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Remaking History

London textile and antiques dealer Christopher Hodsoll is at home with the past in his flat in Warwick Square.

Christopher Hodsoll’s flat in Warwick Square is rather grand. Everything in it is chunky and faded and satisfying: big comfortable chairs upholstered in worn sienna red leather, large oak bookcases with plaster busts on the shelves and rings from glasses on the wood, huge paneled double doors to every room, and enormous time-misted mirrors over the fireplaces, reflecting everything – including yourself – as though through the haze of memory.

Hodsoll is not unlike his furnishings – easygoing, overstuffed, comfortable, but visibly aware of his impressive station. The owner of Bennison, the antiques shop on Pimlico Road where Geoffrey Bennison delivered his definitive judgments on British grandeur for almost twenty years, as well as Hodsoll McKenzie Cloths, a textile shop just down the street, Hodsoll regularly resorts to the word “cozy” to characterize both his shops and his apartment. It is not a word that springs immediately to mind to describe rooms with twenty-foot ceilings, fireplaces larger than many London kitchens, and desks with tops the size of skating rinks. And yet it is not an inapposite word. The effect of these rooms is human and intimate even when they seem to ooze history from their vast surfaces; one understands how Hodsoll and Sarah Bradley, with whom he lives, can let their two-year-old daughter, Georgiana, run merrily through their elegant apartment.

When Hodsoll bought the flat, it was, except for the bedroom, a shell. All the period details have been restored, reconstructed, or imported. The fireplaces are old ones, but they came from a dealer; the doors are old ones, but the doorframes were built to suit them. The ceiling moldings were made to Hodsoll’s own design, a series of discs on a flat ground below a simple cove, as though someone had glued a row of giant M&M’s around the top of the room and painted them white. The motif of the disc recurs everywhere. There are ebonized circles at the corners of the doorframes and rosettes at the corners of the Victorian fireplace in the dining room. Three round dots, like an ellipsis, run across the backs of the reproduction dining chairs. The disc is echoed more subtly by the orb on Atlas’s shoulders in the entrance hall, by the globe and the round mirror in the drawing room, and by circular end tables everywhere. The shape is an emblem of fullness and balance, and fullness and balance are hallmarks of the place.

The entrance hall – “an out-and-out rip-off of the Soane Museum,” says Hodsoll – is painted sienna red and covered in architectural fragments. These are mostly nineteenth-century plaster casts of ancient details – the capital of a pilaster here, the toe of a caryatid there, a nose or a bracket or a piece of a frieze in studied contrast to an acanthus leaf or a lion’s paw. At the center of the room is an inlaid table, and in one corner the brooding figure of Atlas, his shoulders hunched forward and the world balanced in the crook of his neck. The hall is at the center of a radiant plan: the drawing room, bedroom, dining room, kitchen, and a guest bathroom are all accessible from it.

In the drawing room, the walls have been hand-stenciled in a giant pattern of the flocked wallpaper/Victorian brocade variety, but this has been done in golden yellow on cream, pigments brought back from Morocco, and it is part of why the room, for all its heavy furnishings, is so appealing. It has the breath of history upon it but is never too formal, never oppressive. The bookcases are devoid of books and full of Victorian quiddity: a collection of crystals mounted on a wooden stand, a blowfish preserved by some miracle of nineteenth-century science, a marble miniature of the Arch of Constantine brought back from a grand tour. There are quasi-ancient vases with big handles and narrow necks and there are lumps of coral and there are shells. An albino mole is taxidermized in a box with a tuft of grass and a little panorama. It’s like a cross between a Wunderkammer and a child’s fantasy, a combination of the exotic and the bizarre.

The dining room is marginally more restrained. Here the bookcases are full of books, but there all manner of items piled on the mantel. The table, made by Robert Jupe in the mid-nineteenth century, is a massive oaken number that can extend to seat fifty. We had lunch in the dining room, served on big plates, the silver weighty and satisfying to hold, the cut-glass goblets helping the pale yellow wine refract afternoon light from the Warwick Square gardens into prismatic rainbows. Along the length of the dining room and the drawing room there is a balcony on which Hodsoll has set up a table and some chairs. “On summer evenings, we eat outside and look in,” he explains. From inside, the tossing branches of blossoming trees look like a postcard; from outside, the massive interior looks like an engraving. Both spaces are enticing – the luxury is knowing how easy it is to move from one to the other.

Everything in the bedroom is simpler except the ceiling molding and cornice rose, the only bits of the original plasterwork to survive. These are baroque in the extreme, but they do not detract from the overall effect of restraint and austerity. The walls are unpainted plaster, the uneven hue of what has been lately stripped. The room is dominated by a wardrobe that could easily contain a lion, a witch, and the better part of a magical kingdom. There isn’t a single built-in bookcase or closet – “I hate built-in furniture,” says Hodsoll. The curtains are of heavy silk velvet brocade – the fabric, in fact, from which the stenciled pattern on the drawing room walls was copied – but the bed has a simple white linen duvet. The bathroom is made not of tiles but of enormous slabs of white Carrara sculpting marble, the spirit of its modernity in keeping with the rest of the flat.

“Cozy,” says Christopher Hodsoll from one of the great red leather sofas in the drawing room. And so perhaps it is. Certainly it is the case that the prospect of standing up again grows steadily less appealing as you site in your own red leather chair, running a meditative hand across the faded and crackled patches where its arm joins its back.