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At Home With: Earl of East founders Paul Firmin and Niko Dafkos

The owners of the London-based fragrance and homewares brand show us around their modern townhouse

Paul Firmin and Niko Dafkos moved into their Leyton townhouse five years ago, after a six-month-long house hunt around London's East End. They had hoped to find a place near the Hackney outpost of their fragrance and homewares store, Earl of East, but discovered that the neighbouring area of Leyton offered more space, while still being connected to central London. Since then, they have transformed the four-bedroom home into a tranquil retreat from city life, with rich paint colours, mood lighting, and accessories inspired by their trips to Los Angeles.

Here, they take us inside their house and tell us about their design inspirations, their lockdown rituals, and why they'll always call east London home.

Can you tell us a bit about your home and what attracted you to this house in particular?

Paul Firmin: 'We've been here for five years, and it's the first home that we've bought together. We had spent six months looking at places, and every time we would go to viewings, we were left disappointed. Eventually, we went to view a place in Leyton - it was the last viewing before we were going to put the whole thing on hold - and it was terrible. But after, we drove around the corner saw this house with a 'For sale' sign in the window. It's a new build, so we went into to the show home and actually paid a deposit on the house without ever getting inside. We got lucky, because the place has got really good bones.

'It's not on the quietest of roads, but the house looks out onto the back garden. When we step in the front door, we leave London behind. It's like our sanctuary.'

East London has always been a big part of your lives, and it’s where you’ve established your brand. What do you love about this part of town?

PF: 'Historically, the east side of town has always been a place where people are more transient, and that melting pot makes things quite creative. When I moved to London, it was the part of the city that I wanted to be in. The business then started there, just because we lived there. Now, because it's become such a melting pot for creativity, you've got really good access to everything - whether that's great photographers or great graphic designers - they're all based in this area, and that creative spirit feeds off itself.'

How has the local community been important to you, especially over this last year?

Niko Dafkos: 'It was amazing to see how, where we're located in Hackney, people would still try and get their coffee from us while they could. Even when they announced the closures, our regulars would rush out and get all the essential homewares that they needed from us. When we launched candle-making online, loads of people from our street joined those sessions as well.'

How did you guys go about figuring out the interiors for your house together? Did your tastes ever clash?

PF: 'The good thing about this place was that it was a real blank canvas, [as opposed to] a period property or something. So, it allowed us to move in with what we had and then, slowly, over time, add things to it.

'The other thing for us has been about that idea of sanctuary. The brand and the business were all inspired by travel, and one of our favourite places is LA, so we've tried to create our own mini version of LA in our house. It's all about creating a space that's just for us.'

Do you feel like your style has changed at all since you moved in?

ND: 'When we moved in, we were overly excited and we got carried away with colours, in the dark sense. Our living room was really dark because the room in itself doesn't get that much light, so instead of working against it, we worked with it. Over the last two years now, we've refined it a little, and there's been more intent with the colours we use in certain areas and why. We've just grown up a bit.'

You mentioned your changing approach to paint colours. How would you describe your approach to colour now?

PF: The colours have, in some ways, got a bit more vibrant, but they all go together in one set palette now. We have also changed the way we do things. So, we either do a lot of colour blocking, and we like to paint the ceilings and the woodwork in the same colour, so it's more like a cocoon than a feature wall.'

You now have the Tisbury coffee table in your living room. What role does the table play in your space?

PF: 'For me, I don't think a living room is complete unless you've got a coffee table. It just doesn't look right. Our living room is not that big, and we've got an oversized sofa in there, so this coffee table is great because it's round and it softens what is otherwise a quite angular room. The legs on that coffee table also reference the same legs that we have on the table in our kitchen - the same with the Polpero side table. That circular, chunky leg is another way to tie the house together, beyond colour.'

Have you had to update the space at all during lockdown, to make it more functional?

PF: 'We've done a lot in the last year, and part of that was that we were spending more time in here. We changed the sofa and the kitchen table, because there's not a lot else to spend your money on, and it's quite nice to have something good to work on.

'We're also updating our study - it's actually where we made our first candles back in the early days, and when we moved out of there, we turned it into a spare bedroom/ home office, but never really used it. We're now in the process of re-doing that space and making it more of a functional office for us both.'

Do you have any advice for somebody who is thinking about buying and decorating their own first home?

PF: 'Don't rush it. In the early days, because we went from a two-bed flat to a four-bed house, we bought a lot of things that we've since sold or gotten rid of. Rather than spending a bit more and investing in pieces that we were going to keep forever, we were like, "We need an extra bed. Let's go and buy an extra bed." Family come and stay every now and then, but we could potentially use the space better, and that's something we're working on now.'

Earl of East started with candles. How do you like to scent your own spaces? Do you like to vary scents from room to room and throughout the day?

ND: 'All of the above, definitely. Especially with working from home and eating at home, scent really helps with getting your mind into the right zone. In the living room, we burn "Jardin de la Lune", which is tuberose. It's quite heavy, [and] opulent, and it has cade in it, which makes it smoky, so it's very atmospheric. And then in the kitchen, which is a brighter room, we use "Greenhouse", which is tomato, parsley seed and basil. It's uplifting.'

You’re Shoreditch House members. Are there any spaces in the House that you find yourself drawn to, and what do you like about them?

PF: 'What I love about the Shoreditch House - and [actually] it's not just Shoreditch House, it's any of the Houses - is that idea of familiarity. Everywhere is different, but there's a similar ethos that ties it all together - the same mood lighting, the same textures and feelings and fabrics - even when the patterns are different and individual to the House.

At Shoreditch, my favourite spot is the library or the big bar - just anywhere there's a cosy little nook. I'm also desperate to go to the Farmhouse again, because I just love it there. You feel like you've stepped into another world.'