Join Porta Romana’s co-founder and Creative Director, Andrew Hills as he takes over our Instagram for 31 days to give you exclusive behind the scenes access to his beautiful home in Hampshire.
In the Summer of 2018, I became Creative Director at Porta Romana. I forced them to let me do it. Although Sarah and I had founded the business in 1988, she and I had always been a team and we’d always worked on our designs together. This was the first time that I was to have sole creative responsibility, and I was very excited. The truth is that even though Sarah had now returned to her proper calling of being a painter, I hoped that she was always going to help me, and I knew her opinions were always going to be invaluable to me. Nevertheless, I was now in charge, and I needn’t tell anyone about my secret weapon! I was really looking forward to it, and Bohème was my first collection.
For the next thirty one days, I’m going to take over our Instagram, and I want to use the time to explain what my job involves, to tell you about what I like and don’t like, and to explain in pictures, how we have used all of the Porta Romana pieces that we most love to decorate our own home in Hampshire, Holyrood House. After that, although she doesn’t know it yet, I’m going to persuade Sarah to do the same thing for seven days, taking us on a tour of the Garden.
Photo credit: Michael Sinclair, House & Garden Magazine
In February 2010 we bought Holyrood House, a crumbling vicarage surrounded by farmland in the part of Hampshire where we had lived for almost ten years. From some angles it was a beautiful house, but after 18 months and the efforts of three different architects who had tried to re-model it, it was agreed that we would carefully dismantle the old house and start again.
We lovingly set aside the brickwork and conserved the existing timbers; the old slates were piled up and we collated all the blocks of dismantled Malmstone. Over the course of the next two years we built the house all over again, on the same site, to the wish list that we had drawn up over twenty years of playing Grand Designs together.
To avoid fights, we separated out responsibility for the house from the garden, and in November 2013 we moved in with three children, Arnold the dog and Harry’s tortoise George.
Decorating your own house is a big help when you’re trying to develop a sense of scale, material and style for lighting designs. A lot of decorators talk about how much harder it is for them to put together ideas for their own homes because they feel under more pressure than normal. That’s why it can be good to spread the load and share the strain.
Many of our designs are a real collaboration and we rely heavily on the input of our Makers, sometimes, they just do all the work for us! In the case of the Adam lamp, pictured here in one of the bedrooms at Holyrood, this design was a gift to us from our long-term collaborator Adam Aaronson, a genius glassblower and a good friend who we’ve known for around 25 years.
These classic ‘country house’ greens all work so well together, and I feel they deliver one of the most elusive gifts in interiors; a sense of timelessness.
In our industry we share a sense of love for anything hand made. If you have an old piece of hand thrown pottery sitting on your mantelpiece, it has a kind of force field around it, and it emits its own energy. Once you know that feeling, it’s very difficult to feel the same love for anything mass produced… and this becomes our curse!
I love all three pieces in this image: the bronze sculpture of a woman undressing, the painting by Ivon Hitchens with its casually confident brushstrokes, and the Boublé lamp with running green and brown reactive glazes. Whenever you look at these pieces, or touch them, you are reminded of their history and how they came into existence through the touch of another hand.
As we make almost all of our lampshades at Northbrook (our workshop for around fifteen years) we use hundreds of different fabric colours and linings. That helps enormously in creating a harmonious colour balance amongst a group of objects like these.
I’m telling them through this post, that I’m unbelievably proud of all three of my children. In the background of this photograph is one of the large-scale abstract paintings by our daughter Maddie Rose Hills. This picture makes me think of the power and scale of the Universe. ‘Zoom out’ is a good motto when a problem feels too overwhelming and manageable. This picture is a good reminder of how far we can pull back.
Many of our lamp bases are sculptures really, and they can make a strong statement in a room. But they don’t always have to be like that. Here, with the vivid dynamic of Maddie’s painting behind it, the simplicity of the ceramic Sybil lamp in a Black glaze works very well as a quiet and beautiful silhouette.
We named our son Laurie after the writer Laurie Lee. He makes the most beautiful films. During Lockdown I was able to kidnap him for a few days, and he has taken all the still photographs for this series. As he’s a film fanatic we watched a film for almost every day that he was home, and he still hasn’t been able to knock The Godfather films off their perch as my favourites.
I love the story despite it’s tragedy, and to me the compositions of every scene are amongst the most beautiful on film. When we moved into Holyrood I wanted to have a Study with the same character as Vito Corleone’s. I envisioned a dark room full of books, dramatically lit and punctuated by a few highlights of colour.
All the bookcases are painted black and the only other finish is the dark American Walnut that we used for the shutters and the doors. At the building stage, all the doors in the house arrived unfinished and they were immediately shipped to Bruce Sedgwick. In a few weeks he gave them years of wear with a selection of hand tools that he’d crafted especially for this work. He painted all the doors black, and then removed almost all of the paint, just leaving the colour that had seeped into the grain. He then French polished them to his own recipe, cursing us all the time for the work. Hardly anyone who comes into the house fails to mention just how beautiful they are.
There are a few details in the room that are in polished brass or gold leaf, the lighting and the door pulls for example, the Miro Pumpkin Chandelier is a Porta Romana piece that I designed in 2013, and it’s still a firm favourite of mine. The Small Covex wall lights were designed by Gareth Devonald Smith.