Inside Russell Tovey’s art-driven approach to interior design
Jacket, £480, KARU at MR PORTER; T-shirt, £85, Sunspel; trousers, £440, Nili Lotan at Matches Fashion; socks, £14, London Sock Company; shoes, £295, Grenson. Verona Leather & Oud Marble Candle, 260g, £35, Soho Home
The British actor and podcaster welcomes us into his east London home to talk art, design and his love of Soho Home
Tuesday 6 June 2023 By Hanna Flint Photography by Jake Curtis Styling by Gareth Scourfield Grooming by Charlie Cullen
As I step into Russell Tovey’s east London loft, I see people everywhere. Two Amoako Boafo portraits of beautiful dark-skinned Black subjects wearing vibrant tops adorn a wall in front of a large wooden E15 dining table he bought 10 years earlier. A Studio.SPF canvas he selected from the new M.A.H Gallery Soho Home art collection depicts a curly-haired man with ears not dissimilar to Tovey’s own (but reminds him more of the actor Josh O’Connor) rests on an easel he brought back from New York. Various abstract pencil and charcoal drawings of figures, ceramic busts and postcards of faces add to this domestic community of artistic impression. But I’m most drawn to ‘My Reflection Of You’, an Ana Benaroya rendering of two voluptuous women having a cigarette and a glass of wine, which takes centre stage in the kitchen that Tovey recently redesigned.
‘The art always has come first, and I wanted this kitchen to feel social,’ the actor, art connoisseur and collector tells me, as we take in his newly renovated abode. ‘I love body language, facial expressions and character, so there’s a lot of figurative work in here.’
Above: jumper, £1,400, Loewe; trousers, £305, AMI at Matches Fashion. Bianco Bergamot & Mandarin Zest Candle, Large 750g, £65, and Greyson Floor Lamp, High Gloss Lacquer, Cream, £850, both Soho Home
Tovey likes to collect interior inspiration as much as art. If he’s not ripping out pages from design magazines, he’s screenshotting furniture on Instagram and saving it to a dedicated folder on his phone that he could refer back to for the renovation. He wanted to create a cohesive discourse between who he is as an art collector as well as ‘a collector of furniture, objects or ceramics’, so that the space didn’t just feel like a gallery. Ebay has proven to be a wondrous wellspring where he purchased the bench and stalls for the kitchen, a range cooker, a conch he had restored to a professional level, and the taps for the sink.
However, Soho House has long been a design influence for the actor, who has been a member since he was 18. ‘I always go to the toilets at Soho House and so I ask, “I want that toilet roll holder, I want those sinks, where can I find them?’” he says. ‘When the Soho Home stuff came online at the beginning, there was a whole vintage section, so I’ve got a towel rack. The little soap dispenser [in the kitchen], that’s Lefroy Brooks, which is a Soho House brand. It’s amazing that you can go to a House and then say “I want that”. Over the years I’ve bought throws and cushions. It’s just beautiful stuff.’
In keeping with the earthy tones and mid-century feel, old wood in various shades is a prominent feature of his London loft. For example, his Soho Home bed frame, sideboards and a bookcase he had specially made to house his art book collection, featuring tomes by Tracey Emin, Wolfgang Tillmans and Derek Jarman. ‘It was a bit of a splurge, but this has become one of my favourite things in this place because it shows off the books beautifully,’ he admits. ‘For people that can’t afford art but love an artist, they can buy the book and put it on their coffee table.’
Above, from left: jumper, as before; spotted jumper, £220, J.Lindeberg
Ultimately, Tovey wanted to strike a balance between the art and the interiors to create a relaxing living space that also serves as a personal diary. ‘The building is the star object and everything else is like the supporting actors bringing an incredible story to life,’ he says, looking out at the living room and surveying all the interior touches. ‘That’s from when I met that artist, and that’s when I was doing that play that changed my life and career. The place is embedded with all of this history, energy and joy.’
Tovey set about creating a subtle living space where the works could shine. He chose a mellow, off-white Lick paint colour for the walls and pillars, with a brown tone for the front door that complements the exposed wooden floors and brick of the building, which was once a storage facility for the British Museum. ‘I wanted to warm it up in here and make it cosier,’ he says, referencing his Margate property, which he and his partner Steve Brockman bought and renovated two years ago, as a source of influence. ‘The colours for that Victorian house were very neutral,’ he adds. ‘Lots of Farrow & Ball Joa’s White across [the walls] and you can hang the art up against it; you still see the art obviously, but it isn’t screaming out like if you have stark [white]. We wanted something that was welcoming where everybody felt comfortable.’