Labour of love: Sara Ekholm’s Hackney home
9 months ago · Portraits · 11 min read

Labour of love: Sara Ekholm’s Hackney home

On arriving at this enviably elegant townhouse, we found ourselves in a quiet corner of Hackney that, surprisingly, is just minutes away from the bustle of Mare Street. It’s home to stylist and location agent Sara Ekholm and her boyfriend Scuta Salamanca, a music composer. They live here with their three-year-old daughter, Margot, and a rather handsome cat called Monte. 

Sara and Scuta bought the house eight-and-a-half years ago, at which time, it was in a pretty bad way, having been left untouched for years and rented out as a house share. “It needed a lot of love,” says Sara. Structurally, it was sound, so the pair could crack on with renovating it as soon as they moved in. They brought in builders for the major works, then Sara rolled up her sleeves and got on with the rest. From what we’ve been told, she’s not shy when it comes to a bit of DIY.

Today, the house is a far cry from the sad, run-down property it once was. We stepped through the front door to be greeted by a calm, pared-back interior that feels distinctly Scandinavian, despite its London setting. Thoughtfully chosen vintage finds sit alongside clean-lined high-street pieces, while traces of family life — books, toys and a fridge clad in Margot’s masterpieces — prove that you can combine kids with a less-is-more interior (although Sara did tell us she went on a mad tidying spree before we arrived). We pulled up a chair (vintage Thonet, of course) at the dining table, and quizzed her on how she makes it all work. 

You’ve created a beautiful home. How long did the house take to do up?

I’d say it’s still a work in progress really, but we did the initial work in just under three months. We then got two flatmates for a while, to help us pay the mortgage, and did the rest gradually over the years.

 

The exterior of Sara and Scuta’s Hackney home

Left: Ikea shoe cupboards line the hallway to keep the space free of clutter. They’ve been painted in ‘Mouse’s Back’ by Farrow & Ball and fitted with new handles to customise the design  Right: A simple piece of linen fabric provides privacy at the dining room window. The mid-century floor lamp is from Chase & Sorensen

A true labour of love. We hear you’re pretty handy with a power drill… did you do much of the work yourself?

Yes, everything from hanging the kitchen cupboards to building the wardrobe in the bedroom. And other smaller jobs, too, such as the runner on the stairs, which I made from a roll of old sacking, plus some of the curtains.

That’s impressive. What kind of vision did you have for the space?

I feel like it’s constantly changing, so the whole house has grown quite organically. One day, I feel like I want everything to look like an English country home, the next, I want to create a Danish-inspired modernist dream. I always lean towards a neutral palette though, which helps unite my conflicting tastes. And I tend to be drawn to classic pieces that won’t date, such as the Thonet chairs in the dining room.

 

Margot’s high chair sits at the head of the dining table, both are from Ikea. The vintage Thonet chairs are timeless addition to the space

 

The giant cheese plant has been in the family for quite some time

 

Sounds like a recipe for great style to us. What do you think has influenced your taste?

My mum is British and loves antiques, and my dad is Swedish; he has very simple, Scandinavian taste. I remember our dining room when I was a child, they had a white-and-chrome table with Bauhaus chairs, next to which was my mum’s Victorian carved wooden desk.

So you’re half Swedish, hence the cool surname. Did you live in Sweden growing up?

Yes, but I was born in Spain, in a town near the Portuguese border. We moved a lot for my dad’s work. When I was three, we returned home to Sweden, where I lived until I was nine, then we went to Kuala Lumpur for a few years. After that, we relocated to Lausanne in Switzerland, where my parents have lived ever since. 

 

Left: Sara found this 1960s pedestal desk on the street in Switzerland…. then there was just the small matter of getting it home. She made the curtain herself from vintage fabric found at Ardingly antiques fair, which had come from a Georgian manor house 
Right: The wooden table lamp was a charity shop find, the picture above it was from Kempton antiques market

 

A very international childhood! Did it affect how you feel about ‘home’, and what that means?

Moving around so much has definitely made my home, and my immediate surroundings, very important. It can be hard when you have to pack everything up and start again somewhere new, but if I can make a space feel safe and homely, then I feel a lot better. Even if I go and stay in a hotel, I often find myself reorganising things! 

That’s a great idea. We’ve seen many a hotel room that could do with some restyling. Do ever think about moving again? 

All the time. There are so many places I’d love to live. Top of my current list are Copenhagen and Paris, and maybe rural France one day. 

Rural France sounds like the dream. Would you like Margot to grow up in the countryside?

It’s a tricky one. I think living in a city exposes you to different cultures and helps to make you a well-rounded, open-minded person. However, there’s also something really lovely about kids being able to grow up close to nature and to learn to be content with the simpler things in life. Ideally, I’d like her experience a bit of both.

 

Upstairs, in the living room, the floorboards have been painted black to dramatic effect, while a coir rug adds warmth and texture. The sofa is from Bo Concept

 

Collected treasures and an abundance of greenery enliven the neutral interior

 

Right: Sara made the table lamp herself using an oversized glass bottle as a base; the yellow-painted metal table came from a flea market in France

 

Speaking of kids, how have you found juggling your work with being a mum?

Being freelance has helped a lot. But, I’ve also had to prioritise as I couldn’t be everything to everybody. We don’t live an extravagant lifestyle, and we chose to rein things in even tighter so I could be with Margot more over the last three years. I feel very fortunate to have had that time with her; she’s a great little person to hang out with

You’ve worked in interiors for much of your career, and must have seen a good few trends come and go. What do you think is the key to timeless style?

I’d say that it’s best not to follow trends, and maybe to look beyond the internet. Travel is a constant source of inspiration, as are interesting people and their homes. I also love dipping into old books and magazines. I used to have loads of copies of American Architectural Digest from the 80s, which were full of iconic interiors. Oh, and don’t be scared of white walls. People seem to have gone off neutrals of late, but they make a perfect canvas on which to build a look over time. 

 

Sara’s all-white kitchen is from Ikea. The builders installed the lower units and she hung the upper cupboards herself, which she then fitted with custom doors

 

We love a white wall. Do you have any tips for doing up a home on a budget?

Invest in a really good drill and don’t buy too much at the beginning. And keep your eyes peeled for roadside finds, I’ve acquired many a chair that way. Learning basic DIY skills also means you can update things yourself when needed, and getting the hang of a sewing machine allows you to take advantage of fabric sales.

Yes, your vintage curtains have had us thinking about signing up for sewing lessons. Any other styling advice you can share?

Sometimes, it can be as simple as moving around items that you already have. It sounds a bit odd, but occasionally I’ll just sit and contemplate a corner for a good length of time, and I’ll try to visualise how else it could look. Then suddenly, I’ll have a lightbulb moment and go pulling pieces from around the house to rearrange the space.

 

Galvanised by her sage advice, we drained our coffee cups and bid farewell to the lovely Sara, contemplating all the DIY disasters we could set in motion and keen to get home so we could start rearranging furniture. For those in the mood for more inspiration, you can have a snoop around other stylish homes here.

 

Left: Monte was too busy to pose for us, so here he is taking an afternoon nap in the laundry basket 
Right: Sara found the 1930s chest of drawers in the bedroom in a junk shop in Brick Lane. “It was the first piece of furniture we bought when Scuta and I moved in together, so it’s quite sentimental,” she says

 

Tess
Tess
Previous post
11 Oct, 2018 · 11 min read
A heritage of design: at home with journalist Rohini Wahi
18 Oct, 2018 · 11 min read
The bright side: hanging out with Simon Backhouse