingly unorthodox way. For example, an antique ashtray, repurposed as a bowl for sweets, or as a soap dish. I love how spaces evolve and change in this way, arranging and rearranging what’s already there, swapping in and swapping out.
You own a railway cottage in West London. Tell us a bit about the process of redesigning that space.
The house was in relatively good condition, and the basic layout of the space worked well, so we were lucky in that sense — the bathroom remained the bathroom, the kitchen, the kitchen, and so on. It came largely down to making the space feel homely.
Sadly, most of its original features, save the lovely sash windows, had been stripped out, so we set about trying to recapture some of its long-forgotten character. We added wainscotting and a fire surround to provide a central focal point in the living room. We fitted beadboard in the bathroom and reconfigured both this and the eat in kitchen entirely.
There was also very little in the way of storage, and as a relatively small space, we had a lot to shoehorn in! We added floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and took out a downstairs cloakroom to create more storage and display. Finally, we opened up the top floor, removing a wall to improve the space and flow and to bring natural light to a dark corridor upstairs.
On a similar note, how do you ensure that your designs complement the buildings they’re in? Do you ever sneak modern pieces into a traditional structure and vice versa?
Staying true to the original interior architecture of the building is important, and spaces sit so much better for it. Yes of course, there are ways of fudging this — contemporary joinery can look wonderful in a period space, for example, painted in a more classic color. Iconic lights like Herman Miller’s Bubble Pendant can work really well in a more traditional setting.
You studied Architectural Interior Design at the prestigious Inchbald School of Design. What’s the most important thing you learned there?
It was hard graft, and something I picked up early on, was, that contrary to popular belief, very little of the job is about the cushions! We learnt a lot about spatial planning for which I am eternally grateful. This is fundamental and the starting point behind every single project that occurs weeks — and often many months — before you so much as look at a fabric.
On Chairish & Vintage Shopping
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
Probably the mix of vintage and contemporary under the same umbrella. It’s so unique and gives you the ability to source both as you would at home or for projects, but at the same time, which is great.
How does sustainability factor into your design choices and love of vintage?
It’s something I am conscious of, and will usually look for secondhand or vintage before buying new. I buy a lot of vintage furniture. They’re quite often the pieces that make the project, with the narrative that they tell.
Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? What’s a dream piece for you?
I’ll always have a long old wish list! I think it comes with the territory of this line of work. It would be something vintage and much coveted. A vintage Pierre Jeanneret office chair would be the ultimate!
What are three of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?
This vintage Hollywood Regency wicker elephant side table. I have a bit of an obsession with them. I picked one up some years ago now, at an antiques fair in Paris, and have been on the look-out ever since. I found one for my mother’s bathroom recently, and she uses it to house prop candles, soaps, and shampoos by the bathtub. They really do make great little side tables. I love the painted deep cinnabar color of this one.
Another ode to my love of wicker but this trompe l’oiel console table would look great pretty much anywhere – either in a more formal living space, or alongside a comfy chair in a bedroom.
These colorful hand-blown glass tumblers. You can never have enough pretty tumblers in my book. They instantly elevate a table, look great displayed on a shelf, and drinking from one of these every day would make it always feel like a bit of a treat!
Some Design Favorites…
Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:
Seasonal branches or foliage in a sweetie jar glass vase or an old brass pot. My favorite is apple blossom.
Favorite decorating “cheap thrill:”
Visiting antique fairs, yard sales, or anything like that. It’s either that or painting up color samples — there’s something strangely cathartic about that process.
I also love to decorate a table and like to go all out at birthdays and Christmas with colorful streamers, candles, and candy.
Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:
I am a bit wild about Vico Magistretti chairs, and they’ve had a bit of a renaissance in the UK recently. We restored and painted a vintage set in an amazing gloss olive green for a clients’ kitchen dining area, and they look fab.
Favorite paint color:
This is a really tough one — I naturally gravitate towards green. Also muddy colors — putty and earthy tones. Do also really enjoy a dash of red.
Favorite piece of decor in your home:
Art. A tropical still life my mother, an artist, Lucy Dickens painted for us as a wedding present, and a vintage silk embroidered tiger that I had framed under glass to preserve it.
Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:
I love French Post-Impressionist art, particularly Gauguin. I find myself drawn to the very particular color combinations.
Favorite style icon:
My mother — she rocks a boiler suit, head scarf, and gym shoes, and wears some fabulous vintage suits.
Design destination every creative should visit at least once:
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:
Not really specific career advice, but general life advice: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Some Lifestyle Favorites…
Favorite vacation destination (the next time travel becomes an option):
Any of the Greek islands — never not had a great time there.
Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:
We stayed in two tiny B&Bs in Modena and in Parma, Italy, a few years back now. Both were understated, small spaces but beautifully done.
Fischer’s. It’s a Viennese brasserie in Marylebone, London and it’s wonderful. The interiors are pretty spectacular too. Either Fischer’s or nearby Jikoni, an Asian fusion restaurant, different sort of food but equally as good.
Favorite small museum:
Fenton House, a beautiful National Trust property with a pretty walled garden, tucked away in London’s Hampstead.
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:
Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:
Homegrown flowers, or something homemade — cookies, or a beautifully wrapped chutney, made with love. There is no better gift in my opinion.
Cosmos and Icelandic poppies.
Favorite adult beverage:
A negroni. I had my first one on my first holiday with my husband in Rome, and have never looked back.
Favorite way to unwind at home:
A negroni or two, enjoyed on the sofa chatting to my husband. An Indian takeaway on a Saturday night, or playing trains with my son.
Favorite entertaining essential:
Candles – because ambient lighting is key, and bad lighting is such a mood killer.
Lead image by Milo Brown