A tale of two cities, New York style meets London chic

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Art is given centre stage in a designers bright monochrome apartment. By Kate Jacobs

Carl Blcher sits in his trademark baseball cap and eye-poppingly bright trainers, his friendly miniature dachshund, Mr Big, on his knee in his New-York-loft-inspired east London flat. When the new Whistles creative project manager bought the compact flat in an Edwardian mansion block 13 years ago, the original dining room was being used as a third bedroom and the kitchen was tucked away at the back. It felt very small, dark and boxy, says Blcher, but I could see that the proportions of the rooms were good.

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Dogs
Dogs life: Mr Big on a Frank Gehry cardboard chair. Photograph: Taran Wilkhu

He lived here for a couple of years, making only cosmetic changes before moving and renting the place out to friends. But all the time I was away, I kept thinking about this flat and how best to make it work. Three years ago, he and his French boyfriend Ben, who works in fashion marketing, decided to return. Ive always loved Lower Clapton. Its really diverse with a brilliant sense of community but now it has good restaurants, too.

Blcher is particularly happy about living in a flat. Maybe it was growing up in Sweden, but houses seem safe and provincial to me. I always wanted to live in a flat. Its that New York loft idea apartments seem more cool. The mansion blocks dual function, utilitarian heritage it was in fact designed with shops at ground level and flats above for the shopkeepers added to its appeal. Blcher set about giving this little place some Big Apple character, starting with the front bedroom, which he turned back into a dining room, knocking it through to the living room to create a bright, pleasingly proportioned space. We thought about getting rid of two bedrooms, so losing one didnt seem so dramatic after that, he explains. I like the idea of openness but not literal one-room living.

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Shades
Shades of grey: Carl Blcher at home. Photograph: Taran Wilkhu

The flat is two rooms wide and three rooms deep, and originally had a corridor snaking in between, says Blcher, who came to London in 2001 and studied product design at Camberwell College of Art, then Central Saint Martins. For a decade, he oversaw the creative direction of Islington design store Aria, where he championed collaborations between artists and designers including graphic artist Camille Walala, which saw her Memphis-inspired designs featuring on furniture and home accessories. Now hes excited about his new creative role at Whistles. Its a big fashion brand but it feels exciting, like an independent.

His masterstroke was to swap the dark central bedroom with the little kitchen at the back of the flat, built back when kitchens were purely functional rather than recreational spaces, and measuring 100 sq ft. He then took down the walls of the central room, opening it up into the wraparound corridor, effectively doubling the space and lightening it up in the process. It creates a better atmosphere when you come straight into the kitchen rather than a cramped corridor. Its the heart of the home now, says Blcher. He decided to go for a period look in the kitchen, with its Shaker-esque panelled cabinets, marble worktops, range cooker and metro tiles, as a nod to the Edwardian building. He chose a central kitchen island with a butchers block-inspired wooden top. We eat breakfast here and its a great place to congregate at parties.

Elsewhere in the flat, Blchers art collection was the starting point for the decor. I keep the furniture pared back and simple, with a slightly 60s Scandinavian vibe because I dont want it to compete for attention with the art. Blcher is attracted to edgy, graphic pieces, often with a humorous element, such as his David Shrigley drawing, for which he customised a traditional gilded frame with neon light tubing.

I also like to buy works by new artists, often from graduation shows. I really like to get to know the artist and many become friends. To create a cohesive feel, a black and white theme runs through many of the pieces. Monochrome is quite a timeless look that transcends trends, and it feels right for the city.

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Touch
Touch of glass: in the kitchen. Photograph: Taran Wilkhu

Painting the whole flat white and dressing the windows overlooking the traffic-heavy street with opaque white blinds was, he says, an obvious move to maximise the natural light. The atmosphere manages to be both tranquil and stimulating, ultimately adapting to whats happening in the flat: It works well whether Im working or seeking some calm, whether weve got a crowd round for dinner or are just relaxing here with Mr Big.

A mix of midcentury-inspired modern furniture and antiques, typically 18th- and 19th-century pieces from candelabra to gilt-framed paintings bought in the UK or on trips to France and Sweden, bring depth and texture to this modern space. They bring their own history to the room, says Blucher. I grew up in an eclectic home that was full of memories of our familys travels and now Im building that for myself.

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