At home with: Alison Cork

This TV presenter, author and entrepreneur eats, sleeps and breathes interiors. Naturally, her London townhouse is a masterclass in quirky glamorous décor.

Photography by Rahil Ahmad

Can you tell us a little bit about the property itself?
From the outside my home is fairly typical of central London – it’s a tall, mid-terrace late Georgian townhouse with sash windows. It used to be called Dolphin House when it was built and, amazingly, still has the original (extremely heavy) solid brass dolphin door knocker. Can you imagine, people have been using that to knock on the door for almost 200 years! Inside the house, the six floors are linked by a never ending wooden staircase with beautiful barley twist spindles. There are many original features including cornicing, tiled floors, old doors, fireplaces and even original wallpaper that must be 100 years old. I’ve kept all the period detail – it’s what gives the house its character.

How long have you lived here?
We’ve been here now for 12 years. I absolutely love the neighbourhood, which is very central, but still a real community with local shops and people I see and chat to every day. The church opposite is a real plus as it is so beautiful to look at – one of the finest Victorian churches in London. Until recently we were a family of four – my husband and two sons, but my elder son has just started uni, so it feels just a little bit quiet at the moment.

What are your non-negotiables when buying a home?
A combination of location and potential. The former is essential for protecting the value of your investment – and in London that will be a significant investment. The latter is about putting your stamp on a house. I simply couldn’t buy a turn key. Interiors for me are about creating a reflection of your personality, and that is unique.

How important is character to you? Period features, a sense of history?
I’ve always loved heritage and history. Sublime period architecture makes me go weak at the knees. I’m an absolute sucker for an English country house in a bucolic landscape. However, as time has gone on, I’ve also come to appreciate some modern architecture and I wouldn’t be averse to living in a modern home – so long as I had a period back up in the country! Parallel to this I’ve also developed a love of modern art. Maybe it’s to do with growing older.

How would you describe your interiors style?
I’ve focused a lot on colour. It is so evocative of mood and personality. Again, I couldn’t live in a monochrome house. That’s too one dimensional for me. I would say my style is elegant, a bit quirky and with a strong hint of heritage. You’ll find gold dodo tealight holders next to giant wire ‘ghost’ chandeliers in my house.

Tell us about some of your favourite pieces
My absolute favourite is my cocktail cabinet. It was an unloved piece of brown furniture and I asked an artist friend to paint it flamingo pink gloss on the inside and gold on the outside, with a cartoon dalmatian for good measure. It gives me joy every time I walk past it, and surely that’s the best compliment one could pay to a piece of furniture! It’s also seen a fair few cracking parties.

How did the look come about?
It was a pent up explosion of creativity! We’d been renting for several years and I was desperate to have my own home. When we moved in I had a hundred and one ideas as to what to do with the house, and to be honest, it just all came out in one big creative splurge. I knew I wanted it to be luxurious, quirky, warm, personal and colourful, and I think it’s all of those things. I’m happy to mix new with old, expensive with skip finds, and I am a very spontaneous shopper – I know it when I see it.

Talk us through the use of colour and texture
Every area has its own colour scheme – that may sound a bit of a dog’s dinner, but I think it works! The front door is a dramatic squid ink, to give a hint of what’s inside. The entrance hall is a slightly moody shade of stormy green-grey to complement one of my favourite paintings. The kitchen is bright white to maximise on space, while the sitting room is tarragon green with a gold wash, punctuated with pink and grape coloured velvets and lots of burnished gold. My bedroom is a murky lilac, which I’ve nicknamed slutty mauve! And the master bathroom is in cool greys and whites with a black rubber floor and toning wall mosaic.

And lighting – how do you create a homely atmosphere?
I love a bit of drama and so have a couple of standout chandeliers – one in the light well, which is a ‘ghost’ made of white wire, and a more traditional 15 bulb crystal chandelier in the dining room. But I rely much more on side lights, candles (both LED and real) and other light sources such as the pre-lit mercury glass ornaments from my QVC range, which are lovely to look at beyond providing light. It’s all about soft light and mood lighting, as opposed to harsh overhead lights. All of my lights are on dimmers.

Which interiors brands are your favourites?
In truth, I’m not very brand-led. It’s more about character and fit. That said, I’ll always invest in a good sofa and highly rate Collins & Hayes. I also love Paint & Paper Library, the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour is a constant inspiration, and shops like Nina Campbell and Joanna Wood always have something interesting. But you’d be missing out if you didn’t also take a look at the high street interiors offerings from H&M and Primark – they’ve totally changed the affordable interiors landscape.

What’s next for you and Alison at Home?
There’s a lot on the horizon, I’m pleased to say in these challenging times. I love working on my Alison at Home range for QVC and am absolutely delighted to be launching in America in 2021. The thought of taking the aesthetic to QVC Stateside is really thrilling. My own online collection will also be growing next year, with a lot more garden furniture. And outside of interiors, I’m the Ambassador for the British Library Business & IP Centre and I’m passionate about promoting start-ups, never more important than now. I also run my not for profit Make it Your Business and we’re planning a national event next year for female-led businesses. Life is full! But you have to keep working at it.