Style secrets of Rose Uniacke, the Beckhams' interior designer

Rose Uniacke: 'My clients trust me'
Rose Uniacke: 'My clients trust me' Credit: Nick Harvey/REX/Shutterstock

Rose Uniacke was, until a few years ago, a chic interior designer, familiar to those in the know, with a shop bearing her name that takes up the best part of a block in the heart of Chelsea, and a small discreet client list. Then, two years ago, the Beckhams commissioned her to take over from Kelly Hoppen and makeover their Holland Park house, and she became That Interior Designer chosen by the couple who could have had anyone. 

Cut to a little over two years later and the house is finished and the Beckhams moved in over the summer. “Of course I can’t tell you anything,” she laughs when I press her to describe exactly what it’s like. Can she at least lay to rest the rumours of matching his n’ hers hair salons and four basement nail bars? “There is nothing like that,” she says quietly but firmly.

The Beckhams' house in Holland Park, London Credit: Julian Simmonds

Of course not. A house that Rose Uniacke decorates (it’s not a big enough word for what she does, which is more, as she says, “reinventing space”, respecting the period features of a building and “simplifying to make it comfortable for modern life”) is currently the apogee of modern English elegance. She is the queen of pared down luxury. She’ll have gutted the house, thrown out all their furniture (sourcing 20th century ‘name’ pieces is her specialty, as well as commissioning bespoke pieces). Harper’s toys will be tucked away in something thirties and Swedish, the TV will be secreted under a collector’s wall hanging. I’m guessing she’ll have found a way of losing that giant framed photograph of them kissing.

The Rose Uniacke stand at this year's PAD design fair Credit: Jake Eastham

You could say Rose Uniacke has completed the Beckhams' arrival. It’s no coincidence that the couple recently put their Provencal villa up for sale. (You may have seen the pictures, it was all a bit Game of Thrones). In the 13 years since they bought it, the Beckhams have leapfrogged the ranks of A-list celebrities and graduated to the higher echelons of fashionable society where less is more and there is no room for thrones, black chandeliers, or swaggy draped purple curtains. Out goes Beckingham Palace in Hertfordshire (they have sold that too) and in comes pared back elegance that works for modern family living.

I don’t over furnish. I guess I am not overly decorative...I like a more serene atmosphere, because it is calming

This is Uniacke’s USP. Now 53, with the looks of a model, she is a part of London fashionable society (her husband of nine years is the Harry Potter producer David Heyman) and a mother of five (she has an eight-year-old boy with Heyman, as well as three children with her first husband Robie Uniacke, now the partner of actress Rosamund Pike, and a stepson she brought up as her own). That’s part of the key. 

Uniacke knows all about balancing chic and lots of kids, grandeur and practicality and making it all look easy. The story goes that Victoria and David were asked to dinner at her five storey Victorian house in Pimlico before they’d decided on a plan for their London home. Rose met them at the door - barefoot in loose flowing trousers, barely made up - and led the Beckhams through the classically proportioned stripped back house, to a casual candlelit supper, at which point Victoria thought: “I want to be you”. 

Out with the old: the Beckhams' villa in Bargemon, Provence, which they have now sold

Having been there myself I can confirm that Uniacke in her home environment (she is as beautiful and simply dressed as her interiors) is an excellent advertisement for the brand, which is why many clients get invited to the house. “It is good to show people I guess,” she says, “because it is nice to be able to demonstrate something with atmosphere”. 

The word minimal, with its connotations of steel and beige and smoked glass, makes her flinch - “I hope my style is warm and welcoming” - but she admits she often leaves walls and reclaimed oak floors bare, mantelpieces and table tops empty. You won’t find a fridge magnet in a Uniacke House or lots of framed photographs spread around; you will find plenty of empty, light saturated space. “I don’t over furnish,” she bursts out laughing. “I guess I am not overly decorative because I like a more serene atmosphere, because it is calming.” 

Turning houses with the proportions of palazzos into enviable homes is what she does. The process takes time (years) and often involves her travelling with clients on shopping trips to fairs to source antiques and fabrics

She does seem temperamentally very well suited to a profession that can be stressful for all parties. But then she’s been brought up with it. She trained as a gilder and restorer, before working for her mother, the antique dealer Hilary Batstone, and becoming a respected dealer in her own right. She knows her stuff on the furniture front (often the design of a room will begin with a piece of furniture or an art collection) and she is discreet to a fault, refusing to be drawn on likes, or dislikes, horror jobs or even favourites. What if a client wanted her to do something she couldn’t bear… like a massive Jacuzzi? “I would try to do that very, very beautifully,” she says before succumbing to more laughter. “Sometimes you have to say no. Obviously you are not a useful guide if you can’t.”

In spite of demand she has deliberately kept the business small and manageable so that “everyone gets me, face to face”. Is there a waiting list? “Well it depends what you mean by that? I do turn people away but that sounds…it’s not that complicated. Sometimes I don’t think it’s for me, and the fit has to be right.” It’s a long process, communication is key, and there are going to be times when the client is having a canary, as anyone knows who has got as far as choosing a colour from a paint chart. “I am aware of how exposing it is and so hopefully we tread delicately…we take the strain…it is a layered process. And my clients trust me.”

Pared down luxury: Rose Uniacke designs at this year's PAD fair Credit: Jake Eastham

She won’t talk about budget, but in theory there is no minimum spend: “We are doing a beach house in the South of France at the moment, so the project doesn’t have to be grand.” Even so, it would be madness to hire Uniacke if you weren’t doing something on a grandish scale. Turning houses with the proportions of palazzos into enviable homes is what she does. The process takes time (years) and often involves her travelling with clients on shopping trips to fairs to source antiques and fabrics, including PAD this week in London where ‘Rose Uniacke’ have a stand. Short for Pavilion of Art and Design, it is the most exclusive of the art and modern design fairs, bringing the biggest names in interior design together in a chic black tent in the middle of Berkeley Square. Uniacke exhibited here for the first time last year and walked away as joint winner of the presitigious Möet Hennessy prize for Best Stand, having showcased a panorama of 20th Century Scandinavian design (and sold a complete set of table, chairs, lighting, rugs and cabinets by Josef Frank to one Austrian collector for a six-figure sum).

“This time we are exhibiting a selection of contemporary Brazilian design, Danish, Peter Collingwood wall hangings…” She sounds excited. “We commission contemporary artists and craftsmen and then we are always looking out for these specific old pieces”. Everything, right down to the loo brushes, is tailormade for its place. And still she makes it feel normal, fun and important. It’s a gift, really. 

PAD London, Berkeley Square W1, until 9 October.