A heritage of design: at home with journalist Rohini Wahi
We couldn’t have picked a more glorious afternoon to visit London-based trend forecaster and design journalist Rohini Wahi. Dappled sunlight fell on the tree-lined streets of Wanstead village as we strolled up the High Street, decidedly overdressed for t-shirt weather.
The tall arches that mark the entrance to the apartment complex stopped us in our tracks. It felt like stepping back in time. Three Grade II-listed Art Deco blocks sit in a horseshoe shape, surrounded by landscaped gardens, their green-painted Crittal windows adding to the development’s leafy feel. It was this air of nostalgia that made Rohini, who also runs interiors and lifestyle blog The Beat That My Heart Skipped, determined to live here one day. Five years ago, the dream came true.
Inside, we were met with a warm welcome: coffee in the pot and daal on the stove. The hazy afternoon sun poured in through the large windows of this north-east London sanctuary, the renovation of which involved months of hard graft. Once complete, Rohini could set about creating the home she’d spent the last five years mood-boarding (a girl after our own hearts), drawing on global inspirations that included everything from New England style to her childhood in Calcutta. Eager to hear more, we found a comfy spot amongst the abundance of cushions on the sofa and settled in for a chat.
These apartments are so unusual. How did you come across them?
We used to rent a place nearby. I would walk past this complex every day on my commute and it always pulled at my heartstrings. It reminded me of all the colourful Art Deco apartments I used to see growing up in Mumbai and Calcutta. I felt in my soul that I would live here someday, so when the perfect flat came up for sale, it felt like fate.
Sounds like it was meant to be. How did buying your first home feel?
I’ve worked in the design industry for years, so I couldn’t wait to be able to put my stamp on somewhere. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the space and it felt wonderful to create that feeling of permanence that can be difficult to achieve when renting. I loved having the freedom to decorate exactly as I wished, and to implement all the ideas I’d amassed over the years.
Well, it certainly looks like it was worth the wait. Where does your love of design come from?
I would say it comes from my grandparents. My grandfather was an engineer and he built our family home in Calcutta, which was also Art Deco in style. His attention to detail was second to none, particularly where materials were concerned. My grandmother has always been in charge of the decorating. She’s a very elegant lady; she’s now in her 80s and still has new curtains and cushions made every season.
They must have been quite the design duo. What’s the house in Calcutta like?
Simple and classic with a European-Indian feel. So much love went into the materials, such as the honeycomb marble tiles that run all through the house, which have brass inlays instead of grouting, or the plasterwork on the wall that my grandfather asked the plasterer to make grooves in for a subtle striped effect.
We can’t get enough of marble and brass. Do you think you’ve inherited your style from them?
Definitely. My taste is quite similar to that of my grandmother, just a little more modern. I like wooden floors, cool marble surfaces, cane furniture and well-made timber pieces. I lean towards muted colours and love a block print. My mum and I have our own Indian-inspired lifestyle and homewares brand called Napeansea, and a lot of our focus is on handmade textiles. I try to surround myself with things that remind me of home, so it feels closer.
It’s interesting that you still describe India as ‘home’ after 28 years of living in the UK.
Yes, it’s hard to explain. I suppose I feel more like me when I’m there. When you go home, everyone has time for you, and you can just let go and relax. Back in London, I have to be a grown up, juggling being a mum with work pressures. In India, I can be child again.
We know what you mean… going home is good for the soul. Do you find it hard living so far from family?
It’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve lived in the UK since I was seven but I’ve always felt so close to my family in India. My grandparents have been amazing and always made a huge effort to stay close, regularly sending letters and photographs of favourite memories and holidays we shared together. I go back every year, and FaceTime my grandmother with Aarya, my daughter, every week.
Wow. Your grandmother uses FaceTime?
Yep, she’s amazing. She’s my best friend. She’s really clued up with tech as her children live all over the world. She’s always WhatsApping me and commenting on Instagram posts.
We’re not surprised, we love your feed. It’s packed with great design inspo. Do you have a favourite designer?
It has to be Ilse Crawford. She makes the ordinary feel extraordinary and her style is so uncontrived. There’s a certain confidence needed to surround yourself with things that make you feel good, rather than worrying too much about a particular aesthetic. I think it’s always best to start with pieces that are meaningful to you, then build the rest of your home around them
Your flat feels filled with meaning and memories. What are your most treasured possessions?
I’m not really that sentimental about material possessions. I guess my books would be the things I treasure most, especially those that have been with me since I was little.
And with that, we ambled off to analyse Rohini’s bookcase, getting distracted along the way by all manner of unique pieces and family photographs. Finally, we managed to pull ourselves away from the warmth and peace of this beautifully put-together apartment, stepping out into the autumn sunshine dreaming of warmer climes and bygone times.
For more of Rohini’s style, head to The Beat That My Heart Skipped