In London, the white stucco terraces of South Kensington still hold a quaint magic. Time unfolds at a slower pace among the garden squares—their lofty trees still looking down on benches, leaves drifting onto the glinting gold of the Albert Memorial. It is a very different world from the electric hustle of Manhattan, where interior designer Leonora Hamill and her husband, Hugh Barker, lived for six years before making the leap in 2019. But after chancing upon the ideal apartment—high above the tree line—while scouring the internet, she has not looked back. Signing the lease from afar, without ever having stepped inside, Hamill set about creating a richly layered sanctuary for her growing family.
“I am a homing pigeon,” notes Hamill, who grew up in London until the age of nine, recalling wistfully, “There was this alabaster-white square I had adored since I was a little girl.” She is seated at her dining table, surrounded by an array of decorative treasures: a wall-mounted Indonesian batik panel found at Belgravia’s Joss Graham gallery, an Art Deco chandelier from Turin, and a late-19th-century Scottish cabinet in the style of Napoleon III, to name but a few. Topped with Wedgwood china and Italian Art Nouveau glasses, the Cabana tablecloth was a gift from her close friend Martina Mondadori. (“She instinctively understands my style,” says Hamill.) Even on the dreariest of days, the duplex is flooded with brightness.
“It was the dining room that besotted us,” Hamill reflects of the well-proportioned space, distinguished by its simple chimneypiece, now stuffed with books. “We can actually have proper dinner parties and give it a sense of theater.” A sinuous staircase forms the core of the apartment, lending scale and drama, even when littered with four-year-old Sebastian’s toys. (The couple recently welcomed their second son, Maximilian.) Double reception rooms called for some romance, so Hamill brought in the Paris-based decorative painters Lionel Bourcelot and Marine Caillé of Atelier Kerien, who transformed the walls in striking shades of pink and terra-cotta, their brushstrokes revealing the “subtle movement I so wanted.”
Everywhere are reminders of the couple’s peripatetic backgrounds. Braquenié curtains inherited from Hamill’s mother adorn the living room windows while a salmon-colored sofa tumbles with cushions fashioned from vintage Japanese silks and gold liturgical vestments. Hamill delights in describing provenances of the objects around the room, from Chinese eglomise chargers and Vietnamese basketwork to Kashmiri papier-mâché letter openers and panels of Iroquois beadwork.
A love of craft and a deep respect for cultural traditions have long shaped Hamill’s worldview. Her teenage years in Paris (“visiting every museum under the sun” and “getting up at dawn to trawl for treasures at Les Puces”) were a natural conduit to studying the history of art at the Courtauld Institute and Italian Renaissance painting at Oxford. A formative stint in Milan, where she dedicated herself to her fine-art practice in photography, ignited an appreciation for midcentury furniture and, more pivotally, a passion for textiles.
Those obsessions are now revealing themselves in Hamill’s current slate of design projects, which range from a town house on New York’s Upper West Side—for which she is working with rising-star landscape designer Grace Fuller Marroquin and AD100 leading light Elizabeth Roberts—to a Gothic Revival brownstone in Park Slope, a collaboration with MADE architects. Back in London, meanwhile, she is “refreshing” a home in Chester Square. For this charismatic designer, farther horizons beckon.