Wry Society: The designer du jour

The glossies’ guru of grand interiors is notorious for her mega-markups. But when she takes on her colourist as a client, there’s a hair-raising price to pay...

Image: Phildisley.com

Marella Crespini stood between the drawing room’s towering sash windows in her cardinal-red felt Comme des Garçons dress, backlit by the celestial sunrays streaming in around her. She closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath, like a zen monk going into a profound meditation. With one head-clearing, eye-cleansing exhale, she was ready to take in the full effect of her latest project – the complete remodel of an early-Georgian, double-fronted townhouse tucked away in a corner of Battersea on the banks of the Thames. 

She’d stripped out the baroque hall, revealing an early-18th-century, William Kent, carved-marble Palladian fireplace; restored the original panelling, ornate cornicing and sublime plasterwork; and then painted everything in-between in custom Edward Bulmer paints in her signature dusty-heritage tones. She’d sourced a stunning pair of shimmering mother-of-pearl chandeliers, installed velvet sofas and soothing cashmere throws, and commissioned magnificent bespoke murals for a verdant garden room complete with vertiginous palms. It was, of course, an exquisitely beautiful interior. 

For Marella, 5,000sq ft was small fry compared to the estates on the Côte d’Azur, super-size ski chalets in Klosters, Gstaad or St Moritz and Park Avenue apartments she was used to – where seven-figure budgets were de rigueur. She hadn’t dabbled with tiny townhouses or modest budgets for almost two decades and certainly didn’t go South Of The River. Francesca, the owner, had begged and waited patiently for two years. More importantly, she was the only colourist in Mayfair trusted with Marella’s crowning glory – the silky raven tresses that were her absolute pride and joy.

Image was everything to Marella since she became the interior designer du jour, hailed by glossies as the high priestess of the new quietly grand and ludicrously luxe interior. She was the one designer guaranteed to pinpoint the perfect accent piece for any home. A pink Ettore Sottsass mirror for a whimsical modern bathroom? The perfect Picasso sketch to pull an ornate fireplace into focus? The most dazzling Brazilian modern chaise for a beautifully lit but moody corner? Old and new, grand and humble, haute and folk: it was what Marella had christened The Mix – her capricious and precocious talent for plucking the most exquisite decorative antiques from any time and genre and placing them in a pitch-perfect mise en scène. It had won her a dizzying roll-call of private clients, all desperate for her to transform their own characterless spaces with her decorating fairy dust.

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But as her ego and reputation swelled, so too did her invoices; even the highest of net worth had begun to balk at Marella’s bullish bills. Rumours were circulating of one Hollywood mogul who’d sacked her on the spot when she put a 1,000 per cent mark-up on a pair of rare Pierre Jeanneret armchairs. And there had been scurrilous chatter about the tech entrepreneur who paid a five-figure sum for a “one-off” chandelier and then discovered it in a Tangiers boutique for a tenth of the price. When furious former clients confronted her, they were always greeted with the same sanguine response: “You cannot put a price on perfection, darling.”

And so, when Francesca received her final bill it was with some trepidation – and a sizeable stiffener – that she slowly sliced open the thick, tissue-lined envelope and pulled out the crisply folded pages. She took a deep breath reclined on her charcoal cashmere daybed, and braced herself for the worst. It took her 48 hours to recover from the shock and 14 days to navigate the complex refinancing required to settle the decorator’s latest bombshell.

By the time Marella slunk into the salon two weeks later, Francesca had devised the perfect riposte. Sitting in her usual prime position with manicurists at each hand, Marella chatted merrily about her latest projects as Francesca carefully applied her trademarked tints. Three hours later, Marella gasped at the finished result. “It’s more beautiful than ever, darling,” she said with an uncharacteristic wave of emotion.

She was still admiring herself as her bill was placed in front of her. As she glanced down at the total, Marella’s face flushed pink with shock, then confusion, before the penny finally dropped. “See you in four weeks?” called out Francesca. It may take 20 years to recoup the cash, but just like Marella’s exquisite interiors – it was well worth waiting for.

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