House Style with Sunita Kumar Nair

13 Dec 2020

After showing us around her renovated Victorian flat in West Hampstead, fashion and creative director Sunita Kumar Nair shares her house style.

You’re happiest at home when…
The ideal scene in my mind is a fire on, wine on the table and surrounded by friends or family, or simple nights where it’s just us reading, chatting, playing games or watching a movie. When it’s summer we throw open the patio doors and let the nights roll in and out of the house and we get the outside burner going – lighting a fire outdoors reminds me of our past American life, especially of those LA visits.

How would you describe the interiors of your house?
A story of loved pieces…

A visual story of all the art, textiles, ceramics and furniture that I love and have acquired over the years. 

If you could only save one thing, what would it be?
My jewellery box…

I have pieces which range from a wool necklace my son made for me when he was four; my mother’s ruby wedding earrings; my Dad’s pilot badge; a yellow diamond ring made by a friend to mark mine and my husband’s 10th anniversary and the birth of our son, to some Indian diamond pieces that my mother-in-law bought for me. Jewellery can never be replaced in my eyes, in sentiment or in craftsmanship – the veneer on an antique gold piece, the purity of an old diamond: it’s never the same new. 

What was the last thing you bought for the house?
The last ‘major’ thing I bought was an Elizabeth Peyton painting. 

It was a few weeks before we were relocating back to London and a friend sent the listing, the morning of a flight back to New York. The flight was delayed and while I was waiting on the tarmac, I managed to make the purchase before the plane took off, making it an expensive flight delay!

I have always loved Peyton’s work and to own one of her pieces has always been a personal goal. In the painting, Jackie Kennedy Onassis is brushing aside the hair of John (Jr), which has many layers of meaning for me: the bond between mother and son, the New York reference and my private admiration of Jackie’s style. 

Top three coffee table books?
This is hard! I have so many books.

I would say Mark Borthwick’s Not in Fashion is my constant fashion tonic and reference, for following your visual ideals and not doing what the masses do. 

Ode à la Bièvre by Louise Bourgeois is a celebration of the artist’s textile work. I remember seeing this book in a popular bookstore just before a shoot; I was feeling young and poor at the time and declined to spend $100. I later found out that the book was discontinued and had tripled in price! A few years later I attended the Printed Matter Book show at PS1 in Queens and I saw the book again, but now for $1000! I told the guy at the stand my woeful story and he asked, “Well do you have $100 now?” I said yes; the vendor happened to be the publisher and he sold it to me for the original price! I still refer to it – you can almost feel the texture of the fabrics and it’s a good reminder to me to never doubt: if you love it, get it, you can work out the costing later! 

A recent purchase at the Koenig Books stand (my favourite art/fashion bookseller) at Frieze London is a book on the fashion designer Martin Margiela. I love the layout and the detailed references of his designs. 

If money was no object, what changes would you make?
I don’t think there is anything I would essentially change on an interiors front, even with a bigger budget.

But I would love to purchase more art for the house: an Annie Morris sculpture, a Venini Vase, an Ed Ruscha or Cy Twombly painting, a Tina Barney or a Wolfgang Tillmans print… the list is endless.

On a bigger scale and if money really were no object, having an indoor tennis court would be a dream so that my son and I could play whenever we wanted – just like how Antony Gormley has a ping pong court in his Norfolk house. I am all for configuring your living space to suit your needs, conventional or not! 

You’re having people over for dinner: what do you cook? 
I am not a cook; I find it a painful exercise!  

An old New York lady friend wisely said to me once, “I don’t cook anything dear, but I am very good at ordering” and that pretty much sums up my sentiments. Looking back at our life in New York, where we would always go out to meet friends, that is one big difference to life in London, where it’s more about dinner parties and there’s a general pride in entertaining at home. My husband is a foodie and will navigate the menu while I play the role of the clueless sous-chef. Making Indian is always a go-to plan but he loves Middle Eastern food and can make a mean tagine or anything from Ottolenghi.

What does a Sunday here look like?
Sunday is a day to please one’s self. 

It may mean an early start playing tennis or a late walk, staying in pyjamas for as long as we can or a massive brunch either just us or with friends or family, then a good walk in Hampstead Heath or at Regents Park – we have a new puppy so it’s a great excuse to go out. In winter we have roasts in the evening and get the fire on with some movie time. Or I read something from my mountains of fiction books, or my backlog of fashion magazines. 

What are the best things about the neighbourhood? 
Our neighbourhood reminds me of Brooklyn. I was looking for a neighbourhood with a bit of hustle and bustle and I was worried that being back in London would feel a bit suburban and predictable compared to New York. 

There are some great cafes, book shops, an organic store and the English National Opera have their rehearsal building here. A violin shop is close by too; there is a guy who walks around in complete hat and tails most days and there is a good mix of young and old – all these quirky eccentricities and types makes the neighbourhood special. St John’s Wood and Hampstead are super close by as well and offer a happy break from the vibrant feel of West Hampstead if you want some peace and quiet. 

How long will you be here for?
A few years. 

We like changing things up so who knows, you may see this on the ‘Buy’ page of The Modern House… stay tuned!