Design Centre Stories

Designers at Home: Charlie Bowles

Charlie Bowles is the director of Original BTC, the innovative lighting company founded by his father Peter in 1990, and shares his home in Barnes, south-west London, with his wife Anna and their two children, Sofia and Bertie. As part of Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour’s Home Comforts initiative, here he explains what home means to him, how to get lighting right – and why he might just owe his marriage to Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour….

What made you want to live where you do?
First of all, the location. Barnes is full of greenery and has beautiful streets.  It’s got a ‘village’ feel and although it’s in London, it doesn’t feel like it. We’re about 100 metres from the Thames – the river walk to Kew is superb.

The house itself has a lovely frontage and I like the layout – it flows very well.  The period features really appealed to me when we first viewed it: shuttered windows, original cornicing and ceiling roses, and the high ceilings give it a sense of openness and space. It was a real find.

What does home mean to you?
Above all it’s a place to enjoy with my family.  My daughter is four and my son is almost two, and they have the run of the place. It’s a spacious house but it’s starting to feel smaller as they get bigger! It’s a place for entertaining too – under normal circumstances we have friends and family over most weekends.

Do you have a favourite spot that you like to retreat to?
The sitting room is my haven. It’s the focal point of the house.  It has a relaxed atmosphere, especially with the lit fire in winter.

How would you describe your personal style?
Eclectic. A mix of old and new, smart and casual, cosy and welcoming, yet functional and organised.

How have your created balance and harmony in your home?
The secret to that is fantastic lighting. It really is, though! It allows you to tie a room together at any time of day and set the mood. Get the wrong effect with your lighting and the space won’t have the harmony that you want. The golden rule is a mix of task, ambient and accent lighting.  Task lighting helps you perform specific jobs like cooking or reading, ambient or mood lighting creates atmosphere, while accent lighting highlights areas of interest.

What the lights are made of is also key, not just for the light they give but also the way they look. Bone china gives a soft, warm glow so it’s perfect for creating atmosphere, and metal table or floor lights with shades that can be angled and arms that can be lowered and raised provide light exactly where you need it, without lighting the whole room. Lights in warm metals like copper and brass introduce character and a touch of glamour. I’ve mixed those with pattern and texture and hand-crafted elements.

Are there any interesting stories behind your favourite finds?
Yes, the mirrors. When we first opened our showroom at the Design Centre I went to the Christmas party and met a fabulous woman there. Fast forward – we married, and moved into this house a few years later.. Her father’s moving-in gift was our English Georgian mirrors (English Georgian is her family’s business, and was at the Design Centre at the time).

Also, the clock on the mantelpiece, which my father gave me. It was first given to my great great uncle who was an RAF pilot during WWI.  It’s made from the propeller of a First World War airplane. It gives me a sense of my family history.

Are you a ‘decorate once’ sort of person or someone who likes to change and experiment?
A bit of both, really. I like to get the foundation elements – the walls, the flooring – done well, so that they last.  I do like to play around with the finishing touches, and find that you can dramatically change the feel of a room through smaller changes – cushions, throws, art, plants, the position of the furniture… and add improvements as time goes on.

Is there anything you’d change about your home?
The size of the garden. I’d extend it for the kids to run around, and for a bit more outdoor entertaining space, and I’d also create a modern outdoor room for us to play, relax and entertain in in the summer. That’s a bit tricky in London though…

Is your home full of Original BTC products? 
Yes, almost all our lights are from Original BTC.  I’ve customised my lights to my taste: our bedside lights are a plug switch cable version of the ‘Fin’ wall light, which made them very easy to install.  I also have the very first ‘London’ table light ever produced: it was my first design for Original BTC in 2009 and I’m very proud of it.

Do you think that the notion of ‘home’ has changed over the past year?
Absolutely. How we exist in our spaces has fundamentally changed for so many people. It’s become the place where we do almost everything – work, educate, relax – rather than “the place we come back to at the end of the day”.  It’s highlighted how important it is that we enjoy our surroundings.

We’ve seen a considerable increase in sales of desk lights since March – I think that’s a sign that people are making considered, quality purchases in the switch to working from home.

Original BTC, Second Floor, Centre Dome

Images by Sarah Hogan, taken from Bold British Design by Emilio Pimentel-Reid and Sarah Hogan, published by Quadrille

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