Inside The Almost Black House that's straight out of your goth fantasies
Unless there is a celebrity pictured punching a paparazzo outside, private members’ clubs tend to be, by their very definition, places that draw very little outward attention.
Walk past some of the UK’s most exclusive drinkeries in the cold light of day and you probably wouldn’t even notice they are there.
Wander past Jennifer Hughes and Lee Hillier’s home in Knutsford, Cheshire, and you wouldn’t know what was inside either – and that’s exactly how they like it.
Behind the unembellished and functional 1960s exterior, this spacious detached property has a home bar to give 67 Pall Mall a run for its money.
In fact, the whole interior has been given a makeover in black, or a hue a couple of grades lighter, earning it the name The Almost Black House and making it an Instagram smash hit.
And just like so many good ideas of late, it all started with the boredom of lockdown.
‘We had painted the bedroom dark but it wasn’t until lockdown that we really got into it,’ explains Jennifer.
‘We had all this time on our hands and were working from home; we just thought that we have these big boxy rooms with large windows and a complete blank canvas… but these newer houses just don’t have the character of Edwardian or Victorian properties.
‘Once we got going we couldn’t stop.’
Jennifer is in hospitality, currently a partner in the very pink Peru Perdu
in Manchester, while, outside of lockdown, the couple love entertaining – so Jennifer took inspiration from some of the upmarket establishments she has worked with to give the four-bed house the ultimate private members’ club makeover.
It started with the conservatory, which was unloved and unused.
‘We never used it, it was just a walk through to the garden,’ says Jennifer. ‘It was an ugly space and had no furniture to sit on. Conservatories are old fashioned and people never really know what to do with them. We thought: why not turn it into a bar for a party? And now we use it all the time, even to eat breakfast.’
What is perhaps even more surprising than having a Shoreditch-spec bar in a Cheshire home is the fact that Jennifer and Lee did it all themselves.
The Victorian-style panelling is sheets of wood and MDF picture rails from B&Q. The glorious booth seating was all homemade using suede cloth from Dunelm, wood from B&Q, some foam and a few YouTube videos. The couple also handmade sumptuous ottoman benches in the same way.
‘It took about a day to make the booth,’ says Jennifer. ‘Once we start something we just get it done. The outdoor seating area – which is yet to be painted black – we did it in three days. We just kind of wing it.’
The white UPVC of the conservatory has been painted Zinsser Allcoat Exterior Matt Black. This paint, while normally used outside, features on many elements in the house.
‘It’s the only matt black that is really black – it looks like a black hole. We painted kitchen tiles, windows, loads of things. It’s so black people can’t decide what colour it is, but it’s definitely black.’ Jennifer says, like her restaurant, having a single colour as a basis is key to a strong style.
‘I have to stop myself from mixing too many colours. I love colour but it feels a lot calmer in the house if you have an overriding colour. It flows better. Then you can add in your accessories, such as colourful prints, around the house.’
The house, and especially the bar, oozes a gentlemen’s club style, all animals in cravats on the walls, ice tinkling in a crystal glass. The dark ochre bar stools from Rockett St George add that extra splash of colour and texture to the bar.
A stained glass window above the stairs caused quite a stir on Instagram, but turns out to be six quid a roll paper, again from B&Q, pasted over frosted glass.
‘We wanted the house to be an experience. We like having people around and when people are here they should experience the house. I look at homes differently. It’s a homely home but it can be an entertaining space.’
The dining room is painted with Charcoal Sketch from Valspar and elsewhere the company’s ever-so-slightly purple-tinged Inky Prose is used – hence the name The Almost Black House. ‘We didn’t want it to be too black,’ says Jennifer.
Traditionally people paint everything white to make it look bigger, but dark makes it more spacious. The ceiling is white so it seems higher and taller, it draws your eye away and gives it a bit more height.’
The Made.com Polygon shelving unit, littered with treasures from local shop Curious Fox, the Rockett St George dining chairs and the well-used wooden table from Design Shack Interiors add a tactility to the main living area and riff beautifully off the black and white walls.
But, if anything, it is refreshing to see so little emphasis has been put
on just bunching together expensive products to create a high quality finish.
Instead, Jennifer and Lee have had a clear vision of a coherent style and colours and textures lead the way.
The master bedroom is as sultry as the rest of the house, with a de-rigueur bath in the centre of the room, but much of the sophistication comes from strict colour-matching rather than high end furniture.
Even the wardrobes are the original wood units painted in Charcoal Sketch. The Made.com sofa, the John Lewis bed and the dining table are the only items Jennifer has splashed out on because they won’t be changed anytime soon.
Now all that is needed is that essential post-lockdown party that we are all waiting for.
‘Post lockdown, I’m most excited to have friends and family around to see all our hard work in person,’ says Jennifer.
‘I want to make them cocktails in the bar and dance on the furniture without being told to get down.’
Find out more on Instagram @thealmostblackhouse.
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