Mark Christophers admits that, when it comes to his west London home, he is a compulsive tweaker. “I just can’t help myself,” the entrepreneur explains. “And I’m not afraid of starting from scratch if the effect isn’t exactly what I am looking for.”
Christophers, 47, is better known as one of the co-founders of the West Cornwall Pasty Company than as an architecture and design buff, but he is as passionate about property as he is about the perfect hot snack. Unfortunately, this meant that, when he renovated his period home on Sutherland Place, off Westbourne Grove, he was — in his own words — the nightmare member of his building team.
Bifold doors had to be resized, “as they just didn’t have the right presence”. His dream white-steel helical staircase up to the rooftop study from his master suite had to be redesigned, “as it needed exactly the right sweep at the bottom”. He insisted that a glorious antique marble fireplace he’d had sourced for his living room was painted over to match the duck-egg-blue walls — “The builders were horrified,” he recalls, “but they realised it was the right thing to do once it was done. I knew I wanted particular things, and how they were to look.”
Christophers, a former financier raised in Helston, Cornwall, is actually quite laid-back in person, wearing a grey fisherman-style sweater and leather bracelets. He says that he, his architect, Gianni Botsford, and the construction team from RL Morgan all became firm friends during the process. Yet with Christophers managing the project, and sourcing everything from lights to flooring to wallpaper himself, delays were inevitable, with interminable knock-on effects — he saw his original budget of £500,000 (plus Vat) spiral to beyond £900,000. “I do love nice things, but I’m not precious,” he insists. “A house has to be a home, too, and somewhere you feel comfortable entertaining.”
Christophers found himself with the opportunity to design his own dream bachelor pad back at the end of 2007, when he and his partners sold the West Cornwall Pasty Company for a reported £40m. Founded in 1998 with a budget of just £2,000, the business had grown to more than 50 outlets countrywide, a station favourite selling 6m hot snacks a year. (David Cameron has declared himself a fan — though the prime minister famously claimed in 2012 that he’d purchased a pasty from an outlet in Leeds station, which had actually closed five years earlier.)
As a result, Christophers suddenly had some time — and cash — on his hands. “I was ready for a project,” he says. Although he had already transformed a two-bedroom flat on nearby Pembridge Crescent into a swish Manhattan-style loft apartment with a roof terrace, he was keen to explore his creative side and to showcase his burgeoning collection of contemporary and street art. He was also single — which meant he was free to do exactly as he wished.
The result is a three-bedroom home set over five levels, with nearly 2,300 sq ft of living space, an exotically planted front garden, a mezzanine study and an Ibiza-inspired roof terrace with a huge retracting glass wall. Then there’s that exquisite — but troublesome — helical staircase, a £100,000 Bulthaup kitchen on the lower-ground floor, and an £80,000 cinema room inspired by the Electric Cinema, on Portobello Road. “I wanted to create completely different rooms that I could enjoy at different times of day,” Christophers says, “so I would be drawn to them at different times.”
First, of course, he had to find the right property. When, just a short walk from Notting Hill, he came across a once grand but now rather shabby house that had been split into two maisonettes, being sold as a whole, he knew he’d found the perfect shell. Despite the Victorian house’s decidedly unglamorous warren of rooms, all the right ingredients were there: the light at the top of the house was perfect for the master suite he had in mind, and at the rear of the property, atmospheric views of a Catholic church and a former Victorian school building gave him the privacy and sense of London history he craved. Christophers bought the property for £2.8m at the beginning of 2008, then kicked off what was to be a two-year refurbishment project.
Today, the house is an intriguing mix of skewed classical style and subversive modern art — in fact, the Farrow & Ball blues and greens on the walls are some of the only traditional features. The regal first-floor living room has elegant parquet flooring, but is a showcase for avant-garde and street art: a purple antique-style chest of drawers with the lyrics from the Broadway song The Impossible Dream scrawled on it, silver chairs, a gold coffee table and a limited-edition Sid Vicious punk skull over the fireplace, by Paul Insect. Signature pieces by the London-based cult design duo Jimmie Martin —who have built stage furniture for Madonna — are everywhere.
Eclectic pieces from the Notting Hill street-art specialists Graffik and the London West Bank Gallery were bought specifically for the house — and are not necessarily to everyone’s taste. In the hallway, the arresting Blue Skull Dog, by Mikael Alacoque, with ice-cream cones for horns, is a talking point for visitors to the home. “You either love it or hate it,” Christophers says.
Either way, there is no denying the impressive attention to detail. He was keen to create seamless indoor-outdoor connections, which have been best achieved in the kitchen-dining area at the bottom of the house. Here, a 19th-century French dining table is surrounded by original 1970s Beaubourg chairs, dreamt up by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano for the Pompidou Centre, in Paris, which cost about £5,000 each.
Heated brickslip flooring runs throughout the room and out into the rear garden, where there is a low-maintenance living wall installed by ANS, specialists in rural urbanism. “I love how it softens the area and brings together three levels and shapes of walls into one seamless tropical green backdrop,” Christophers says.
The sofas out here are freestanding modular units by Gloster, found through The Chelsea Gardener, which give a living-room feel. There’s also a cream lamp, the TXL by Joan Gaspar, to integrate inside and outside areas.
A zeal for design is apparent in the two main bathrooms, too — extraordinarily snug, comfortable and textured, they are beautifully lit by pieces from the Spanish designer Jaime Hayon. A cloakroom has trompe l’oeil bookcase wallpaper, and throughout the house there are lights by Tom Dixon and Modular — one of Christophers’s favourite pastimes is seeking out unusual lamps.
His white and grey bedroom is a masterclass in self-indulgence, with soft throws, an elliptical freestanding bath and a plastic and upholstery BD Barcelona Poltronas Showtime armchair as a statement piece. At the top of the floating staircase is Christophers’s study, where you’ll find one of his few design mistakes: a fridge behind the desk that quietly hummed him to distraction (now turned off). Out on the roof terrace, sofa units by Botsford give a Balearic club feel, and narrow-width decking lends a boatie look.
Five years on, the house is exactly how Christophers had imagined — tweaks notwithstanding — but falling in love with a long-term friend has scuppered any hope of staying in his male bastion. He is decamping to Buckinghamshire to be with Miranda Hume-Beatty, 33 — who is the mother of four children aged between 2 and 16, and runs a party shop in Amersham. His pristine, gallery-style home isn’t exactly child-friendly, so he is selling up for £6m.
The next phase of his life won’t be all school runs and farmer’s markets, though. Christophers is preparing to relaunch himself into the world of fast-food gastronomy, this time with the soon to be available fresh Indian Rola Wala wrap, which will start at about £3.50 (although he says he still loves pasties). And he is particularly excited about One Feeds Two, a food-partnering charity he has co-founded, whereby outlets featuring the organisation’s stamp will provide a meal to a child living in extreme poverty every time you buy something.
He is also keen to keep his hand in the property market, and is considering developing flats for first-time buyers in London. “It would be good to create homes at the lower end of the market that have real design values,” he says. Gold skulls and blue-horned dogs will be optional.