Case Study

Aucoot & Monument: Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer on creating interiors for Tree Courtyard House

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Case Study

Aucoot & Monument: Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer on creating interiors for Tree Courtyard House

Interview: Akua Danso

Our latest listing, Tree Courtyard House, is a single-story home arranged around a secluded courtyard in the heart of Walthamstow. Designed by RIBA award-winning architects ao-ft, the architecture embraces nature, light, and the well-being of its occupants. 

To do justice to the architecture, we wanted to find an interior partner who could create a vision for how the house might be lived in. Enter Monument. Founded by Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer three years ago, the locally-based design gallery is known for an aesthetic ‘[g]uided by form, material, craft and architecture’ in which ‘each item is individually chosen for its story, its personality and its permanence.’ Who better, then, to complement the qualities of this new project, which celebrates architectural principles like honest materiality and simple forms?

What’s even better is both Leah and Victoria are local residents, calling Walthamstow and Leyton home respectively. Here, we catch up with them to talk through the project and get their insiders view on the area. 

Hi Leah and Vicotria, can you tell us about Monument and the design ethos that drives you?
Leah: Monument is a banner under which we work on different creative initiatives. We are most known as Monument Store, where we are dealers of archival designer furniture, art objects and homeware. We also have Monument Hire, where we hire pieces for fashion advertising and film shoots, and then we also have Monument Projects, for which Tree Courtyard House is a great example. And we collaborate with interior designers and brands on styling and sourcing.

How did you both meet? What is the story of your friendship?
Victoria: Back in our native New Zealand, we crossed paths and had friends in common. We were admirers of each other and my partner and I bought some artwork from Leah’s gallery. That was a really lovely interaction and then we just went to different exhibitions that Leah had curated. It wasn’t until we moved to the UK that we became good friends because we discovered a mutual love of collecting interesting objects and furniture. 

How would you describe your design sensibility?
Leah: I’ll start with the way I look for things. It’s looking for an element, or a material, or form that excites me. I’m not necessarily looking for a designer or a period. I’m looking for the shape of something that’s got a special quality. Sometimes it’s just a gravitas that’s hard to put into words. 

It is a really instinctive approach. I’m not schooled in design or necessarily feel that I have the language. We advocate trusting and honing your instinct based on what you are drawn towards.

What excited you about doing this project?
Leah: The Aucoot team gave us the rundown of the house and we saw a video clip of someone walking through the construction site. When the phone pointed to the ceiling, we could see the proportions and the materials. It was then we realised this was not just a converted terrace. There are some amazing converted terraces, of course, but this was something special.

Victoria: The house is such a breath of fresh air! 

What were your thoughts about the architecture when you first entered the house?
Victoria: It was the uniform blank canvas of the wood that stood out for me. It’s an incredible backdrop.

Leah: That’s why we didn’t want to cover the walls with big pictures. The timber and its knots remind me of my childhood.

Victoria: It’s very common for houses in New Zealand to be made of wood. Lots of holiday homes are just old shacks. It’s very nostalgic and sentimental. The preciseness and the open loftiness of this house is very Scandi and cabin-like. There were lots of elements that drew us to the project, architecturally speaking. 

What are your favourite pieces or rooms inside Tree Courtyard House?
Victoria: I think it would be between the bedroom and the living room. And then the beautiful light. I also love looking down the hall into the bedroom and seeing the print with the steel frame and then the rug poking out by the Philippe Starck Dr. Sonderbar chair. 

There is a moment in the hallway with the industrial materials and preciseness of the Christoph R. Siebrasse plug-in chairs near the marble block that is half man-made and half organic. It’s a great little recess that creates such a useful space.

Leah: My favourite room is the main bedroom. One of the things that really excites me about it is when you walk in the room feels really calm. You live with a certain intensity every day, going from A to B and you get used to absorbing it. As I’ve gotten older, I try to create spaces that bring my whole system down; to feel a sense of spaciousness and calm. 

One aspect of creating a zen environment is taking cues from nature, which is why we’ve got elements of stone. The bedroom, for me, feels artful but serene at the same time. 

Victoria: But also complete. You don’t need anything else. 

As locals of this area, can you tell us your favourite spots in the area?
Leah: I live in Walthamstow and I like to walk by St Mary’s church with my husband and my daughter. It’s surrounded by a graveyard which is very well-kept. There’s a whole lot of really beautiful mature trees. The flowers and the gardening are really lovely. 

Victoria: In Leyton, my family and I live right by a magnificent park which has a great couple of playgrounds for kids, such as the Jubilee Park, which is incredible.

There’s always lots of things going on with the local cafes and markets. We’re in a good location to connect through to Hackney as well because we walk through the marshes.

Leah: We’ve got a community around us now and have no desire to leave. It’s a lovely place to live. 

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