Furnishings: Of Goatskin and Men

<< Back to Robb Report, January 2004
  • Jenny Wilhide

It is not surprising that Lulu Lytle’s favorite color is eau de nil. The British furniture designer studied Egyptology, and, judging by the oasis of palm trees on her roof garden, she is clearly still fascinated by everything Egyptian. “The Nile is nothing like that color in reality, but I still love it,” she says, eyeing a piece of delicate blue-green goatskin draped across a large leather sofa.

Lytle and antiques dealer Christopher Hodsoll founded Soane in London in 1997 to meet clients’ requests for custom furniture and lighting designs. Their showroom at 50 Pimlico Road is a blend of unusual antiques, rare silver objects, bronze sculptures, and paintings that Hodsoll has amassed over the years, placed next to reproductions that Lytle’s craftsmen make in any size or material.

The tradition that infuses Lytle’s furniture re-creations hints at the masculine style of the 18th-century English country house. Each of her pieces, from the Cavaletti desk to the Truncated Column cupboard, exhibits a lack of fussiness and a strong, purposeful outline. You could imagine Lord Carnarvon in his tent at Luxor writing notes at the Cavaletti desk and feeling perfectly at home.

Lytle works closely with the world’s top interior designers—including Thierry Despont, Hugh Henry at David Mlinaric, Chester Jones, Jacques Grange, Alberto Pinto, and Jaime Parlade—who flock to the showroom for pieces to complete the sumptuous libraries and home offices they work on. Her specialty is rare woods that were used in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, particularly palm, ebony, and satinwood. “We stock up on veneers, and it’s wonderful but quite dangerous—I can’t stop buying them,” she says. Another material she often uses is goatskin. Ottomans and tables are covered in it; leather carpets are hand-sewn with it. “Goatskin is the only leather that wears well,” Lytle says. “The grain comes out the more it’s used, which gives it a lovely lived-in feel. We use vegetable pigment to dye it.”

Lytle’s enthusiasm for her materials is matched by her appreciation of craftsmanship. When she started Soane, she traveled around Britain seeking out cabinetmakers, upholsterers, blacksmiths, caners, reeders, and saddle makers, whose crafts were dying out. “There is no better quality than British made,” she says. “Our craftsmen are close by, so little changes can easily be made if things go wrong, and we couldn’t do that if they were abroad.”

Lytle lives with her husband and two small children in an apartment with pale oak floors, white mirrored walls, plenty of zebra skin, and eau de nil satin upholstery. “You can’t be too precious about things; they’re meant to be lived with,” she says. “My children have put Marmite smudges on my satin chairs. Actually, a Marmite-colored satin chair would be quite a good idea, come to think of it.”

Soane, +44.207.730.6400, www.soane.co.uk

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