For the interior designer and founder of design emporium 8 Holland Street, Tobias Vernon, collecting is a way of life. His London treasure trove - a shop-meets-gallery, which opened in 2018 and is tucked down a side street in Kensington - is carefully cluttered with a charming mix of mostly mid-20th-century European and Scandinavian art, studio pottery and furniture. All is sourced from warehouses, auction rooms, markets and dealers around the UK, Italy, France and Scandinavia. Along with a second space in Bath, which opened in 2019 and is similarly curated - 'an easy-going medley of stuff', as Vernon calls it - it serves as a pretty good indicator of the laid-back, unfussy aesthetic that has made his name.
It turns out that the designer's retail spaces have also proved fertile ground for his own home, a compact 18th-century worker's cottage in the Somerset village of Mells, which offers a similar 'cabinet of curiosities' feel. 'It's probably no more than 600sq ft,' says Vernon, who moved in late last year. Perched on a grassy verge in the village, one enters into a tiny hallway, an eat-in kitchen to the right, a sitting room to the left, with stairs in one corner that lead up to two bedrooms divided by a bathroom in the middle - and that's it.
'Any excuse for more art'
Ask Vernon to name his favourite pieces around his own home and he lights up. The oak and ceramic, tile-topped, 1960s coffee table found on a buying trip to Sweden was destined for the gallery. 'The truth is, I fell in love with it. Any excuse for more art - you don't expect those figures on the surface of a coffee table,' he says. The same goes for the Maralunga sofa by Vico Magistretti for Cassina. 'I actually found it on 1stdibs, but it was a bargain.'
All about the high/low
Magistretti's red, moulded plastic chair, says Vernon, is another happily unexpected addition across from the Paolo Buffa wooden Arts-and-Crafts-style armchair in the sitting room. As is the contemporary, metal, Ikea tray table right next to it. The various Noguchi paper lanterns are reminders that Vernon really knows his design classics. The painted Habitat four-poster bed upstairs tells us he's easy about where things come from. A kitsch little bronze dog on a plinth looking at a moon that lights up, found on a childhood holiday, sits happily in a kitchen nook.
Vernon, who was raised in St Ives, Cornwall, studied art history at Cambridge. You can see the influence of British modernism everywhere. Visits to Kettle's Yard, the former home of collector and curator Jim Ede, have clearly left their mark. 'Kettle's Yard, plus Charles and Ray Eames' house in LA and Peggy Guggenheim's place in Venice - all of those crazy collections are my favourites,' explains Vernon. 'They're idiosyncratic: really unexpected things in different mediums, styles and periods, and of different values. A Brâncuși sitting on a piano next to pebbles - it's wonderful. The windowsill in my living room is a nod to Kettle's Yard.' It features a white candelabra bought at The Conran Shop when Vernon was 15, a vintage glass decanter found in The Lanes in Brighton, a white plaster lamp by contemporary maker Viola Lanari and an English cut-glass coupe.
Buy what you love
Much of Vernon's art collection is of fairly disparate provenance, some valuable from named artists and some just the things he loves. This sums up his sourcing ethos: buy whatever you love and be confident that it will work in your home. There's the abstract Sandra Blow print above the fireplace, bought at auction, and a 1965 Le Corbusier exhibition poster that Vernon's father found on eBay from a long-gone art publishers who were, coincidentally, based at 8 Holland Street years ago. 'I hung the wall of pictures in the sitting room myself. I probably could have made it all perfect, but actually the unevenness is quite fitting for the vernacular of this house.'