When designer Diane Kordas and her husband first moved to London from New York, they planned to be in the UK for around three years. Twenty-seven years later, however, they are still here, in the very same Knightsbridge house that they initially rented when they arrived, now with two grown-up daughters and three rescue dogs.
“My husband, who works in finance, had the opportunity to come here for work, and I was very clear: three years,” says Kordas. “We didn’t know anybody at first, which was a little hard, but then we slowly built up a circle of friends. I wanted to acclimatise myself while we were here and really make it my home – and then we decided we didn’t want to leave. We were renting this house and thought maybe we should buy, so we looked around for another home, and then we thought, you know what, there’s nothing better than here.” Luckily, the owner was happy to sell, so they settled in and made plans to renovate when they could afford to do what they wanted.
Budget notwithstanding, renovating the house, which is Grade II listed, posed some challenges: at first they wanted to extend the kitchen on the ground floor further into the garden and add a bar on the floor above, but they were not permitted to. “It can be challenging when you really want something and it’s not within the boundaries, but I respect that now,” says Kordas. “This is what I love about England: you have this beautiful architecture everywhere, and there’s a symmetry.” So instead, they settled on extending the basement to create a TV room, a laundry room and a spare bedroom.
Decoratively, the novel experience of living in a townhouse, after the lateral apartment they had had in New York, offered Kordas the opportunity to be more experimental with her design choices. “In our old apartment, everything had to flow, because we were walking from room to room and it was all on the same floor, whereas here I was able to make each room a little different to the other,” she says. As well as the basement rooms, the house is arranged with a kitchen and dining room on the ground floor, a large living room on the first, and two floors of bedrooms and bathrooms above.
“Living on different floors, although you’re going up and down all the time, it gives you a little more privacy; you can go into the living room and shut it off, which was a new experience for me.”
Kordas, who trained in textile design at Parsons School of Design in New York, launched a fine jewellery brand in 2000, which has attracted a starry fan base that includes Scarlett Johansson, Taylor Swift and Gwyneth Paltrow. Recently, she branched out into animal-themed blankets. While she is a fan of colour, at home she prefers her rooms to have a more soothing atmosphere, particularly when she is designing. “When I’m working, I need to feel that what is around me isn’t cluttered or chaotic,” she says. “Everything has to seem clean and quiet.”
She enlisted the help of interior designer Hubert Zandberg – who is not normally known for creating quiet spaces, but rather for his glamorous, high-impact interiors. “Hubert does like pattern on pattern,” says Kordas. “I would say to him, ‘Clean it up!’ But he pushes me, which is really good, and he opens my mind, so we were able to mix all these different styles together.” They have continued to work together over the years, finding interesting antiques and vintage pieces or re-covering sofas and armchairs when Kordas wants to give a room a new look.
What they have achieved is a balance of relaxed, peaceful rooms with moments of high glamour. There is the odd piece of furniture with zingy upholstery; brightly coloured artworks and statement objects such as the chandelier in the dining room and the custom-designed bar cabinet in the living room. Animal motifs are a recurring theme in her work, and they appear subtly throughout her home, too, in hide rugs, zebra prints and ornaments picked up on her travels.
Her office – which was created, along with an extra bedroom, a few years after the first renovation, when an extra floor was added at the top of the house – is a lesson in combining drama with understatement, with its rich, chocolate-brown walls: “They almost look like they’re lined with suede; it’s soothing for me,” she says.
The calm, comforting nature of her home became vitally important to Kordas when she had treatment for breast cancer 12 years ago. “It came out of left field,” she says. “And when I was recovering, a good friend said to me at the time, your home has to be your safe place after having breast cancer, and it was so true. I remember coming back here when I’d had radiation treatments; I would crawl into the upstairs bedroom to sleep, and I would feel calm and comforted. I’d rest, then I’d get up and continue my day.”
Her home became her sanctuary and retreat during her toughest time, but over a decade on, it now also plays a key role as a welcoming space for family and friends to drop in.
True to her American roots, Kordas loves to entertain, so it was important that her home should not only have a relaxed ambience, but also be well set up for parties. The living room and dining room are, she says, her “fun” places:
“These rooms are for entertaining, so they can become a little more chaotic, which I love. I don’t know how many times we’ve had dinner parties that have started out with eight people and have ended up with 18, which my table does not fit, so we’ve just had to do whatever we can.”
Her circle of friends reads like the social pages of a fashion magazine: at the launch of her blanket collection earlier this year, which was co-hosted by her close friend Kelly Hoppen, guests included swimwear designer Melissa Odabash, fashion editor and designer Kim Hersov, cook Lorraine Pascale and model Yasmin Le Bon.
After almost 30 years in the same house, her neighbours, too, have become close friends. “When you leave your home country, your friends become like family – those relationships are even more important,” she says. “I don’t know if I would appreciate that so much if I was still in America.
“I love to travel, but my home stabilises me. It has many different facets: when I come in and close the door, I feel safe, but also it’s a gathering place for family and friends, it’s a connection between all of us. I just want people to come here and feel happy – it’s my happy place.”