William Samuels, who founded Chelsea-based luxury design and development firm Wilben with his twin brother Benjamin, reflects on how the two of them set about creating their own homes earlier this year.
For Benjamin and I, property development isn’t a hobby or simply a day job – it strikes to the core of who we are as brothers and is a passion that helps shape how we choose to organise our lives. We’ve developed homes across Prime London for all sorts of different people and tastes: from lateral apartments in Chelsea, where all the furniture was personally designed by us down to the last lampshade, to Belgravia townhouses with restored Georgian fireplaces and hand-crafted cornices.
But despite our confidence at developing pitch-perfect homes for others, designing them for ourselves still gave us pause for thought. The exercise made us consider both how we wanted to live (instead of merely “where”, as is the case when renting) and what interior styles really made us tick.
Benjamin has a young family; he wanted a space large enough to accommodate this that also possessed cosy communal spaces and so opted to renovate a substantial mews-style corner house on a tranquil street in South Kensington. He totally remodelled the property, crafting an open-plan family-size living area and a top-floor sun room complete with bespoke furniture, an electric fireplace and full-length skylight. Despite the room’s elegance, it’s a space that manages to effortlessly radiate homeliness and is Benjamin’s favourite place to spend time with his family.
Searching for a place my partner and I could live, I opted for a Chelsea townhouse a little smaller than Benjamin’s. As a designer, I favour harmony and balance, which I think stems from being quite a neat person by nature: I dislike confusion or excess. The layout I designed reflects this, with the bedrooms – or more personal areas – on the upper two floors, the formal living area and kitchen on the ground floor for day-to-day living and a more social dining space in the basement where I can unwind and host friends.
In terms of style, Benjamin is a big proponent of lateral living and sleek design styles. As a result, he transformed his property into a split-level home connected by a single staircase. A master bedroom occupies one level, the kitchen-dining room the next, the living room another and so on. This levelling maximises the property’s space, whilst also lending it an inventive tone Benjamin likes. His preference for elegant interior features that blend seamlessly into their surroundings is especially evident in the living area where the cupboards and fireplaces fuse with the wall, making the space feel uncluttered and understated.
I am more an advocate of traditional interior styling. I sought to create a home that harked back to a more elegant period of English design and one that is somewhat removed from the bustle of the surrounding area. Dado rails, marble flooring and oak bookcases achieve this effect, while a balanced colour scheme gives the space – like Benjamin’s home – a subtly urbane feel.
While Benjamin and I have our style differences, we have many fraternal similarities too. We both value natural light: Benjamin constructed his living room at the corner of the property, allowing for the creation of dual aspect windows that really open up the space, and provide a fantastic panorama of the road below. Equally, to prevent my basement becoming too dark (as some I’ve seen can be!), I installed a lightwell connected to the reception room window.
As avid movie watchers, we also quite like home cinema systems and installed them in both our basements. Tastefully done, they are a fun addition that complement other features which can be found in the basements of luxury homes, such as a massage room, dining room or, in Benjamin’s case, a wine room.
Homes give their owners an important sense of place and, in time, can become an extension of their character; I think designing our own homes reinforced this idea for us. Property isn’t just about money, it’s intrinsically bound up in how people live life: Benjamin and I are very pleased with both our bespoke projects and fully expect them to provide us with happy memories and the means to continue doing what we enjoy.
Words by: William Samuels
Co-founder and Director of Wilben Developments