Interior Inspirations, Part I: Home Before Dark

Editor's Note: When blog commenter extraordinaire "Home Before Dark" first arrived on the scene, she instantly made a splash. Her smart and sassy insights have lit up my and many others' sites.

When EEE asked me to write about a room I thought was most hauntingly beautiful, I demurred and said while flattered I simply didn’t fit into her comrades' stratosphere. [Editor's note: Nonsense!] She wrote back and said, “I’m glad you’re in.” After a career in public relations, I was amused and impressed by that little sash-say of hers. So, how do you say no to a girl who wears a red turban with aplomb, doesn’t mind setting lose a few bombs (see post on AD) and when seeing the Miles Redd decorated apartment of her friend reported back that the floors make you want to dance?

The room I would write about, once I realized I had to write about one, was never in question. It would be the London apartment of Tessa Kennedy. I saw it first in the article “Right on Red” written by Tristram Holland that appeared in a 2004 edition of House and Garden. I have mentioned this room to several bloggers. No one else remembered it. I am fascinated by what gobsmacks someone to near asphyxia and leaves others yawning. I was the one who needed CPR.

Before Holland’s words begin, there is this picture: red—can it be crushed velvet on those extraordinarily tall walls (yes!), Am I seeing one wall in aubergine (so it appears). With a dazzling crystal chandelier in the room there is enough ormolu and gilt on the picture frames hung salon style, on the mirror over the fireplace and on the chairs to float a yacht. And, yes, one of the paintings came from her grandfather’s yacht.Then there is all of that marvelous metallic embroidery, some looking like they were ripped from the vestments of various clergy (not ripped it appears, but reappearing as pillows).

Looking right at home in this oriental dream is a tartan upholstered sofa. It’s as if Scheherazade left the occident with steamer trunks filled to overflowing with dazzling fabrics and carpets, popped over to Morocco for lanterns and decided to go on a mad shopping trip through the British Isles, starting first in the highlands of Scotland and buying every eccentric gothic piece of furniture that spoke to her heart until she landed in London. And there she twirled around three times and everything she had bought or been given fit perfectly. As she knew all along it would. Be still my heart. Here’s a room that says: I know what I love, and I love what I know!

Then when I thought well, this will settle down, I came to the picture of the hall with its tented ceiling, and walls and doorways swathed in miles of gold taffeta edged with tribal belts from Turkistan and Afghanistan.

She explained to Holland the simple magic of it all was that the hallway’s fabric masked the fact the smallish area had six doors opening into it, and added filtered light. Magic indeed. It reminds me of an enclosed garden—a definition of paradise—that creates a portal to a different world. It is the perfect opening into the Fantasy of Red.

This apartment is unabashedly sentimental, sensual and revealing. A close friend of Rudolf Nureyev, two tallboys of his grace the drawing room and his Aubusson curtains adorn her bedroom (another gasp-making room). The influence of imperial Russia is never out of focus in this apartment, nor in her career. She throws that old saw about no family photographs in public rooms and celebrates her family (framed with exquisite frames, of course). She may be an original green decorator as she confesses she never throws anything away and just make it work as she has moved to new homes.

Her story ( is like her work: storybook fairy tale, bold, filled with emotion, crossing continents many times (the Jordanian royal family is on her client list), of pluck, of conviction. Holland compared Kennedy, who once worked for David Mlinaric, to Geoffrey Bennison. I leave that for you to contemplate. This apartment and this decorator taught me there are no rules: you either have it or you don’t.

Photographs by Pascal Chevallier. Original story produced by Cynthia Frank for the March 2004 issue of House and Garden.