Carrie Symonds is on a mission.
Now she’s addressed her reported rifts with former Downing Street aides Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, her attentions have reportedly turned to a more inward-looking matter: of giving the family-friendly flat at 11 Downing Street a bit of a revamp.
Well, quite a big one for that matter. Many of us have turned our lockdown attentions to a home makeover, but Boris Johnson’s fiancee’s plans are reportedly a little pricier than most. According to the Daily Mail, the Prime Minister has reportedly complained in meetings that the sum amounted to “tens and tens of thousands” and possibly as much as “over a hundred grand’”.
The flat is currently kitted out with dark wooden furniture, with high ceilings, Persian rugs, cream walls and gold chandeliers. According to the Mail, the year-long refurbishment work on the flat has recently been completed, after facing disruption due to the pandemic.
So what will the interiors refurb look like? According to insiders, Symonds - whose friends call her taste “exquisite” - is keen to remove Theresa May’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare”, with her husband said to have told one minister that she had appeared to have ordered “gold wall coverings”.
At the centre of it all is Lulu Lytle, an eco interior designer whose fabric prices start at £100 a metre and is said to have inspired Symonds with many of her lavish makeover choices.
So what do we know about Lytle and what is her style? From her A-list clients and royal connection to how much it would cost for her to re-do Number 11, this is everything you need to know about the designer tipped for Downing Street.
Who is Lulu Lytle?
Lytle, 49, is one of the UK’s leading interiors experts, known as the saviour of British rattan. She is the co-founder and director of Soane Britain, an chic design firm based on Pimlico Road that “designs and makes British-made furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpaper” based on “traditional crafts including blacksmiths”.
Born in Worcestershire as the youngest of four sisters, Lytle developed a keen interest in Egypt and went on to study Egyptology at UCL. After university, she spent four years working in antiques before founding Soane at the age of 25 from the one-bedroom flat she shared with her husband Charles Patrick St John Lytle, who was training to be a barrister.
He now works as a senior investment banker at Goldman Sachs and the couple have three children: Tom, 20, Bunny, 18, and Xan, 15. They live in a £4 million home in one of the capital’s most lavish squares in Bayswater near Hyde Park.
In 2016 Lytle told the Evening Standard that the house mixes old and new Soane pieces, along with textiles collected worldwide, paintings, maps, and artefacts. All were chosen for their striking looks, shapes and colours, rather than value.
Over the beautiful but battered, down-filled, silk-covered sofa in the deep pink-walled snug — “I wanted a sofa that all five of us could curl up in to watch TV” — is a crewel-work picture of a smiling lion that she found in a bazaar in Notting Hill many years ago.
Rattan-weaving is said to be one of Lytle’s main specialities and she is on a mission to keep the future of cane craft going in Britain. She collected wicker baskets as a child and has since owned at least 50 pieces of rattan furniture, including early pieces by Benjamin Fletcher, who designed the rattan furniture for the Café Parisien on the Titanic.
In 2011, she bought the last remaining rattan workshop in England, in Leicestershire, and now employs the former craftsmen, now in their sixties and seventies, as training apprentices.
According to its website, Lytle started the company with a road-trip around the UK, looking for traditional craftsmen from blacksmiths to stone carvers to assist with her work. Over the last 20 years, she has developed close working relationships with many across the country, as well as invested in Soane’s own workshops and apprenticeship schemes.
What is her style?
Clients and insiders say Lytle’s designs mix old-fashioned glamour with bold, modern colours - rattan furniture, intricate textiles, marble bathrooms, wrought-iron finishings and gold wallpaper are among her go-to looks - no wonder, then, that eco-conscious and “equisite”-tasted Symonds is a fan.
According to Soane Britain’s website, the company aims to contribute to “the joyful atmosphere of any interior”, with new designs as well as those inspired by antiques.
The company’s USP is its home-grown, old-school nature. Every piece of Lytle’s collection is made in Britain, “using a network of workshops that excel in traditional crafts, such as iron forging, chair-making precision engineering, saddlery and rattan weaving” - rattan is highly sustainable, one of Soane’s key values.
Pieces are made-to-order and can be customised using Soane’s in-house materials from woods to leathers. Clients may use their own materials and the company also offers a fully customised service called Soane Bespoke, which is “available to clients wishing to commission an entirely bespoke piece”. One piece, such as a chair — for which the company is known, its 18th century-inspired modern designs having spawned a rash of imitations — can involve five different trades across the country, and arrive, all things considered, a sprightly eight to 12 weeks later.
Who are Lytle’s famous clients?
Lytle’s clients include interior designers, decorators and architects, with many pieces of her furniture seen in fine hotels, yachts and private members’ clubs across the world - Cobbler’s boutique hotel in Barbados is among the high-end establishments she’s helped to furnish.
Prince Charles took a tour of her famous Leicestershire rattan workshop in February last year in one of his final visits before the first lockdown - and he’s not Lytle’s only connection to royalty. The Duke of Edinburgh is said to be among Soane’s clients, which also includes the likes of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
How much do her makeovers cost?
Johnson and Symonds won’t be the first Downing Street couple to splash out on a Number 11 refurb. Tony and Cherie Blair are believed to have spent £127,000 on the flat before David and Samantha Cameron’s £64,000 upgrade. Theresa May, meanwhile, is believed not to have spent a single penny.
Now, it’s Symonds’ turn, and with many of her orders said to have been inspired by Soane, it’s not expected to come cheap. Lytle’s hardcover rattan bible, Rattan: A World of Elegance and Charm, was published in October last year and costs £50 on Amazon - a fitting indication of her firm’s high-end price bracket.
Soane’s desirable new Cleveland chair, covered in, say, tangerine leather, would cost about £3,000 without VAT — not cheap, but Lytle insists it will last several lifetimes.
Soane fabrics start at £100 a metre, so how much would it cost for her to dress the four-bed Georgian flat at Number 11? The exact square footage of No. 11 is unknown but given the average size of a UK four-bedroom residence is 140 square metres, wallpapering the flat with Lytle’s fabrics could cost upwards of £14,000 at a minimum.
With furnishings such as Lytle’s chairs on top, no wonder Johnson, who was on a salary of £150,000 a year before his pandemic pay-cut, is said to be secretly trying to set up a charity to pay for the costly makeover.