1 June 2016
“You know the term ‘randy’?” Sera Hersham-Loftus purrs, tucking her bare feet beneath her. “It was coined by a gentleman called Sir Randolph. This is Randolph Avenue and all these buildings here were for politicians’ mistresses, or so the story goes,” she begins, like a wayward estate agent gone wildly off-script with the rehearsed particulars.
“This floor would have been where they all had dinner and laughed and then they would have gone upstairs…,” she adds, coyly, as she beckons me to join her on the sofa where she has settled, her chin resting on the knees of her baby pink lounge pants. “People used to call me Madame Sera, so it’s apt that I ended up living in a former brothel.”
As raconteurs go, the softly spoken Hersham-Loftus spins a compelling yarn. I follow as she starts padding barefoot around her Little Venice apartment with a certain slow sashay, stopping to stroke silky fabrics and tinkle with glass droplets hanging from lampshades of her own creation.
She resonates the same calming, soothing aura as her home. Little jungles of foliage are clustered here and there, giving the space the air of a 1930s Parisian boudoir crossed with the Palm House at Kew Gardens.
Little jungles of foliage are clustered here and there, giving the space the air of a 1930s Parisian boudoir crossed with the Palm House at Kew Gardens.
The date of our meeting has been pending for a couple of weeks because Madame Sera has been decorating. It’s not an unheard of pursuit for an interior designer, but the frequency with which she plays Changing Rooms with her own home is quite astonishing. This happens every few months and has done ever since she moved into the first floor flat that she bought from her DJ friend, Mark Moore, of S’Express fame.
Hersham-Loftus set about altering the “bloke’s pad” with the help of a sledgehammer. Knocking down walls has transformed four rooms into two huge salons that have a louche, romantic feel. Period grandeur has been reinstated via a dilapidated house in Amsterdam. “They were selling everything, so I bought the panelling, the floorboards, the doors. It was complete luck”, she says as she gives me the house tour, pointing out the cornices and chimneys, stripped back to the original bare bricks, as well as an impressive assortment of 20th-century Russian paintings left to her by her late father, along with a stash of old auction catalogues.
“My father was an art collector. He was one of the first dealers to bring the works of Russian artists to London”, she adds, reminiscing about childhood weekends spent attending auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
Growing up surrounded by Lowrys and Hockneys led Hersham-Loftus down a creative path of her own, first as a set designer working on backdrops for the likes of La Bohème at Sadler’s Wells and later as an interior designer. She launched Sera of London more than two decades ago and since then, her home has become an ever-changing showroom for her latest creations.
Her first furniture collection, Les Follies, is on display when I visit. Named after the Folies Bergère cabaret music hall in Paris, the collection comes in two styles: a high-backed, lime green slipper satin Firemonkey sofa, armchair and footstool; and a scalloped, silk velvet Oyster love seat and occasion chair.
To complete the look Hersham-Loftus has added fresh additions to her lighting range, including a slightly tipsily angled Anthurium lampshade in peppermint satin, and fuchsia pink Festooned Bustier and Tulip lampshades, finished with vintage glass beads and droplets. “My ideas are always evolving so my home changes all the time,” she says. “It’s like a canvas to me. Everything can be changed. I love keeping things fluid, evolving a space. It’s really good for the energy. When I was younger I would come home from school, dump my satchel and move my bed over to one side of the room, just to see what it was like to sleep in a different place. I used to borrow my mum’s scarves and drape them over lampshades to create atmosphere. I like things to feel calm and tranquil and overhead lighting suddenly gives you this glare. It doesn’t matter what you put in a room if it’s not lit well.”
“My ideas are always evolving so my home changes all the time. It’s like a canvas to me. Everything can be changed."
The light is dimmed lowest in the bedroom, where a frankincense-laced fire casts shadows on the gold-leaf Chinese wallpaper and an enormous bed covered with silky cushions – “they’re called Aroused Rose”, she adds, following my gaze. Vintage lace pelmets and net curtains veil the entrance to what was an en suite shower room, but is now a store cupboard for an impressive collection of Natacha Marro platforms and vintage clothes. “I use them like art. They’re not just for wearing but for draping around,” she says of her Vivienne Westwood numbers and Pam Hogg cat suits.
“I’m not like most interior decorators. I consider decorating as more of an art form. People who ask for my help have to trust me to do this. Nobody would come to me, open a magazine and say: ‘can you do a minimal look, or something like that?’”
Among her loyal clientele is a smattering of famous names. A quick Google search throws up Patsy Kensit, Twiggy, Yoko Ono and Howard Jacobson, although her lips remain tightly shut when I implore her to spill the beans about exactly who is listed in her little black book. “When I was younger it was more exciting, but as you get older you realise people are people. I remember when I first worked for Liam Gallagher; I was so young and so ecstatic,” she recalls.
She’s more forthcoming about her decision to share her “grown-up bohemian” vision with fashion brand Ghost; last year she was approached by the creative team to design an interiors collection for Ghost Home after her pad was used to shoot the A/W16 campaign.
When the flat isn’t being invaded by film and photography crews, Hersham-Loftus restores order by surrounding herself with treasured possessions. These include a glass side table by her sculptor boyfriend Danny Lane (made with materials left over from a commission for the Victoria & Albert Museum), and a shell-and-fossil-covered fireplace in the kitchen. “My kids made it when they were young. It’s mounted on a piece of MDF so I can unscrew it and take it with me wherever I go.”
The fireplace has made it through many house moves, including the last upheaval from the former family home, a Georgian townhouse in St John’s Wood, where Hersham-Loftus raised her three children. Her daughter Anoushka has inherited an eye for interiors, decorating her West Hampstead apartment in white muslin and scattering plants everywhere. “She’s a white witch”, Hersham-Loftus explains, as if it’s the most commonplace profession. “She holds meditation evenings for women every full moon. Women have so much power; we just need to harness it.”
"Women have so much power; we just need to harness it."
A dusky pink sunset is filtering through the windows by the time the house tour is complete. Hersham-Loftus begins adjusting the dimmer switches of countless lamps as I settle in one of two high-backed wicker chairs. “I’ve always had this fantasy that they are the originals from the film Emmanuelle. Have you seen it?” comes her innocent reply when I ask where she got them from.
I’m hardly expecting her to name a department store, but even so, I can’t help but smile as she continues: “It was a soft porn film from the ’70s and the heroine used to sit on a chair just like that...”
I’m sure Sir Randolph would approve.