Rutger's "Charming Hovel" in London

Rutger's "Charming Hovel" in London

Eleanor Büsing
Mar 9, 2012

Name: Rutger Hopster
Location: Camberwell Green, London, United Kingdom
Size: 570 square feet (effective standing area 430 square feet, due to sloping ceilings on all sides)
Years lived in: 1 year, rented

I feel a disclaimer is necessary here: it wasn't me who labelled this lovely home a "hovel". No, this was the protestation that Rutger, a friend of mine, made when I told him that I simply must share his London flat with Apartment Therapy readers. He thought the space was too small, too shabby and too packed with antiques to be of interest over here. We argued it out and luckily for all of you, I won.

To be fair to Rutger, he's used to slightly grander surroundings than I. During a career spent working for the European Commission in Brussels and the Foreign Office here in London, Rutger has seen the inside of buildings that few are ever permitted access to. Case in point: his desk in London looked directly onto the main entrance of 10 Downing Street.

Two years ago, growing weary of negotiating treaties, development aid and the like, Rutger decided to take a "design sabbatical" and follow his other passion for a while. He went back to school to study interior design and started his own company. With an appreciation of modern design, a love of antiques, and an enviable network of would-be clients, Rutger soon found himself working on projects in London, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Between all this jet-setting across Europe, Rutger has also found the time to transform his own flat. Behind an unassuming door next to a deli in South London, a breathtaking Georgian staircase winds its way up to his attic home, the inside of which is a celebration of all that is old, grand, quirky or forgotten.

With its sloping ceilings and narrow hallways, Rutger's home is light on space but heavy on atmosphere. Fascinating artworks lean against every wall (hanging space being a scarce commodity), a library's worth of books have been collected in the living room, and antique furniture and objets d'art are everywhere you look. After an hour spent photographing this space and hearing stories about the unique pieces which bring it to life, I was downright charmed.

If this is a hovel, sign me up.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Victorian and Scandinavian antiques and a few contemporary items. And clutter; a place has to look lived in. I have a habit of buying small pieces at antique markets and at auction houses.

Inspiration: American designer John Derian meets modern classics, meets Calke Abbey (the only National Trust house kept in a state of managed decay). I like items with a history, and don't mind if they are not totally practical. The contemporary twist is perhaps my upbringing in The Netherlands in the late sixties; it was all Pastoe at my parents' house. I now see their furniture in shops, and regret that I didn't keep the hand-me-downs I had as a student.

Favorite Element: Difficult. Maybe the Victorian mantel clock, which I bought for £50 at auction a few years ago; the faint ticking is wonderfully soothing. Or my 19th century sleigh bed, which I sleep on diagonally- it's the only way I'll fit, but I love it. Also, my collection of prints, paintings, lithographs of places I've lived. The collection has taken years to put together, and of course is ongoing. With so little wall space they tend to end up standing on the floor.

Biggest Challenge: Keep the place warm in winter; the windows are single-pane, the fireplace can't be closed, and I reckon there's no insulation under the roof.

What Friends Say: They love the flat: its quirkiness, its Englishness, its shabbiness. They are not so convinced about the sofa-less sitting room, though. The two I had from my old place didn't fit through the tiny front door, so I had to arrange to have them taken to my home in Brussels. I don't really miss the sofas; I sit on the floor most of the time, anyway.

Biggest Embarrassment: The guest room with a double bed, unpacked boxes, printer, bags, ironing board, etc. Wherever I live, there always seems to be a room full of left-overs. Guests have to put up with it.

Proudest DIY: Nothing in this place, really, as it is rented. You have to look on my website what I do to other people's places. I work as an interior designer and I do offer people my own handy support as well.

Biggest Indulgence: Collecting silver. Absolutely useless for my daily life; who needs an Art Deco inspired sugar caster? However, I find polishing very soothing.

Best Advice: Work out a color scheme and stick to it. Within the selected hues you can then have free range, but don't go too 'thematic'. For example, having curtains and cushions in the same fabric never looks good.

Dream Sources: Auction houses.

Resources of Note:


    • Table: Ikea
    • Benches: Muji
    • Stool: Vase by Philip Starck
    • Lamps: made out of candlesticks
    • Samovar: 19th century Russian, from Gallerie Moderne, Brussels


    • Rug: Ikea
    • Sideboard: Ikea
    • Leather chair: Poul Kjaerholm PK22 by Fritz Hansen
    • Low chair (black): Carlo Colombo Flip armchair and footstool (in bedroom as bedside table)
    • Antique chairs: Swedish, bought in Brussels
    • Painting (over chest of drawers): Lyngbakker Silkeborg, by Janus La Cour, Danish, 1882, from Klassik Moderne Mobelkunst, Copenhagen
    • Painting (over sideboard): Zebra by Nino Palavandishvili, Georgian, from artist
    • Mantle clock: Late Victorian, ebonised with brass and enamal dial, by Pearce & Co. of Leeds, from Criterion Auctioneers, London
    • Chinese pots: all from Compagnie de l'Orient et de la Chine, Brussels
    • Small statues: mainly from Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics


    • Sleigh bed (lit bateau): antique, from Brussels
    • Bedcover: made by myself
    • Lamp: Tolomeo by Artemide

Thanks, Rutger!

Images: Eleanor Büsing

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