Bold, graphic, dark. A listed townhouse gets a modern makeover

  • Pat McNulty
Lulu Roper-Caldbeck’s Islington home is a graphic, art-filled reflection of a chameleon career which started in fashion design at Paul Smith, moved into interiors when she opened cult concept store, Darkroom London, and transitioned into garden design when the store closed last year. We took the tour of her Darkroom-inspired townhouse which she shares with husband Marcus, son Oscar and cat Pearl, and found out what it takes to renovate a fire-damaged listed building on a budget (spoiler alert: you watch a lot of Youtube videos).

When in doubt, Youtube it!

“Apart from the plumbing and electrics, Marcus built most of the house using Youtube videos - ‘How to tile a bathroom’, ‘How to plaster a wall’... We even had to do some horse-hair plastering because that was what there was in some areas of the house. Everything we did he pretty much self taught.”

Career move

“I guess my interest in gardening grew from from my love of interior design, and ways in which to extend this curation outside the home. Whilst I’ve always enjoyed being outside and gardening certain degree, it’s only really something I’ve thrown myself into since closing the shop and starting to study horticulture."

Urban gardenscape

"My planting style is a bit of a mixture and still developing as I learn more about the many roles of different plants - I really love how some add structure to the garden, whilst others are more soft and whimsical. Initially, I was drawn to green tropical style gardens with lots of ferns and contrasting textures, now however I love flowers more and more, especially how they work in pacing the year and transforming the garden with colour from season to season. I am also obsessed with the sculptural qualities of topiary, especially when you see it in large open spaces.”

The art of plants

“Our home is a complete showroom of both Marcus’ work and Darkroom. When I had the shop, I was exposed to so much interesting design and so many talented designers and their work slowly crept its way into our house. We were also fortunate enough to have the resources to make our own products, which was what we loved the most, and these are all around the house - blankets, cushions, hand-painted plates, enamelware, candles and prints. While most surfaces are covered in Darkroom, every inch of wall space is mostly filled with Marcus’ artwork.”

Hang loose

“I think the biggest mistake you can make when interior decorating your house is having anything too contrived and a bit too matchy matchy. Obviously we’ve got loads of stuff so it’s easy to make it ours but I think taking time is the difference - you could just chuck a load of money at a project and move on - but it’s not organic. Developing a space over the years you can add, move things around, and that gives it that looseness and a lived-in feel. Not everything has to be perfect.”

Do it yourself

“My mother used to work as an interior designer and growing up, she would be endlessly practicing new paint techniques, recovering pieces of furniture and generally moving things around. She was always very hands on and I guess I’ve inherited that attitude of doing research and getting it done yourself as opposed to always getting someone to do something.”

Back to black

"I tried out so many paint colours I hated, especially in the basement. I wanted to finish the walls in a high gloss, especially as the space is quite dark so it would bounce the light around and open up the room. As opposed to using a normal gloss paint I wanted to use emulsion and finish it with a varnish to give more of an impact. I tried so many lighter colours but when the varnish was added it looked quite yellow. Finally we decided it would be easiest to use black, which for me, is always the easy option - it always works."

A winning work space

“My office is only a small space in the corner of our spare room with a desk and lamp from MADE."

Textural feeling

"My desk is my favourite MADE item - I’ve seen so many other desks and they’re really quite bulky. I really like the clean, thin lines on this one, and it’s got a really nice mix of textures with the wood and then the leather."

Bold textiles

"Paint is an easy way to change up a space, but bold textiles also work and can be used for blinds, curtains, cushions, bed spreads, upholstering or just draping over a chair or sofa. I recently made a huge bedhead from some leftover fabric I had from Darkroom which was such an easy and affordable way to add colour and texture to the room."

Indoor jungle

"I think the trend for indoor planting will continue to grow, and people will experiment more with the types of plants they have. I always look through Terence Conran's book Decorating with Houseplants, which was published in the 1980s and you can see so many trends returning, such as variegated spider plants, greening up interior walls and doorways with climbing plants such as ivy and passionflower, also indoor trees like Ficus, and also even dried flowers displays."

Attention to detail

"The kitchen tiles were my biggest indulgence – not only were they a stretch on a very small budget, but the time it took Marcus to plot and lay them without having to cut any edges, took lots of mathematics and patience."

Upcycle it

"The biggest bargain was the cupboard in our bedroom – the carcass is a cheap wardrobe and then the sliding doors we constructed in the same way you would a paint canvas, with wooden batons and stretched fabric."

Learning curve

“I wouldn’t buy a listed property again - that’s the bit I wouldn’t do. It’s the planning that’s the most traumatic bit. You have a timeline and budget in your mind then the planning issues can completely take that out of your control because you’re having to spend more on redesigns. The thing with the planning is that a lot of it is not logical - you’re like, ‘why can’t we put insulation in the walls?’ It’s things that should be fairly straight forward in our day and age.”
Woven textures
“I love the woven finish on the garden furniture as it is on the terrace, which is a spot that can feel quite stark, like being in a black and white box. The furniture works really well in bringing a bit of softness and personality to the area.”

Test it out
“I don’t necessarily think I’m daring, I just have the attitude that if something doesn’t work out, you can try something different. All of my decisions were fairly easy as you can just reverse them."
Follow Lulu's horticultural escapades on instagram at

Article written by: Pat McNulty Imagery by: Ben Anders