Words and Styling by Emily Wheeler
Photographs by Ingrid Rasmussen, all rights reserved
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The 1970s Christian Dior leather sofas were left by the original owner.
Gillian sourced all the wallpapers from a specialist retro wallpaper supplier.
The kitchen worktops are the original formica, while the furniture was sourced from vintage shops in East London.
The bar and swimming pool in the basement make the house the ultimate 1970s party pad.
When Gillian Milner and her husband Richard first stepped over the threshold of their huge five bedroom 1970s house in Streatham, Gillian’s immediate reaction was ‘I’ve got to live here, it’s fantastic’. Like many newlyweds starting a family, Gillian and Richard dreamed of living in a huge open plan home but Gillian knew that they would need to be creative in order to get the sort of space they craved. ‘I used to work in advertising and I had worked on a lot of shoots. We’d go to all these amazing houses and I thought it was such a good idea to live in a location because it helps to pay for your home so that’s what I decided I wanted’.
The house was built by a property developer in 1971 and came complete with many of the original fixtures and even original pieces of furniture. Gillian knew straight away that the house would work both as a family home and as a location for film and editorial shoots because it was so completely different to any of the other houses that were being used as locations. It took a little while longer to convince Richard that he wanted to live in a 1970s film set, despite the swimming pool and cocktail bar in the basement and the enormous amount of space that the house offers, but Gillian had a vision for how the house could work for them and she managed to bring him round.
Gillian also knew that she had found a house that was unique and it certainly is a departure from the norm. ‘Lots of people live in beautiful white houses with chandeliers and designer furniture but when we saw this place it was very authentically 1970s, so we knew it would work for us’, she explains. Amazingly, the previous owners had even left the original 1970s Christian Dior leather sofa and chair in the living room, so the house had real authenticity.
The couple moved in six years ago when Gillian was pregnant with their first child, Jack. They set about extensive renovations, transforming the house from a dark and neglected throwback into a light and airy family home, all the while studiously retaining the spirit of the 1970s decor. Gillian’s instinct turned out to be spot on and since they renovated the house, it has featured in publications from Vogue to Grazia as well as several television series and even a pop video, such is the lure of 1970s nostalgia.
The renovations were extensive and the couple found themselves completely rebuilding the back of the house, creating a contemporary space with huge swathes of glass across the entire first and lower floors and tiers of wooden decking in the garden. ‘The back of the house had an overhanging little conservatory and the swimming pool had a huge roof with lots of broken window lights,’ Gillian recalls. The work transformed the space into an open plan living room and kitchen, which functions as an enormous family room with a surprisingly contemporary feel with the swimming pool beneath, which was completely restored. ‘The children love to just run round and round and round the living room’, Gillian laughs, ‘What is so great about the house is the huge amount of space we have.’ Where once there was a dilapidated conservatory roof, there are now huge sliding glass doors that open across the length of the back of the house, leading to a modern outdoor space with lots of contemporary planting. ‘We basically ripped out the back of the house and completely rebuilt it. We had the pool retiled and built the garden and the roof deck at the back of the house to utilise the space as much as possible,’ says Gillian.
The swimming pool in the basement is what gives this home a real sense of retro glamour and feels more like being on the set of a Hollywood movie than in the back yard of a four-storey house in Streatham. Jack, who is now 6, and Lola, aged 4, love to swim every day after school. ‘The children swim nearly every evening and have their friends round a lot,’ Gillian says. ‘It’s a real hub of entertainment and we lounge on the loungers while they’re having a swim. We have lots and lots of grown up parties too where we throw the doors open and party outside.’
Upstairs, the bedrooms are all authentically 1970s in their décor and it feels even more like stepping back in time. There is even an avocado bathroom suite in one of the bathrooms while the other bathroom has the original brown and yellow colour scheme, neither of which have been altered in any way by Gillian and Richard to retain the authenticity of the decor.
While the Christian Dior sofas and several G Plan pieces of furniture were already in situ, Gillian has carefully sourced all of the house’s remaining furnishings from specialist vintage shops, from the brightly patterned wallpapers to the 1970s telephone and ornaments. Friends have helped by donating their own retro finds such as the tea caddies that take pride of place in the kitchen, which Gillian said she coveted every time she visited her friends’ home until eventually they gave them to her and the bed spreads, which were given to her by a stylist.
Living in a successful location though means being prepared to make compromises and the family has had to adapt to the constant stream of photographers, models, stylists and film crews. ‘We have to be very organised. Most shoots are during the day while we’re at work and after school, our nanny takes the children back to her house and they do their homework, have tea and a bath and then come home,’ Gillian explains. ‘Actually it’s very easy to work around Lola and Jack – they think it’s really cool to live in a location. Olli Murs sang ‘Lola’ to Lola and I was so pleased because that really brings it alive for them as I spend a lot of time telling them to tidy up!’
Naturally the family spend most of their time in the open plan living room, which is now flooded with natural light thanks to Gillian and Richard’s renovations. ‘The house has such gorgeous light and the sun rises and comes round into the kitchen,’ smiles Gillian. ‘That’s when I know we made the right decision.’