Architect Benni Allan on how to use objects to create a calming and creative interior

By Benni Allan

I am often asked what my favourite building is in London and, usually, it depends on what kind of day you catch me on. Recently, however, I have been reflecting on the spaces that offer me a sense of calm, while at the same time encouraging me to think creatively amid the chaos of the city.

On my first visit to Walmer Yard, a scheme of four interlocking houses set around a communal courtyard in west London, I found it to be a place that caters to such moments of quiet and discovery.

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Here, using the example of the living room of the two-bedroom home, I share some tips on how to use objects to create your own tranquil yet creative space. I believe the pieces we buy and collect over the years have the power to generate deep connection, calm and inspiration.

Get the lighting right

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Walmer Yard is designed as a sequence of rooms with different spatial qualities and lighting moods. A combination of natural materials and daylight, which floods deep into each of the blocks, brings warmth and comfort to the homes. My visit reminded me of Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay on Japanese aesthetics, “In Praise of Shadows”, which is themed around the importance of working with dark spaces and light.

Lighting should be discreet and flexible to adapt to the different ways you use a space. The suspended OK light by Konstantin Grcic offers a playfulness, while its adjustable height means you can alter your living room to suit different activities and moods.

Make your own

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Good architecture should be secondary to what you experience through inhabiting spaces. While light and warmth help generate the atmosphere, the personality of a home comes from the objects you collect. Some of the most inspiring are those that carry memories and are made by an individual’s hands.

I am drawn to the recent work of furniture designer Max Lamb, such as this cardboard table, due to the inventive use of a readily discarded material and its handmade quality.

Keep it simple

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The fireplace at Walmer Yard provides warmth while offering a space to congregate and feel protected. Its position as a focal point within the room is elevated by its heavy, sculpted base and almost chiselled features. I relate this connection to craft to meditative practices of doing things purposefully. This collection of aluminium lamps by Studio Anne Holtrop offers the chance to contemplate the intricate process of their making thanks to their carved-like quality.

Escape through art

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They say art is whatever you want it to be. I connect most with works that are able to transport me to another place, or remind me of things I have previously seen. In this work by Pieter Vermeersch I see the beautiful glow of an early sunset and a connection to the earth, two qualities that bring me inner peace. Some works of art act as a window to somewhere beyond and this opportunity for reflection often helps with creating a relaxing environment.

Marry style with substance

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I am of the opinion that we should live with less, yet what we do own can be both functional and beautiful. Like the house at Walmer Yard, I enjoy spaces that generate a sense of calm by displaying fewer objects, yet ones that carry meaning.

The collection of charcoal stoneware by Toogood reminds me of the timeless, functional items we assemble over the years that continue to grow in significance. The objects that we collect and treasure help to build new associations over time and can create calm and wellbeing in our lives because of their constant presence around us in our homes. This is important to appreciate as we spend so much time with them that they should provide joy and a feeling of connection.

Photography: Salva Lopez; Jam London/Savills; Zoe Ghertner; © Angus Mill Photography for Gallery FUMI; Jeroen Verrecht; Pieter Vermeersch

This post was originally published on Financial Times

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