Ayshea On Maximising A Victorian Terrace House
As the founder of Small Home, a lifestyle company made of handcrafted and thoughtful products for home and life, Ayshea McCormack has a conservative eye and prefers a discreet aesthetic. It’s a feeling that naturally extends to her Victorian terrace house in Balham, south-west London, which she shares with her husband, Ben, and their two daughters. But, while her space also serves as a backdrop for her brand, it is not a show house: Ayshea has a soft spot for wabi-sabi and deliberately hand-picked materials that will show signs of age over time. Here, she tells us about the joy of imperfections, embracing a small garden and falling in love with her neighborhood.
Ayshea: “I worked as a buyer for several major fashion brands for 20 years before creating la petite maison. Although I enjoyed the process, I found it quite soulless. After having my two daughters, I decided to take some time out and take the risk of doing my own thing.
“My idea was to find unique handmade items that caught my eye, and it immediately took off. Our traditional sheepskin slippers have been phenomenal and have funded the growth of the company. They turned out to be so popular that we took the production in-house; four artisan families in hand make them all year round using leftover Rolls Royce car interiors and embroider them with rare British breeds of organic threads.
“This house is used as a backdrop for the photography of the little house, but I never want it to look like a show at home; the girls play netball in the kitchen, Ben works from here and I have staff coming and going, so it’s very used.
“We have been living in this house for 15 years. I lived in Brook Green and my husband, Ben, was in Clapham when we decided to buy a house together. I was desperate to find a family home in West London, but there was very little we could get for our money. Balham was the natural progression from a flat in Clapham to a house.
“I wasn’t very attracted to Balham at first, but I fell in love with this house and when we had children, the area suddenly came to life for me. It has so much to offer, especially for families. We live between three communes -Wandsworth, Clapham and Tooting – and Northcote Road is full of independent shops and cafes. This village feeling is now working perfectly for our lives.
“What motivated me about this house was that all the original Victorian features – the windows, cornices and fireplaces – were intact. It has not been modernized and we lived here for six years before starting the renovations. This turned out to be useful, because it meant that we knew exactly what we needed from the House.
“I am really attracted to the Japanese aesthetics of wabi-sabi and I embrace the natural imperfections that accompany certain materials. That is why we have chosen wear-resistant components that will slip over time, such as concrete for the kitchen floor and stainless steel countertops for food preparation. I don’t want anything to feel too precious.
“My wish is that each room is warm and inhabited, never too minimalist and clean. I love to browse the French markets in search of old paintings and old slightly rusty trinkets to add depth. I sleep with sheepskin rugs and pillows, and I love to decorate with indoor plants.
“For the extension of the kitchen, the mission of our architects, Mustard Architects, was that there should be a strong link with the garden. The outdoor space was small, so we adopted it by paving the floor and walling the perimeter.
“As a relatively new practice, they were brilliant, full of new ideas and they really listened to what we wanted. What we have is something I absolutely love; five years after, I wouldn’t change a thing. In the summer, it now feels like a big space, especially with the windows open. We built a pergola and grew wisteria behind it, so now we get the most beautiful fleshy light.
“Having an architect gave us the confidence to really push our builders on the finer details. The ceiling in the kitchen was low, but instead of digging, we decided to expose the floor beams of the room above the height. It was long and messy, and our builder couldn’t understand the point, but the architects took care of it.
“The kitchen cabinet is actually an IKEA carcass for which the carpenter Barnaby Reynolds carefully made custom-made doors. He really understood what we wanted and sprayed everything himself. It had to serve practically and be aesthetically correct – we don’t have a distribution center for the small dwelling, so adequate storage was crucial.
“This house is not huge, so it was very important to create different areas. The kitchen table is great for socializing – we always head to the island when we have friends over. The small sitting area next to the shelves is only big enough for one person, but it’s a real sunset; I love having my morning coffee there. We had the loft converted with the intention of using it as a workspace, which is why there are windows overlooking the landing – this is probably not something you would have when designing a bedroom.
“My recent project is to redecorate the living room, which faces north and is naturally quite dark. I wanted to make it as airy and quiet as possible, so we brought the floor back to its natural pines, then whitewashed it and oiled it. It was so laborious, but the results are awesome. This is a technique that they do a lot in Scandinavian houses, but it also works very well in Victorian houses.
“It was repainted in a beautiful white by Atelier Ellis, whose paintings are superb. It’s a small team of men and women and their palettes are unlike any other brand of paint. Not all shades of white are equal and theirs is a color that I’ve used a lot here because it’s great to strike against.
“My ambition for the Little House has always been to run a creative business at home around my children and I feel like we have achieved this. My desire is to cultivate it, but it must remain authentic – I am not interested in mass production. I love to travel and discover beautiful things – I can’t wait to find more unique products and work with small manufacturers from all over the world.”
Ayshea, how do you define modern life?
“It’s a new approach to the way we live – mixing different influences in unusual ways, changing perspectives and making informed and interesting choices. For me, modern life right now is about living sustainably and making ethical choices. It’s about creating a quiet space in a fast-paced world, both bodily and mentally, and living more thoughtfully – recycling, recycling and trying to live as waste-free as possible.”
Is there a property for sale on our website that caught your eye?
“At the moment we are very attracted to the idea of replacing our urban life with a rural one and Woolland house in Dorset would do just fine! I love all the architectural details and the terrain is beautiful. I can imagine growing plants in the impressive greenhouse, and I could manage the Small House from the stables and outbuildings.”