Design Centre Stories

Designers at Home: Edward Bulmer

Few are as versed in the detail of historic colour than interior designer and architectural historian Edward Bulmer, who has worked on some of the UK’s grandest country houses. He is also the founder of Edward Bulmer Natural Paint (available at Tissus d’Hélène), a plastic-free paint range that is as much celebrated for its colour as its environmentally friendly credentials. He and his wife Emma live in a Queen Anne house in Herefordshire: as part of Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour’s Home Comforts initiative, here he explains the joys and challenges of living in a 300-year-old home, and why the last year has seen a decorating boom.

What made you want to live where you do?
An otter! We bought our house in 1994, but it was not on the market and it was when we went to spy it out from across the river that he swum towards us, as if to say “make an approach and who knows, the house could be yours one day”!

What does home mean to you – is it a place for entertaining, a place for being private, a place for family life?
It is all of the above and more: it started as the project that honed our restoration skills; then it was the one that got us some publicity; and in the last ten years it is has been where we try out colours for our Natural Paint range.

Do you have a favourite spot that you like to retreat to?
The room with the books! All our rooms have working fireplaces for the winter and good views from the windows for the summer, so in fact any room can be a retreat for me.

How would you describe your personal style?
Thoughtful, practical, detailed and playful.

How have you created balance and harmony in your home?
By meeting the needs of the architecture and the occupants, to get the detailing and planning right and then ensuring the right tonality throughout from the fabrics, furnishings and furniture to the choice of paint colours.

Are there any interesting stories behind your favourite finds?
Not to most people, but I can pretty much remember where I bought everything. My most interesting find was not a “buy” as such, but something that I underbid on at auction – a fragment of what turned out to be a lost Coptic throne room that was later sold to the British Museum.

Are you a ‘decorate once’ sort of person or someone who likes to change and experiment?
I’m not sure that we even decorate here – I think that Emma and I just evolve the rooms as we go along in response to what the family have needed as they grow up. They change fairly often, but not in all aspects, as much we have done still works, but colours come and go all the time!

Is there anything you’d change about your home?
I would like the house to be on slightly higher ground as all the indications from climate scientists suggest that it may flood one day as we are next to a river. Meanwhile the kingfisher comes to delight us as he fishes under our window and the rush of the weirs animates the evening lull. We are still at the stage of trying to complete the restoration and though we are near, it will be followed by continual repair and maintenance, as the house is 300 years old.

Where do you go to source at the Design Centre? Is there anything in your home that came from the showrooms that’s a particular favourite?
First stop is nearly always Tissus d’Hélène – the ultimate home of the artisan fabric designer. Helen’s passionate regard for quality and authenticity, over fashion and commercialism, is such a joy and she is backed up by a team who ooze friendliness and knowledge.

Lelièvre Paris, Turnell & Gigon and Pierre Frey are usually on my itinerary – and if they are the gin, then Fiona Flint at Watts of Westminster is my tonic, with her can-do attitude. Latterly I have added Collier Webb to the list as they have teamed up with invaluable mainstays of the design world, McKinney & Co, Gainsborough and George Spencer Designs.

I have not mentioned them above, but my favourite DCCH piece has to be my good old ‘Duck Feet’ lamp from Porta Romana!

Do you think that the notion of ‘home’ has changed over the past year?
I’m sure it has. Many a home has become a home school and home office and the best designed ones will have absorbed these changes comfortably. Our home has had a delayed “flying the nest” chapter, which has been an unexpected boon to lockdowns with our three daughters spending much more time with us here.

We are selling astonishing amounts of paint to homes all over the country which are getting a facelift, I’m quite sure, because their owners have had time to really consider how they look and how they work. We have become “one of the family” because we help them choose colours, advise them how to apply them and help them through the minefield of misleading claims around paint when they just want to know that it will genuinely look after their family and the planet!

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