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Where form goes beyond function

Words by Hannah Tapping

The transformation of a blank waterside canvas into a set of unique luxury homes.

Interior designer, Lydia Allen specialises in creating unique and dreamy spaces and has been instrumental in creating some incredible interiors for high-end holiday homes across Cornwall. “I have always loved art, photography, in fact, anything creative. As a teenager, I knew I wanted to do something creative, but wasn’t sure what. I was always aware of interior design, but to be honest had no idea of how to get into it.” Lydia took a couple of years out to go travelling with her boyfriend and after touching down on antipodean shores, realised that this was the path she wanted to take.

“I fell in love with interior design in Australia,” explains Lydia. “You wouldn’t really think of Australia as a leader in interior design, but design-wise it’s one of the places I go to most for inspiration. Returning to the UK, Lydia studied interior architecture and design at UCA Farnham, adding to her design acumen with knowledge of internal structures and architectural software, cementing the beginnings of a career in interiors. “I was lucky to be offered a job straight out of university at one of the UK’s top 50 interior design firms in London, working on projects for some incredible clients and phenomenal properties across the world.”

Lydia Allen

“Although my time in London was invaluable I always knew that I wanted to set up my own business. I wanted to have the freedom to express my own style, to create my own looks. It was all about timing; going it alone is a hard move to make for anyone.” With some personal projects in the pipeline, both in Cornwall and London, Lydia left the security of her five-year employed position, taking her learnings to create her own design studio. Lydia’s first project in Cornwall saw her at a waterside development in Hayle, which didn’t come without its challenges, even in the early stages. North Quay has earned itself something of a reputation. Set within a conservation area and on a World Heritage Site this, at times controversial, regeneration project has not been without its critics. However, the result is a contemporary development that has transformed the area and created an exciting coastal quarter for people to live, stay, work and play.

Lydia started work on the show home, the first of 17 exclusive water-facing townhouses on Cannery Row, with a remit to undertake a full interior design service, including all internal finishes, bathrooms, kitchens, flooring and dressing. “Many of the properties were to be luxury holiday accommodation, and I had to keep that in mind when I was designing, especially when it came to the longevity and durability of the finishes. Not only did they have to look good, but they had to stand the test of time.”

As a new build, Lydia was given a completely blank canvas: “It was important for me that the interiors didn’t end up being passive spaces, which can happen with holiday homes, where function comes before form. I used colour, light, texture and mirrors to create a light-hearted, rather than explicitly playful, feel, employing both earth and ocean-inspired colours and contrasts to create a contemporary canvas, sprinkled with accent pieces and unusual artefacts.”

Lydia’s bold designs are mitigated by the intimate appearance and soft profiles of large sofas, adorned with textured cushions and the use of linen in the living area, while bedrooms are dressed with sumptuous throws across huge beds. In a nod to Hayle’s mining heritage when, in its heyday it had two of the three largest mine engine foundries in the world exporting tin and copper across the world, russets and greys pepper a neutral interior canvas, with timber creating organic warmth as well as adding an industrial element.

Lydia goes on to explain: “When the tide is in, the waters are clear and blue, but when it recedes it reveals the earthiness of the silt on the seabed mixed with swathes of rich seaweed so I wanted the interiors to reflect these natural elements. The light in these properties is incredible; their super-large windows basically act as enormous picture frames. So, actually, the interiors themselves are just incredibly neutral and pared back. They’re modern, but not in a clinical way.”

“After the show home was completed, I experienced something of a snowball effect, and went on to complete seven of the wharf houses for private clients. Many adopted a similar style to the show home with just a few tweaks to make them unique, so I knew I had got it right.” The result is what Lydia refers to as ‘global coastal’. Inspired by South African and Portuguese beach houses, there is a conscious shift away from what we might associate with a typical British coastal theme. “While sourcing everything local was not possible, every effort was made to use and include Cornish artisan suppliers and makers,” adds Lydia. “The curtains are from a local seamstress, Jenny Rogers, who ended up dressing all seven of the wharf houses with me. Interior woodwork and shelving were created by the incredibly talented Jamie of Burgs design, with prints came from Sustain Studio, both Falmouth-based companies.”

After seeing Lydia’s work on the Cannery Row properties, she was approached to work on three apartments in Falmouth, within an incredible new waterside development, The Liner. Managed as part of St Michaels Resort, these were sumptuous beach residences with ocean views. “These needed to have a nautical feel,” explains Lydia, “reflecting their proximity to the ocean; but also required a nod to the nearby Queen Mary Gardens, whose sub-tropical plants and surrounding Monterey pines define this area of Falmouth. I used some cool tropical wallpapers in the bedrooms, along with bold, block colours and again, plenty of organic material to give depth.” Apartment interiors can be tricky to balance, but Lydia’s approach created a sense of space, optimising the natural Cornish light.

While working on The Liner apartments, it gave Lydia time to reflect on her design journey. “When I left university, I just wanted to work in London, but after five years of an hour’s commute each way I knew I needed a change and wanted to be out of the city. Cornwall, and in particular Falmouth with its cool vibe and eclectic centre, has been an inspiration for both my work and my lifestyle.” There is no doubt that Lydia’s leap of faith to go it alone has been a successful one. Her work on Cannery Row and The Liner, have been a springboard for projects across the UK and beyond.


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