this-lively-east-london-loft-is-a-piece-of-feminist-history

This Lively East London Loft Is a Piece of Feminist History

Lawrence Brand and Sophie Williams stand in front of their double-height library with a reclaimed wood ladder found on eBay.

Lawrence Brand and Sophie Williams stand in front of their double-height library with a reclaimed wood ladder found on eBay.

Veerle Evens

The night Sophie Williams and Lawrence Brand got the keys to their flat, a loft in the Bow Quarter of East London, they decided to celebrate by tearing up the floors. A little back story: It was October 2019 and Sophie, an anti-racism speaker and activist, had that very night met with the publisher of what would become her first book deal. A few hours later, she and her partner Lawrence, a digital marketer, were surveying the first home they’d purchased together. Sitting on the floor, a little drunk on Prosecco and good news, they decided to embark upon another first: A home renovation.

Sophie says of the decision to go all in on day one, “I think largely because we wanted to see how hard it was.” She continues, “Neither of us had ever owned a place before, and we were just like, What is this like? How does this go?” Lawrence adds, “I think maybe we just had a lot of pent up desire to renovate.” And so, in their first task, the outdated wood laminate floors came up. This was one of the easier DIY projects the couple would embark upon over the course of the next two years.

The couple mixed gold epoxy with the original factory floors for a kintsugi effect. Despite supply chain issues and contracting snags due to COVID and Brexit, Sophie now calls the kitchen one of her favorite parts of the home. IKEA cabinets, a Smeg range, and a Rancilio espresso machine outfit the space.

The couple mixed gold epoxy with the original factory floors for a kintsugi effect. Despite supply chain issues and contracting snags due to COVID and Brexit, Sophie now calls the kitchen one of her favorite parts of the home. IKEA cabinets, a Smeg range, and a Rancilio espresso machine outfit the space.

Veerle Evens

The beloved kitchen pegboard includes keepsakes like terra-cotta pots made by Lawrence, a Sous Chef cast iron pan, a hand brush from Thailand, and a speckled mug from Hackney City Farm’s reject pile. “It has ‘Ugly Mug’ scratched into the bottom,” Sophie says. “The person who made it never came back to collect it.”

The beloved kitchen pegboard includes keepsakes like terra-cotta pots made by Lawrence, a Sous Chef cast iron pan, a hand brush from Thailand, and a speckled mug from Hackney City Farm’s reject pile. “It has ‘Ugly Mug’ scratched into the bottom,” Sophie says. “The person who made it never came back to collect it.”

Veerle Evens

No ordinary home to begin with, the building where the apartment is located was the site of the 1888 Match Girls’ Strike—where more than 1,400 women took to the streets and protested the abhorrent working conditions at the Bryant and May Match factory. The strike was successful as the workers’ demands were met. One hundred years later, the building was converted for residential use and marketed as “New York-style living” in East London.

“I think it was like a London ’80s idea of what New York life might be like,” Sophie says and then laughs. “In the original brochure [for the building], there’s someone getting into a yellow taxi cab, which we don’t have here. There’s someone else just playing their mini saxophone while their wife lounges on the sofa. You know, Manhattan life.”

Pictured in the bookshelf are Anti-Racist Ally and Millennial Black, both written by Sophie, as well as Art of Feminism by Helena Reckitt and Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham. The wicker basket is from Anthropologie.

Veerle Evens

Looking to recreate a sunken conversation pit, the couple bought this IKEA sofa, which Sophie says can be customized as they did “if you ignore what the IKEA configurator says you can’t do.” A Matalan lamp, H&M Home rug, and John Lewis plant stand complete the space.

Looking to recreate a sunken conversation pit, the couple bought this IKEA sofa, which Sophie says can be customized as they did “if you ignore what the IKEA configurator says you can’t do.” A Matalan lamp, H&M Home rug, and John Lewis plant stand complete the space.

Veerle Evens

Needless to say, the apartment was also full of what Sophie politely called “some quite strange design decisions” including a hefty dose of crystal chandeliers, flocked wallpaper, and a few confusing layout choices. Being a historically significant space, they had to have all renovation plans approved before they could move forward with any major changes.

