As the saying often goes: life imitates art. But in the home of Sarah Bagner, art imitates life. Sarah and her husband, Thomas, both originally from Sweden, now live in Clapton, East London, with their children, Ted and Emil. In their typical three-storied Victorian terrace, theatrics are afoot in playful details that settle unsuspectingly amongst the simplicity of their Swedish minimalism; a choice juxtaposition that clashes cultures between England and Sweden’s capital.
“We wanted to celebrate the beauty of our home’s Victorian style while also embracing a simpler, more functional one which is typical of Swedish interiors and the colours of Stockholm,” explains Sarah. “It’s a common misperception that Swedish style is very black and white, when in fact, it often incorporates colour and folklore which is something I love. We both love Victorian detail and frivolous Britishness, so it’s a merging of the two.”
The folklore and fancy are wonderfully evident in the items which are left incongruously in functional spaces. A vintage 1940s German Weiss egg holder – which holds six eggs to resemble the bald heads of six monks – sits boldly on an otherwise empty kitchen countertop. The all-white tiles and the clean lines of pale plaster cabinets and open shelving, accented simply by a sleek brass tap and brass cupboard handles, make the ceramic egg holder all the more delightful in its absurdity. “Our kitchen is an Ikea carcass we have pimped with a frozen Terra Caesarstone Quartz top,” adds Sarah. This is Swedish minimalism, but with a wink.
Move into the next room, passing the floor-to-ceiling mint-coloured bookshelf along the wall, and you enter the living room where large bay windows pour light onto walls which are patchy like furnaced clay in light-and-dark tones of terracotta; bare and unpainted. Then your eye catches the fireplace mantlepiece where a ceramic gentleman, suited and booted, peers out from within an antique glass display dome. A bundle of dried seed heads wrapped in ribbon decorates the shelf beneath near fresh cut flowers and framed family photos. Nostalgia is a recurring theme that is layered, decidedly, with love.
“Humour, or “a smile in the mind” is important to me,” explains Sarah. “I’m always drawn to a pop of colour or some silly vintage find. I do believe that too much good taste is bad taste. It’s about finding the perfect mix.” A mix Sarah has undoubtedly mastered in the balance between novelty, function and design. The balance between a decadent Joseph Frank print, Ikea’s rattan simplicity and a flea market find where your morning eggs are first monks.
In the bathroom, dusty pink tiles mingle with mint green ones in a colour pairing pretty enough for an ice cream parlour. “The dusty pink tiles and the minty green ones are such a perfect colour combination,” says Sarah. “The Grestec tiles have this lovely matt surface and again the colours were inspired by the colours of Stockholm houses which often have a dusty, colourful array of hues.”
When the couple moved in just over a year ago, they knew they wanted to celebrate the period charm lent to them by the historic structure of their new London home, but moving during lockdown made this a slower process. They had just had Emil, so interior decorating was knocked further down their priorities list.
“We are only now putting things on the walls as I didn’t feel emotionally ready for the clutter of it at the time, and the raw bare walls had a sense of calm,” says Sarah. “But we started by stripping it right back and kept the bare plaster walls in many of the rooms.”
While modernising a piece of London’s history, they made sure to retain the “DNA of a Victorian house” without completely removing the cornices. They installed an interior window in the corridor to bring the light into the dark mid-spaces and installed a roof light in the kitchen.
“When we bought the house, we felt it had good bones but it was dark and dank, with dark blue carpets and lino floors,” says Sarah. “We wanted to open up the house and bring light in and make a practical family home.”
After a career contemplating the nuances of interiors as a stylist, the remnants of Sarah’s shoots find a way into the permanence of her family home long after the styling ends. “My life is very much merged with my props,” she says.
“I was lucky enough to assist and work with Ilse Crawford many years ago and I still find her and her work truly inspirational. She has a wonderful conceptual way of thinking about space which really contextualises her interiors and give them meaning beyond simply aesthetics.”
This curation feeds into a quiet eccentricity, where a personal warmth dominates. There’s a sensuality in their handmade, handpicked nature, much like Sarah’s favourite bowl from KANA London. “It adds texture and soul,” she says.
“I’ve always been interested in stuff and curating that stuff around me. Interiors is not necessarily something you think about as a child, but I think I’ve always loved creating worlds and working with colour and forms. For me, interiors are like paintings or graphic prints in that it creates space with perfect balance, texture and harmony.”
Interior photography: Jon Aaron Green
Portrait: Grainne Quinlan