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Gavin Houghton does not like things to be too tickety-boo: ‘For me, anything that is overly laboured loses its energy. I like things to look as if they’ve happened by mistake.’ He is talking about the decorative, cheerful, pattern-on-pattern rooms that he conjures up for his clients across the world, but it is a statement that applies equally well to how his career has panned out. For Gavin is one of life’s real creatives: a stalwart of House & Garden’s Top 100 Interior Designers list, but also a man who has turned his practical, playful eye to everything from art direction and painting to ceramics. Most recently, he is offering sketching holidays in Tangier with his great friend Joan Hecktermann.

Born in Hertfordshire to artist parents, Gavin moved to London to attend art college aged 18. He went on to study menswear at what was then Kingston Polytechnic, but soon realised it was interiors not fashion that excited him. On graduating, he landed a week-long stint in the fabric room at The World of Interiors, where he found himself creating dungarees from the latest floral fabrics. Min Hogg, the title’s legendary founding editor, was clearly impressed as she offered him a job as an editorial stylist. He left to work for David Collins– the interior design studio known for its glamorous restaurants and bars – before returning to The World of Interiors as promotions art director and later moving on to Vogue to take up the same role.

Alongside this, Gavin was doing up his own houses. Having bought an ex-council flat in south London while at Vogue, he transformed it into a space so flamboyant that it found its way onto the pages and cover of his magazine alma mater. In 2004, he moved to a four-storey Victorian terrace in Stockwell, where he still lives with his partner, interiors photographer Boz Gagovski and their two Jack Russells. 

The urge to become a fully fledged interior designer was growing. A welcome push came in 2008, when the woman next to him at a dinner party asked him ‘to do the interiors of a Jacobean house in Suffolk and I decided that it was time to jump’, says Gavin, who founded his eponymous studio the same year. He has been busy ever since.

His own house in Stockwell is typical of his style, blending Classical elements with witty flourishes. Art lines the dusky green walls of the sitting room – from sketches by Bloomsbury group artist Duncan Grant to pieces by friends, including painter and ceramicist Michaela Gall. ‘My taste in art is mainly decorative. I like painterly, sketchy works.’

The colour green runs through many of Gavin’s homes and La Di Dar, the four-bedroom house in Tangier he bought in 2012, is no exception, with its green and white tiled terrace. Gavin first visited the city over 20 years ago. ‘I’d always been intrigued by the fact that it attracted this rather bohemian crowd,’ he recalls. His first trip sparked a life-long love affair and he started visiting annually.

On one such visit, having asked an estate agent friend to show him some properties – ‘for a bit of fun’ – he ended up at the house he now owns. ‘It couldn’t have been more ugly, but it was incredibly good value and I could see the potential,’ he says. Situated next to the Kasbah, it is reached via an unassuming alleyway and spreads across four levels, including a rooftop terrace that looks out over the Atlantic.

He set to work almost straight away, replacing brown plastic doors with metal Crittall versions and turning an awkward L-shaped salon into a red and white striped visual feast. About five years ago, he added to the third floor, creating an extra bedroom, a painting studio and a terrace. ‘It’s allowed me to think outside the box,’ he says.

Another thing that has given Gavin a lot of pleasure in Tangier is sketching: ‘I contemplated becoming a serious oil painter, but was never pleased with what I produced and I enjoyed the simple, quick lines of watercolour and pencil.’ The idea for the sketching holidays, which he has recently started with Joan, grew out of this realisation. ‘There is nothing nicer than spending time in a place and sketching what you see,’ he says. Participants spend five days with Joan and Gavin, out and about in Tangier as well as at La Di Dar. Lunch is provided daily at La Di Dar, as is what Gavin describes as an evening drinks ‘crit’ session on the roof.

This content was originally published here.


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