When British journalist Kerry Olsen and Italian entrepreneur and Yoox Net-a-Porter Group founder Federico Marchetti first saw their new home in a secluded corner of London’s Hampstead, it was quite literally a hole in the ground. Out walking one autumn afternoon in 2018, the couple were not consciously looking for somewhere to live, but were intrigued by the plot. “All our friends told us to forget it,” says Marchetti. A rare development in an otherwise historic quarter, the project had been beset by bureaucratic delays. Undeterred, the pair put in an offer – and prayed. Their timing proved impeccable, things were progressing after years of pause, and in a matter of months the penthouse – with its heart-stopping panorama across the capital – was theirs.
Not ones to shy away from an architectural challenge – their home in Lake Como occupies a former silk-weaving factory created with the Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino – the couple’s first act was to reconfigure the developer’s layout. “It’s based on the way we live our lives,” says Olsen. “We put a lot of thought into where we spend time in the house.” So, they switched the kitchen from east to west, installing separate bathrooms (“A must for any couple,” insists Marchetti) and dressing rooms, to create a sprawling apartment that’s conceived as a meeting place for friends and family.
Communality and conviviality are written into the very configuration of this home. “It’s all about the flow,” says Olsen of the floorplan, which mirrors that of their Lake Como property. “When friends come over we can start with an aperitivo on the terrace, and then wander inside for lunch.” Guests are ushered into a panelled hallway swathed in plush green suede and straight into the dining room, which, flanked by a sitting room, a fabulous bar and seating area, gives way to the kitchen and wraparound terraces.
When it came to decorating, the challenge was how to enhance, but not overwhelm, those staggering, Shard-rivalling views. Driven by a desire to make the interior as sustainable as possible, the pair turned to Maria Speake, the co-founder of reclamation and design studio Retrouvius. Known as a queen of salvage, the self-described “scrap dealer” has an unsurpassed eye for reinventing reclaimed materials. Speake worked with the designer Bella Freud, a collaborator for close to a decade on glamorous, vintage-filled interiors that include Freud’s own London home, and her Chiltern Street store.
Marchetti, who collects the artwork of her late father, Lucian, met Freud at an exhibition opening – and was struck by her generosity of spirit. The pair bonded over a Lucian Freud painting, acquired by Marchetti, that hangs in their Milan apartment. “We’re very hands-on in these projects, so personality is absolutely key,” explains Marchetti. Olsen agrees: “Bella has this incredible sense of style – she’s such an interesting but understated person.” Freud’s magnetic persona combined with Speake’s sustainable design ethos meant the collaboration was something of a fait accompli.
This happy quartet first came together at the Hotel Café Royal in Piccadilly in March 2020. Little did they know that in a matter of days, however, the world would abruptly grind to a halt, forcing the project into the non-tactile, non-tangible digital realm.
“It’s the house that Zoom built,” laughs Olsen of the seismic shift that ignited a laser-like focus among the group, whose weekly online gatherings became a much-anticipated interruption to the couple’s stripped-back routine of work, home-school and promenades. Grounded in Como, they’d field frequent video calls from a masked Freud, phoning in from the penthouse with her latest art wonder in hand.
“I felt in the middle of many women,” smiles Marchetti of the all-female ensemble charged with bringing their collective vision to vivid life. Olsen certainly relished the free-flowing creative exchange, comparing it to an educational experience that enabled her to be immersed in the worlds of art, artistry and interiors.
While there are constant temperature wars between the couple – Olsen was born in the north of England and has the hardy constitution of a Yorkshire lass, while Marchetti keenly feels the cold – when it comes to design, they are utterly aligned. The result is a thoughtful, fun space, with a restrained elegance that stems from a muted palette of greens and greys – albeit with high-octane dashes of ’70s drama courtesy of Freud. The latter is evident in one of Marchetti’s favourite rooms – a jewel-box WC, which is wrapped in rich red-lacquer walls, complete with 1940s Reggiani lighting and a colourful collection of prints by the Malian photographer, Malick Sidibé, showcased in highly decorative, reverse-handpainted glass frames.
