"Pieces from America, Portugal, Italy and the UK hang side by side; etchings, illustrations, oil paintings and watercolours."
An empty property can often feel like a random collection of identikit rooms, no matter how well laid out they are or apparent their function. But little by little people manage to make the space theirs, and inspiration can come from anywhere: a nice view outside a particular window, a short get-a-way in an unfamiliar city, an old friend’s bedroom, and even the ambience of the neighbourhood. Eventually, lived-in spaces share a story.
The Peninsulist was lucky enough to be invited into the home of Alex Chen and Katherine Blaisdell, a couple who were so taken by the Peninsula, they bought a three-bed apartment within a couple of hours of first arriving here. They certainly know what they like.
Alex is an Independent Food and Beverage Consultant in design and development (and top chef), while Katherine is Senior Vice President of Design and Project Development for Belmond Ltd, which owns and operates luxury hotels, river cruise boats and trains world wide. So, they know a thing or two about design and entertaining then. Prior to London, they divided their home time between Dallas and Atlanta but the nature of their work means they both travel constantly to all four corners of the world.
The Living Room and Balcony
The extent of the couple’s travels is evident in their collection of art and artefacts, as well as their furniture and accessories. A carved stone dog from Cambodia sits beside a giraffe from South Africa and a Zebra from Botswana. There’s an intricately framed canvas that hails from Peru, nestled behind a twisted bit of driftwood picked up in Texas, while antique rugs inherited from Katherine’s grandmother add colour and warmth.
The whole apartment is a beautiful, eclectic blend. Not quite modern, but not traditional either, it manages to feel homey and well lived in—a space that holds a lot of shared experiences and memories. And yet the property is just a year old and Alex and Katherine have scarcely lived in it that long. What’s their secret?
Alex: “We’ve lived in many parts of the world and it’s very important to make home feel like home. You need to make it feel like it belongs to you.”
Katherine: “The key is I like a little bit of colour. And I don’t like to look at nothingness. So even in the bathroom there are prints and objects on display to lift the spirits. And every single piece – every little thing – has a story.”
Katherine is definitely the ideas person when it comes to their home: she plans and researches everything from layouts to furniture meticulously, leaving nothing to chance. And then Alex steps in and executes her vision with wit, flair and some brilliant lateral thinking, like using a wood-print wallpaper instead of real wood cladding to add texture and warmth in the dining area.
Alex: “We talk about what needs doing then Katherine goes off travelling for work and by the time she gets back the room is done.”
Katherine: “When I see our neighbours’ houses it always amazes me how all the homes look so unique.”
The Study and Stairwell
There’s no part of the apartment that hasn’t been carefully considered. Though compact, the study area has a strong presence, almost like a room within a room. The magnetic chalkboard paint delineates the space, giving a surface to write on while the chandelier illustration (drawn by Alex) is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the trompe l’ceil wallpaper that frames the dining area further along.
Alex: “I work in the study area in the evenings or on grey days, but when the sun’s shining I sit at the dining table so I can look out.”
Down the hall, Alex and Katherine have used the double-height ceiling of the stairwell to its full potential to display a range of the artwork they’ve collected over the years.
Pieces from America, Portugal, Italy and the UK hang side by side; etchings, illustrations, oil paintings and watercolours. Modern and traditional, abstract and still life. The common theme is that every piece means something to them. It’s a memory of a journey, a project, an experience. Something to make them smile and to lift their spirits.
Katherine: “We like to pick up something, however small, from everywhere we go.”
The Kitchen and Dining Room
When it comes to dining it’s all about Alex. Having been a professional chef, he loves nothing more than to put his skills to use when entertaining friends and family, and an invitation to dine chez Chens promises to be as delightfully surprising as it is delicious.
Alex: The heart of the home for us is definitely the kitchen. This is what we’ve learned from all the different places we’ve lived in.
Katherine: “Alex likes to go down to Borough Market early in the morning before the tourists, and take his time buying ingredients. But he never actually plans the menu until the very last minute.”
It’s clear that the key to Alex and Katherine’s success is that they play to each other’s strengths. Their design-savvy approach is bolstered by the confidence to try new things and to do it themselves. And their success is evident.
In just one year they’ve achieved what many of us couldn’t even imagine getting done in a decade: a house that feels very much like a home, filled with beautiful, and lovingly chosen and displayed, furniture, art and objects.
What’s really wonderful though is that everything they’ve done feels achievable, even by those of us who wouldn’t know a paint roller from a spirit level.
With thanks to Alex Chen and Katherine Blaisdell for letting The Peninsulist have a nose round their stunning home.