The Aesthete: William Smalley talks personal taste

With residential projects from London to Jerusalem, architect William Smalley emphasises craftsmanship through a minimalist lens

William Smalley at home in London
William Smalley at home in London | Image: Harry Crowder

My personal style signifiers are linen shirts – from Oliver Spencer, Orlebar Brown, Frescobol Carioca, clothes stalls on Patmos... I wear them all year round; white or navy in summer, pale pink in winter. They make me feel I’m on holiday every day. Oliver Spencer linen shirt, from £110; oliverspencer.co.uk. Orlebar Brown, from £175; orlebarbrown.com; Frescobol Carioca, from £160; frescobolcarioca.com. 

Muller Van Severen Solo chair, £1,965
Muller Van Severen Solo chair, £1,965

The thing I’ve got my eye on is a Solo chair by Belgian designer Muller Van Severen. It has a slender white metal cube frame with a natural leather seat suspended from it. I don’t need it, and it doesn’t have anywhere to go, but it is so beautiful, in an edgy way, that I want it anyway. £1,965; viaduct.co.uk.

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An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Secular Retreat, on top of a hill in South Hams on the Devon coast. It’s the latest – and I think last – house in Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture series of modern holiday houses. It’s Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s first permanent building in the UK, offering the rare chance in this country to experience living in contemporary architecture. It’s built of layers of hand-rammed concrete that frame large sheets of glass, and although it’s very modern it has an elemental feel, like Stonehenge. living-architecture.co.uk.

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s Secular Retreat, in Devon
Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s Secular Retreat, in Devon

And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is a traditional calligraphy brush and ink pot that I bought in Naito Shoten in Kyoto. Though neither of us spoke the other’s language, I managed to ask the sales assistant to paint the characters of three words: “stone”, “paper” and “home”. I videoed her calligraphy to copy later and sent them as postcards. We have “stone” placed among the stone samples in my office. 112 Nakajimacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto (+8175-221 3018).

Smalley’s calligraphy from Kyoto
Smalley’s calligraphy from Kyoto | Image: Harry Crowder

In my fridge you’ll always find Patum Peperium anchovy paste and Perrier-Jouët, bought for the label. Not much else – it’s definitely a bachelor’s fridge. Patum Peperium, £2.99; Perrier-Jouët, £43.99; waitrose.com. 

Always found in Smalley’s fridge: Patum Peperium, £2.99
Always found in Smalley’s fridge: Patum Peperium, £2.99

The books on my bedside table are Chalk, by Joshua Rivkin, a poet’s take on artist Cy Twombly’s life and work, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year. It started with such urgency I assumed it would tail off, but it hasn’t so far.

Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin
Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin

The best gift I’ve received recently is a Quinn jumper in charcoal cashmere from Egg. It’s oversized, very soft with a rollneck and has no seams. It’s enveloping, like a cosy English manor house in jumper form – you lose yourself in it. £1,400; eggtrading.com.

The 7132 Therme spa in Vals, Switzerland, where Smalley took his staff this year
The 7132 Therme spa in Vals, Switzerland, where Smalley took his staff this year

And the best gift I’ve given recently was a trip to 7132 Therme, the spa at Vals, in Switzerland, to my office. I normally go for my birthday in January to reflect on life – its stone walls are good for that – but as the others in the office hadn’t been, this year we all went. I think they were suitably awed. From £230; 7132therme.com.

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An object I’d never part with is my fórcola – the oarlock of a Venetian gondola – from the workshop of Saverio Pastor in Venice. It’s surprisingly long and carved from a single block of walnut. Mine was beaten up and in the spare-wood bin – it’s 35 years old and Pastor knew the gondolier he made it for then. It has an incredible sculptural quality, like a Brancusi or Hepworth. Fondamenta Sorenzo della Fornace 341, 30123 Venice (+39041-522 5699; forcole.com). 

My favourite websites are probably car ones to feed my childhood car obsession – I configure cars on Porsche.com and BentleyMotors.com in the night when I can’t sleep. And I visit EngelVölkers.com to keep the house-in-Italy dream alive.

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