Gael Boglione is the mistress of understatement, both in terms of the way she has decorated her elegant 17th-century home in Richmond, on the outskirts of west London, and the modest way she describes Petersham Nurseries, the chic garden centre and restaurant that adjoins the house.
“This place came about because it was at the end of our garden and when the previous owners retired they asked us if we’d take it over,” Australian-born Gael says of the flower-filled greenhouses and magical ‘café’ (awarded a Michelin star in 2011 and 2012 while Skye Gyngell was at the helm). “It was a commercial nursery and we didn’t want to run it that way, so we just had a go and did our best.”
Concrete floors were replaced with earth, greenhouses were painted dark green and filled with a charming jumble of plants and architectural salvage. The inspiration for the hue – now dubbed Petersham Green – came from the conservatory at the home that Gael shares with her Italian husband Francesco, a former-insurance-broker.
The couple stripped back the interior after moving in with their brood (Lara, now 33, Anna, 29, Harry, 26, and Ruby, 24) in 1997. “We undecorated really, by taking all the junk out and paring it down,” says Gael. “There were brocades everywhere and so many swags that you could barely see out of the windows.”
Working closely with English Heritage, Gael and Francesco enlisted the skills of a number of craftspeople to reinstate period features. Restoration specialists spent ‘months and months’ removing plasterboards in favour of historically correct lath-and-plaster work. The walls were then painted with natural pigments mixed by the artist Gerry King, providing a calm backdrop for the couple’s contemporary art collection, including works by Gary Hume, Paula Rego and Damien Hirst.
While the paintings are mostly by British artists, Francesco’s Italian heritage is reflected in the furnishings (a 17th-century Genovese chandelier hangs above the family’s dining table, laid with Murano tumblers) and the food. The edible-flower-sprinkled dishes served in the café combine the best British and Italian produce, while the decoration also has the odd exotic touch (Indonesian chairs, Indian paintings), revealing the Bogliones’ bohemian streak.
The eldest Boglione offspring is also masterminding an audacious new project – the launch of Petersham Nurseries Covent Garden, in a Grade II-listed town house right in the centre of London.
The sprawling 16,000 sq ft site will house two restaurants, a delicatessen, a home and garden shop (with two stunning original domed skylights) and a florist based around a spectacular verdant courtyard.
“I took the reins when my parents were in Australia renovating a house and I started to see the potential for Petersham outside the nurseries,” explains Lara. “A lot of people I met would say, ‘Wow, Petersham Nurseries… I’ve been meaning to go there but never get round to it.’ We started putting our feelers outside the garden walls and did a window for Dover Street Market, then a pop-up shop at Selfridges and a temporary restaurant in the main tent at Frieze two years ago. I started thinking about how to take the beauty that has been created here to the next level. We have to replicate the magic of this place.”
Like the family’s home, Petersham Nurseries Covent Garden will have lime-washed walls, old Italian floorboards and vintage-crystal chandeliers, while Ruby has sourced Italian table linen and bedding similar to those the family use and are ‘obsessed with’.
As with everything else that’s given the Petersham seal of approval, the family are all involved in the decision-making process, usually over dinner at home.
“Working with family has its ups and downs but we are very close,” says Anna. “We have big dinner-time conversations about how we want to move forward and any issues get resolved quickly. We three sisters still have moments when we bicker but it’s not generally related to work. One of us might have borrowed the other’s new jacket or something.” Seems that having impeccable taste isn’t always such a good thing.
Petersham Nurseries Covent Garden opens in July at Floral Court, WC2