House of Hackney’s captivating Autumn / Winter 2017 campaign was inspired by and shot in Mrs Broadbent’s 18th century townhouse in Greenwich, an imposing Queen Anne style Georgian house overlooking Greenwich Park with one of the largest private gardens in London. We were drawn to tales of Mrs Broadbent’s legendary home long before encountering the protagonist of our story. A true home is one where the only interiors rule is to decorate to your own personal taste. Good or bad taste aside, it is somewhere which houses a collection of memories and treasures unique to the owner. Mrs Broadbent embodies this spirit; a true aesthete and fellow interiors punk who has curated a home where every room holds both an intriguing look and story to boot.
We chatted to Mrs Broadbent about her unique approach to cultivating her interiors scheme. Watch the video and read the interview, below.
Can you start by telling us a little about the history of the house?
Well, my husband and I bought the house for £5,400 in 1953 and it’s gone up in value by 1000% since then. We bought it from two elderly people who had kept it purely for the basement so that their dogs could spend time there. They underused the house and they had terrible taste. They’d filled the house with dingy ‘30s furniture which is the last thing this house needs. The previous owner did want to sell me her furniture but I couldn’t bear to have it. This is a Georgian house, you don’t want bad ‘30s furniture in it, you just don’t. Everything I have is not offensive to the house.
How have you built up the aesthetic of the house?
Well this is a beautiful house, I furnished it with pieces of furniture I liked the look of. Usually from Bonham’s auction. The most expensive piece of furniture I ever bought was £28 – a gentleman’s wardrobe. It doesn't look like a pauper’s house but it was furnished on what a pauper could easily have spent.
What are your biggest interiors achievements?
Basically, a lot of the finishing touches are trompe l’oeil. For example, the gilding of the cornices of the drawing room was achieved using Christmas wrapping paper because gold paint simply loses its colour almost at once, whereas gold wrapping paper keeps it. The house is extremely cheaply furnished. One of my sofas was just five shillings. I got it at auction – when they don't have a bid they just need to get rid of it. I gave the porter five shillings to help me get it out of the place. I also added to the fireplace, I bought two angels and stuck them on and they instantly improved it.
What influence did your late husband, Simon Broadbent, have over the aesthetics of the house?
My husband Simon, who worked in advertising, was very good at carpentry but he wasn’t very good at decorating. He sawed up all the tables which I turned into bedside tables. If you need a bedside table, buy one round table, saw it in half and then you have two bedside tables, you need a right-angle bracket and that’s it.
Do you think it’s important for a person’s home to be an extension of who they are?
No, I don’t think so, I just bought the things I liked so the house is me, it’s what I like and it works. It’s a beautiful house and it’s beautifully built with excellent proportions.
Obviously, you’ve got a lot of possessions, do you see yourself as a collector?
No, I buy at junk shops. I’m not a collector. I’ve never bought anything I didn't like the look of, and often it’s just junk that needs tarting up a bit. I never pass a skip without looking in and I never pass a junk shop without going in either and I have bought a lot of stuff which is actual junk but which I like the look of.
Tell us about the ancestral-style portraits in your home...
Well, they’re not real ancestors, they’re just faces. I bought 15 frames for £10 and the pictures cost nothing because nobody wanted them. I have an artist friend who can do lettering, so she has invented ancestors for me, writing made-up names onto the frames. I have some genuine ones and some made up ones. Because, why not?
What are some of your happiest memories of the house?
This was a good house for giving parties, we gave a lot of parties here, we liked using it for entertaining. The Sunday Times once recreated one of our parties using my children as some of the guests. I could never say I was the life and soul of the party but I know how to give a drink.
And any sad memories?
I’ve got no sad memories of the house, it is a ravishing house to live in as you can see.
Which is your favourite room in the house and why?
Well the drawing room is the best room for entertaining because it is very beautiful, in particular because the Coles wallpaper that I have is very similar to the one that was originally in the room above which was the drawing room then. And because the cornice is done using gold wrapping paper, which is very clever.
You have said in the past, I’m this house and this house is me, we give each other a lot of love…
Well it is true, I don’t think the house gives me any love but I love it and I have improved it. The house is me because everything inside it, I have chosen. A lot of it I have made myself - I’ve made the curtains, I’ve upholstered the furniture. I’ve had paper hangers to wallpaper the walls though because they do it better than I do. Everything inside this house I have either chosen or made or picked up out of a skip myself, so the house is me in that sense. It doesn’t love me because it is just objects. I love this house, it’s a beautiful house and I think, indeed I know, I made it more beautiful. It’s no story of my life, it’s just that everything inside it is something I’ve personally chosen, sometimes made, put there. I even made the carpet, though it’s mostly vanished.
For someone coming into this house, what kind of visual message do you think it gives out?
Well, I don’t give a bugger what message it gives out. I mean, I always offer them something to eat or drink. The thing is, most people do like this house and it is often open for charity, the last time it was opened it was for the local hospice and we made £780. I like showing people the house and people like seeing it. If I see somebody taking a photograph, like I sometimes do, I open the door and say, “please come inside”. The last time it was a party of Germans and as I followed them round I realised that they didn’t know I understood what they were saying, which was “has this woman gone off her head, taking people in off the street?”.
What’s next for the house?
This house is full, possibly too full, I’m not drawn to buying anything else for it. I only ever buy junk, I buy rubbish yet in the house it doesn’t look like rubbish. People throw things away but I don’t, I never throw anything away. My children don’t like that I keep everything. They throw things away but I don’t.
How would you like to be remembered, Ann?
I don’t give a damn! My children are fond of me, but otherwise I don’t care if I’m remembered or not.