Although ripping up the wood laminate a few months earlier had led to a happy discovery—the original factory floors—soon after the couple moved in the perfect storm of COVID and Brexit led to both supply chain challenges and labor stoppages that put a halt on their carefully laid out plans. But a lockdown spent staring at their yet-to-be-updated walls reignited the renovation bug. Sophie and Lawrence decided to renovate their own bathroom—all while Sophie was writing book number one.

One of the larger projects of the renovation was the new office space, carved from what had previously been the open bedroom in the loft space. Pictured here are a Flexispot standing desk and a desk calendar by Lawrence.

One of the larger projects of the renovation was the new office space, carved from what had previously been the open bedroom in the loft space. Pictured here are a Flexispot standing desk and a desk calendar by Lawrence.

Veerle Evens

“It turns out—if you’re wondering—that pulling tile off a wall is harder than you think,” Sophie quips, “but taking the wall down is easier than you think. We tried to just take down tiles, but that actually took down the whole wall. The tile was stuck to the wall harder than the wall was stuck to itself.”

After several months spent with a semi-functional bathroom, Sophie and Lawrence decided to leave the rest of the big projects to the contractors. The workers fixed the bathroom, added an enclosed office space to the upstairs mezzanine for a more cohesive work-from-home situation, and installed the new kitchen.

The open living room and lofted kitchen area are lined in Ultra Blue by Little Greene. The couple found the sideboard several years ago on the street when they were roommates in North London and carried it back to their then home.

The open living room and lofted kitchen area are lined in Ultra Blue by Little Greene. The couple found the sideboard several years ago on the street when they were roommates in North London and carried it back to their then home.

Veerle Evens

Anyone who has tried to DIY might understand the change of heart. “During this process I’ve sold two books, I got a new job, and Lawrence got a new job,” Sophie explains. “In the beginning we said, We’re going to do this ourselves. We’re going to save all this money, we’re going to buy everything secondhand, it’s going to be great. Then, by the end, we were like, Get people, pay people, bring them here!”

But the DIY spirit remains with these two. Once the builders finished with the heavy lifting, Sophie and Lawrence put on the finishing touches. They installed new light fixtures, laid gold epoxy resin in the kitchen floor, and hand-painted the bathroom cabinet. They also took their rebellious streak to the IKEA sofa configurator and customized their own couch design, achieved after, as Sophie describes it, “all rules [were] broken.” The space was also an opportunity to bring together the pieces they’d carried with them from home to home as flatmates and now, as a homeowning couple.

After a few renovation missteps that led to Sophie and Lawrence living sans fully functioning shower for a few months, the bathroom is now picture-perfect. The sink and cabinet were found on eBay. The Mid Azure cabinet color is by Little Greene, and the yellow wall color is Lemon Burst by Wilko.

After a few renovation missteps that led to Sophie and Lawrence living sans fully functioning shower for a few months, the bathroom is now picture-perfect. The sink and cabinet were found on eBay. The Mid Azure cabinet color is by Little Greene, and the yellow wall color is Lemon Burst by Wilko.

Veerle Evens

Their last project was also Lawrence’s favorite, the Yves Klein-inspired trim, a shade called Ultra Blue by Little Greene. Nearly two years to the day they picked up the keys (and the floorboards), the bold color outlines the kitchen and the lofted space. “The Ultra Blue was one of the first things we started, and, strangely, one of the last things we finished,” he says. “So it’s like it has bookended the whole project. It just ties a lot of the house together.”

Several volumes of Sophie’s work can be seen in the upstairs office. A Kit-Cat clock and vintage stationery from Present & Correct adorn the walls.

Several volumes of Sophie’s work can be seen in the upstairs office. A Kit-Cat clock and vintage stationery from Present & Correct adorn the walls.

Veerle Evens

The couple’s bedroom features a painting by Sophie, a Wayfair bed, and a coverlet from Anthropologie. The side tables were carted home from Paris on a Eurostar.

The couple’s bedroom features a painting by Sophie, a Wayfair bed, and a coverlet from Anthropologie. The side tables were carted home from Paris on a Eurostar.

Veerle Evens

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest