Out of This World
By Jeanie Pyun
Photographed by Elizabeth Zeschin
For her bohemian London townhouse, former X-Files star Gillian Anderson artfully mixes treasures from places far-flung with a daring, colorful palette.
When planning her new London home, Gillian Anderson began with a bold, painterly vision. "I had this idea of many colors, with ragged edges here and there, a kind of used feel," says the former star of The X-Files, who's currently co-producing a movie based on the novel Veronika Decides to Die, by Paulo Coelho. She then filled the house with bright, cozy objects from all over the globe to counteract London's notoriously gloomy climate. "It's nice to be warm and encased when you're inside, since it's very damp here," she says.
As Anderson gives a tour of her multihued, multicultural townhouse in the city's Notting Hill neighborhood, she's dressed all in black, from her embroidered blouse to her casual pants and macramé platforms. Her reddish-blond hair is pulled up into a weekend ponytail, freckles dust her skin, and there's no trace of the gaze she used with laserlike precision as Agent Dana Scully. Instead, her blue eyes are animated as she discusses one of her favorite projects of the past year: the creation of a home that reflects the vitality of the surrounding neighborhood while integrating pieces from her travels around the world.
It began with a big life change. The X-Files ended in 2002, and Anderson, who lived in London from the age of 2 to 11, had always vowed she would return to live in the city as an adult. "I usually spend summers here," she says. "One night last year I was on my way to see my father and happened upon a photo in a real estate agent's window. They had the keys. It was the right price and the right kind of space."
What she saw when she ventured into the glam-yet-gritty neighborhood was a typical London brick-and-stone rowhouse from the thirties. The graffiti-adorned exterior hid a surprisingly large five-floor residence. At the core is a stairway, from which extend 11 rooms, including three bedrooms and three bathrooms, plus two outdoor terraces. The first floor -- which sits atop a modern-style basement apartment used by Anderson's mother when she comes to visit -- consists of a home office displaying art by Francesco Clemente and Darren Waterson. On the second floor is the first of two landings, which leads to Anderson's vaudevillian bedroom, the master bathroom and a Moroccan terrace. Another floor up, the living room exudes Anglo-Indian sophistication, while next door a bedroom with a striking interplay of photography, African pillows and a canopied bed awaits 9-year-old daughter Piper's return from school in Vancouver, British Columbia (Piper's father is X-Files art director Clyde Klotz, from whom Anderson was divorced in 1997.) On the floor above is the second landing and a wood-slatted deck. Finally, the top-floor kitchen is connected by folding stained-glass windows to a room that Anderson made into a Moroccan den.
The house, with its cozy corners, is the perfect place for Anderson to entertain with her fiancé, British journalist Julian Ozanne. "There are lots of rooms to disappear into and have conversations in," she says. "And there's the kitchen, where everyone always ends up anyway."
After buying the house, Anderson returned to L.A. She owns a home in Malibu, which she describes as having "white walls, high ceilings and art." Her third house is in Vancouver, where The X-Files was shot: "It has a kind of East Coast cottage feel, with small rooms and knickknacks."
To facilitate her vision for the townhouse while she was stateside, Anderson hired London consultant Christine Kennedy, whom she met through a mutual acquaintance. The actress says she asked Kennedy, "I'm going to design the house, but could you be available so that I can call and say, 'OK, I saw this. Can you locate it?" Anderson began sending Kennedy decorating directions by e-mail and reference materials in overnight packages. A partner in the firm Kennedy Marks (which also has a Los Angeles office), Kennedy collaborated with Anderson on a design process that took seven months -- and was complete by the time Anderson returned to star in What the Night is For on the London stage. "We had to work quickly and finish before Gillian started rehearsals," says Kennedy. "The most frustrating part was having to wait for approval from the electricity board to move some meters. That held us up terrifically."
And because the house was built before modern standards, "nothing was regular about it," from the room heights to the window sizes, Kennedy explains. "Everything had to be customized, including installing removable glass landings [which builder Joseph Bentkowski did] in order to winch up appliances and furniture through the house." Treasured among the innovations were antique stained-glass windows that were specially fitted for the living room (they also happened to sport the initials "G.A."). "They give privacy," says Kennedy, " and daylight brings singing color in." The windows are typical of Anderson's choices. "Gillian has an eye for the unusual and isn't afraid to get it," Kennedy says. "She knows what she wants."
Anderson's strong aesthetic sense carried over into selecting furniture and choosing paint colors -- which resulted in an inky accent wall in the living room, a glossy red kitchen, and hand-printed floral patterns in the master bedroom, all done by painter Curtis Bran. "The best part was roaming around Notting Hill and London with Gillian finding things for the house like the amusement-park-style headboard for her bedroom, which made us both go 'Ah!'" says Kennedy. Between shopping throughout Portobello Road's international bazaar and pulling out of storage furniture and art that Anderson had collected over the years, there was a rich assortment of color and culture. Black-and-white photographs by Elisabeth Sunday commemorate the safari trip that Ozanne arranged for Anderson, and a blown-up old map of Africa covers the walls of her fifth-floor bathroom. A huge stone Indonesian head purchased during the filming of The X-Files in Vancouver watches over Anderson's office, while statues of an elephant from Africa, a painted saint from San Francisco, and a large wooden lion from a London antiques shop sit on the living room shelves.
There's only one extraterrestrial reference: a tiny alien doll in the actress's office. Nonetheless, she described having a kind of extrasensory perception. "I am very, very sensitive, from the moment I walk into a house. For the place we rented in Vancouver," where she lived with her then husband, "there was a bad feeling, and we brought in a medicine man. It helped, but it didn't really clear it up, and we had to get out." In her current home the mood is happy. "Even Piper can feel it," she says. Surrounded by her family and friends, art and color, and totems of comfort and luxury, Anderson has everything she needs to withstand even the chilliest of London days.
Working a Multiculti Mix
Anderson's London interior designer, Christine Kennedy, advises, "When mixing items, the trick is to go for it -- and then edit." She adds, "It works better with a vivid color on the walls. That's simpler to change than a large object that seemed OK after a glass of wine but may seem obnoxious to live with as the weeks pass!" A few other things to keep in mind:
- Practice patience. "Don't just buy something because you have to fill in a blank -- you'll regret it later," says Kennedy. "Wait until you see something truly fantastic."
- Start with one look "family." Whether your foundation is mid-century modern or rustic Americana, it should have clean lines so you can layer in pieces from other countries. In Anderson's living room most of the main elements, such as her Knole sofa, are English. By adding Moroccan panels and an Indian elephant table, she made the room exotic.
- Only the passport knows. Anderson has been to Bali and parts of Africa, but she has never set foot in Morocco. Still, pieces she admires from there are mixed in with true souvenirs throughout her home.
- Play with color. "I like a color to be mirrored in another part of a room," says Anderson. "I bought a pink tea cozy for the kitchen to balance out the shock of the pink linen sofa."
- With art, go with your gut. "Sometimes there is a provacative element that stirs a feeling," says Anderson. "Sometimes you've simply never seen anything like it before."
Transcript courtesy of InStyle Home Magazine.