Art forms the foundation throughout, instilling the space with a distinctly British flavour that stems from an amalgamation of works by everyone from David Hockney to the under-the-radar abstract art pioneer Victor Pasmore and fledgling talents such as Georgie Hopton, whose textural composition brings warmth to Olsen’s dressing room. Every piece has a very particular, personal appeal – in the master bedroom, an aerosol work on a Yorkshire tea carton, by pop artist Colin Self, is a nod to Olsen’s home county; a balletic portrait by Lord Snowdon titled Ravenna Tucker ties to Marchetti’s own beginnings in the Northern Italian city of Ravenna.
At the rear of the apartment, a long, ochre-hued corridor is decorated with a marble-topped Gio Ponti console, which magnificently sets off a trio of intimate portraits of Lucian Freud, shot by his longtime assistant David Dawson. Bella had also found an etching by her father of his garden, which she has fond memories of him creating. The piece hangs in the lounge, and serves as a monochromatic counterpoint to bespoke velvet seating and a series of sliding doors which, clad in the creeping, large-scale foliage of William Morris’s Acanthus print, are a clever cover-up for the television and library.
One of the biggest balancing acts was creating a bedroom for their 10-year-old daughter, Maggie, which can outlast her tween-age years. “She’s at an age when she wants to be grown-up, but she still enjoys playing with her toys,” explains Olsen. Their solution was to reconfigure her traditional doll’s house into a bedside table and light, and to wrap the room in a naturalistic trellis print. Set against this backdrop are a palm-tree four-poster bed and an octet of canine portraits by Hugo Guinness, which Freud hoped would feel like “family friends”.
That familial feel permeates every aspect of the apartment. For their bedroom, Olsen asked her friend Laudomia Pucci to revive an archive print for a specially commissioned rug, which recalls a vintage beach bag by the Italian fashion house that Olsen found at a flea market on her first visit to Ravenna with Marchetti. Its bold, linear design vivifies the space, drawing the eye to a curvaceous 1940s armchair by interior designer and architect Carlo Mollino.
For Olsen and Marchetti, who spent many of their early dates at local Japanese restaurant Jin Kichi, the realisation of this interior represents something of a Hampstead homecoming – one that’s been executed with the same slow, sustainable principles that are ingrained into the Italian way of life.
Most Popular“Things are just a little slower there,” says Olsen, who has lived in Italy for more than 15 years. “There’s much more of an appreciation and a care for things – even down to the way people dress.” Olsen and her daughter have been beneficiaries of that compulsion to preserve. While Olsen has inherited vintage table linens, Gucci scarves and Saint Laurent dresses from the archive of her mother-in-law, Lidia Zannoni, Maggie’s current tennis attire is an ’80s Björn Borg for Fila tracksuit that once belonged to her father.
There was a similar focus on recycling in the interior. Speake sourced a spectacular pair of brass doors from a British university for the atrium, and ingeniously forged a vast dining table – the centrepiece of the living space – by combining Austrian parquet panels with a repurposed handrail from a London museum as the base. The entire space is illuminated by vintage lights. “Sustainability was at the top of our minds throughout,” says Olsen.
It’s a sensibility close to Marchetti’s heart. He’s currently chairing Prince Charles’s Sustainable Markets Initiative Fashion Taskforce, established to tackle issues of textile toxicity and waste, and to ultimately decarbonise the industry. It’s all part of the next eco-conscious chapter in Marchetti’s stratospheric career (he stepped down from his role at Yoox Net-a-Porter Group in July), which also includes a professorship exploring environmentalism and entrepreneurship in the digital age at Bocconi University.
One of the more surprising elements for the family now able to spend time in their freshly finished home is the sense of peace. The inclement London weather is still a novelty for Maggie, who enjoys sleeping with her windows open to listen to the rain. “Otherwise, all you can hear is the birds and the church bells,” says Olsen. “It feels like a dream.”