Inside Bell Hutley’s west London basement flat, transformed into a whimsical hand-painted home on a shoestring

Bell Hutley in her Ladbroke Grove flat (Juliet Murphy)
Bell Hutley in her Ladbroke Grove flat (Juliet Murphy)

What artist and designer Bell Hutley lacks in budget, she more than makes up for in her creativity; her basement flat in Ladbroke Grove is a masterclass in inexpensive adornment.

All the ugly fixtures she cannot yet afford to replace have been embellished with ‘tweakments’ on a shoestring — even the UPVC window frames have been given a folkloric twist thanks to Hutley’s sure hand and whimsical imagination, with scalloped edges and pink paintwork within recesses clad in delicate willow vines.

“It’s purely the imagination of my mind,” says the 26-year-old of the two-bedroom home she bought with her older sister four years ago. Now sharing the property with a friend, Hutley first took her creativity to the walls not long into lockdown, when she had given her work studio up.

“I used the space as a blank canvas, as I had to feel like I truly loved where I was living,” she says.

“It’s purely the imagination of my mind,” says Hutley (Juliet Murphy)
“It’s purely the imagination of my mind,” says Hutley (Juliet Murphy)

Commercially, Hutley specialises in tableware printed with her hand-drawn designs; Fortnum & Mason currently stocks a celestial-themed collection of placemats and table linen, but a larger selection, comprising enamel tumblers and trays are on her website. Fearne Cotton, Amelia Windsor and Daisy Lowe are all fans. Behind the scenes, she works on bespoke commissions, such as mural and furniture painting, and is working on a children’s book.

Brightening up a basement

“I’ve had to bring a lot of botanical touches in to make me feel connected,” says Hutley, who grew up in the Surrey countryside.

Hence the painted flowers ‘growing’ from the skirting boards and a pair of fantastical scenes composed of dried moss and flowers, jaunty animal figures and wooden toadstools that sit on top of a chest of drawers by the living room’s bay windows. Hutley calls it a “forest floor miniature”.

While some people go for a jog to switch off from work, “this is me creating something for myself with my hands. I’m obsessed with miniatures, I’d love to learn how to make them.”

Hutley removed the carpets to reveal the wooden floorboards beneath. “Anything which sucked light out of the room had to go,” she says.

Hutley’s “forest floor minature” (Juliet Murphy)
Hutley’s “forest floor minature” (Juliet Murphy)

The large grey corner sofa isn’t the “prettiest piece” of furniture, but thrifted for less than £100, it was an irresistible bargain. Patchworked covers help detract from its presence, and friends have been known to bunk on it after her particularly raucous dinner parties.

Whilst basement living wasn’t top her list, it has its benefits for the latter — especially in winter: “in the evening it’s amazing because all the candles reflect the light and it feels like you’re in a protected jungle. It’s a really fun flat to host a really cosy dinner in.”

In her bedroom at the back, any gloom is combatted with fairy lights strung around the Beatrix Potter book-filled shelves above the headboard, and when it’s warm enough, she sleeps with the double doors which give onto the patio thrown open: “It’s only a box garden, but it makes such a difference.”

Beautify the basic

Hutley has painted her bathroom tiles to lift the space (Juliet Murphy)
Hutley has painted her bathroom tiles to lift the space (Juliet Murphy)

Hutley found the entirely white, windowless bathroom situated between the living room and the bedrooms “depressing.”

“I can’t afford to re-tile or get a new suite, but I wanted to lift it.” Afternoons spent painting toadstools and flowers on the tiles (using specialist glass paint) have done just that, lending a distinctly country house twist and a sharp contrast to the flat’s urban location.

“I often start with no idea how I’m going to finish,” she says (luckily, her flatmate is understanding of these sudden creative urges).

In the sitting room, which you walk into from the front door, Hutley would do away with the bar area which segregates the kitchen to make the space bigger and lighter, but, “I’m working within my means,” she says of the plant-laden ledge.

Collect, upcycle, recycle

Hutley favours colourful art to brighten her walls (Juliet Murphy)
Hutley favours colourful art to brighten her walls (Juliet Murphy)

A backdrop for experimentation, Hutley’s home is heaving with one-off designs and samples — like the silk scarf mounted on to the wall in the bedroom, and a cashmere throw designed in collaboration with the fashion label Madeleine Thompson.

Stopping off for snacks on the drive back from a friend’s wedding recently, she couldn’t resist the call of a car boot sale, which threw up a set of silver spoons and knives (£8), red wine glasses (£1) and a pair of wooden candle holders (£4 each), which she plans to paint in her studio.

“It’s amazing how thrifty you can be, though there’s a fine line between bringing loads of junk into your house and actually being clever about it,” she warns.

Now she finally has a new studio space — a half-hour walk away in Kensington — any curbside treasures are squirreled away there. On her phone she shows me a huge blackboard foraged from the side of the road, which is currently being adorned with clusters of flowers.

“I put colourful art up to help the walls sing,” she confirms, having blended a mix of her own framed pieces with inexpensive prints. In her bedroom, a piece with a skull and a butterfly print in a black lacquered frame recalls a tattoo she has, and was picked up at a market. At £100, it is one of her biggest splurges.

Next to it are nine postcards from her favourite illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley, picked up at an exhibition and mounted in Wilko frames. “This flat is such a big part of me, but this is like a warm-up. I can picture what my next place will be like,” she says.

Bell Hutley is part of the Curator & Maker pop at Myriad Antiques until December 3, selling handpainted pieces inspired by The Nutcracker. 131 Portland Road, W11 4LW