Breaking all the first home rules: inside a bold, Nineties-inspired Finsbury Park flat — where the bathtub takes centre stage
Everyone who visits Elle Parmar Jenkins and Alex Holloway at their London flat has an opinion on it. Not about the disco ball which hangs in their stainless steel kitchen, nor about the raw unfinished walls, or even about their eclectic collection of multicoloured retro furniture.
No, it is all about the bathtub. Or more specifically, the location of the bathtub — plumbed in beneath a sunny sash window in their open-plan kitchen-living room.
“We don’t use it when guests are here,” says Holloway, with the slightly weary air of someone who has been forced to defend his interiors decisions again and again. “People think it is weird, and they always comment on it, but we’ve not lost friends over it. People have baths in their bedrooms, I don’t think it is so transgressive to have it in the kitchen.”
Parmar Jenkins — who learned about Holloway’s plan to install a bath centre stage on their first date — is equally relaxed about the arrangement. “When guests are here we can use it as an ice bucket,” she explains.
First-time buyers tend to be a timid breed, fearful of the financial risks and responsibilities that come with home ownership. Holloway had no such worries when he swapped a house share in Holloway for his first home in Finsbury Park, a rundown flat which he has put his stamp on in no uncertain terms.
“What I liked about it was that it was cheap for the area, because it was a really down-at-heel flat with a horrendous bathroom and a horrendous kitchen,” says Holloway, 34, director of design consultancy Holloway Li (hollowayli.com).
He paid £580,000 for the first-floor Victorian conversion in November 2020 and lived there for a couple of months while he got to know the space and decided what to do with it.
The flat is at the end of a terrace and — subject to planning permission — Holloway knew it would make a huge difference if he punched new windows into the side walls, bringing extra light into the 740sq ft space.
He also decided to tear down most of the walls, creating a single, triple aspect, open-plan living space in place of the original small kitchen, separate living room and second bedroom.
The decision on the bath was made simply because the bathroom was too small to incorporate a bath and a shower, and he didn’t want to go without either one.
Work began on the site in March 2021. Holloway moved out to stay with friends for the duration, and his brother (who had worked in a theatre up until the pandemic before switching to construction) acted as site manager.
A month later Holloway and Parmar Jenkins, who was renting in Blackhorse Road at the time, met. Social distancing regulations meant their first date was a walk but they did stop in at the flat to use the bathroom during the evening, giving Parmar Jenkins an early glimpse of the space.
“I didn’t say much, but in my head I thought that it was a bit of a bachelor pad,” she says.
Inspiration for the kitchen came from the video for The Verve’s 1997 single Lucky Man, shot in an ultra-industrial London penthouse at Thames Reach. While fans were enjoying Richard Ashcroft in uncharacteristically upbeat mood, Holloway was admiring the kitchen.
“It was built out of circle brush stainless steel, which you usually see in fast food places,” he said. “Every time I went to a fish-and-chip shop I would see it and think about how much I wanted to use it, but none of my clients would ever go for it.”
The steel kitchen dream
When he finally got a chance to design his own kitchen, Holloway didn’t hesitate to go all out for his steel kitchen dream, from the curved, open upper shelves to the splashback, worktop, cupboards and appliances.
The slightly psychedelic patterns in the steel help hide smears and finger marks, and he likes the way the pattern casts a glow under the lights.
With the disco ball above the oven and a kitchen table made from a panel of amber-coloured embossed resin left over from a commercial job fitting out a tap showroom, the whole effect is very shiny. “It is a bit of a disco kitchen,” says Parmar Jenkins, 32, who runs an online vintage furniture store (goodsin.co.uk).
While the kitchen is a statement, the basic shell of the flat is simple. To make the most of his main open plan space, Holloway took out half of the ceiling, exposing the upward angle of the butterfly roof and giving a great feeling of space and volume. The other half of the ceiling was stripped back to the original beams, and provides a useful new storage space accessed by a ladder.
The kitchen and living room walls were rendered in multi-finish plaster, covered with a layer of clear sealant to stop them from shedding dust and giving a warm, textured effect, which make a great backdrop for Parmar Jenkins’s collection of pictures.
“I didn’t deliberately leave the walls as they are but I was running out of time and money, and I couldn’t make a decision about colour,” admits Holloway. “I got to really like it because it is very forgiving. You can knock it or scratch it and you don’t really notice. People pay a fortune for paint effects or micro cement, but you can just leave the walls bare and get the same effect with one less trade.”
The floors are finished in wide planks of engineered Douglas fir from Havwoods Wood Flooring (havwoods.com), the bedroom is painted in shades of green, and Holloway built the wardrobes himself to save cash.
By September 2021, the flat was finished at a cost of £80,000 (plus VAT), and the couple moved in.
Match made in heaven
While Holloway had made the structural decisions on this project, Parmar Jenkins got to put her stamp on it when it came to the décor, filling the house with pieces from her business.
“I never owned any furniture because I was renting, so Elle’s furniture is everywhere,” says Holloway. “It was a match made in heaven; Elle has great taste, and the flat is an ever-changing furniture showroom.”
Currently the showroom features a cobalt blue sofa, a supersized orange armchair designed by Holloway, a marble coffee table by Parmar Jenkins, a brass-plated chrome and glass Seventies coffee table, some Danish school chairs and a pair of statement retro-style chandeliers from the Portuguese brand Utu Lamps (utulamps.com).
“We have not sat down and said ‘This is our style for this room’ and chosen furniture accordingly,” says Parmar Jenkins. “It has been a natural growth.”
For now the couple are more than happy living in their unique rule-breaking flat, but Holloway is aware that by losing a bedroom in the design he has reduced its resale value. “I know that but I don’t really need a spare room, and if I did want to sell it I could always just put a wall up to make another bedroom,” he says.