We wanted traditional London—modern isn’t what we were looking for,” Dan Caten says. It’s a comment that startles a bit, considering that Dsquared2, the fashion label that he and his brother Dean founded more than two decades ago, has always been more rock ’n’ roll than royalty. Instead, the Canadian-born identical twins—close-cropped silver hair, bold eyewear, whippet-thin physiques, and a habit of completing each other’s sentences—wanted a classic example of local real estate but on their own terms. So they went looking in a west London area that Tatler once called “mistressy and the fact cannot be avoided”: Maida Vale, where Italianate houses painted the color of clotted cream have hosted kept women and sex scandals (Lord Lambton’s spectacular 1973 flameout, to name just one) since the late 19th century.
One of those stolid buildings, facing Regent’s Canal in the Maida Vale enclave of Little Venice, is now the Catens’ own. Appropriately enough, given the inhabitants, it’s a semidetached, one half of mirror-image residences built around 1830. (Anjelica Huston lived next door as a teenager.) Despite the location, though, there’s not a single Anglo signifier in its revamped rooms—no chintz, no Chippendale, no rus in urbe cheerfulness. That comes as little surprise, given that the Catens asked friends Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran of Milan’s Dimore Studio to decorate the digs with the same cinematic moodiness that the AD100 firm brought to Ceresio 7, the celebrity-magnet bar and restaurant that crowns Dsquared2’s headquarters in the same Italian city.
“We try to come up with a story line for every project, and we really wanted to create this idea of two travelers and all the treasures they’ve brought back from various places in the world,” Moran says. Elaborate lookbooks, beautifully bound, are prepared at the start of every Dimore Studio commission—compilations, he adds, of “sensations, poetry, and images that act as a style guide, with disposition of the pieces of furniture, how the spaces are going to work, the fabrics, and the colors.” The Catens were smitten, though with reservations. “A pumpkin-colored room with a blush-pink ceiling? Hmmmm. I don’t know about that,” Dan recalls. “Sometimes they can be very out there.” Says Dean, “You have to trust them.”
Trust is why the kitchen has olive-brown cabinets offset by a pale sage-green floor, a combination, Dan admits, that “sounded weird to me, but when you see them together it works.” As for the living room and dining room—the former sliding doors replaced with a folding divider of amber stained glass—they are enameled such a deep, dark shade of blue that the spaces might as well be a grotto. That is, if one could imagine a grotto outfitted with a beefy rose-pink marble mantel, voluptuous green-and-white-striped curtains, angular brass dining chairs, and expanses of green velvet that suggest neoclassical paneling without actually imitating it. Park some towering potted palms over here and over there, and you get a louche 1970s vibe, even though the effect is arguably nothing that the disco decade ever really experienced.
“Our inspirations tend to be from the ’20s to the ’70s. Obviously we didn’t live during most of those periods, but we have a perception of how they looked and felt,” Moran says. “It’s magic for us to reinvent those periods—or maybe how we want them to be.” Mistakes are part of the mix, too. “Emiliano always adds something that’s not right, pieces that are odd or off, what he calls sbagliato, which means ‘wrong,’ ” Dean notes. “He says it takes something wrong to make it good.”
Consider the slouchy, low-slung Cini Boeri sofa, a 1960s design that is dressed in smoldering tangerine velvet, which in lesser hands might seem too big and too brash for the delicately cherry-blossomed walls of a sitting room. “Emiliano once did a black-and-gold Asian room at Salone del Mobile,” Dan recalls, “and he knew we loved that, but for us he used flowers instead of birds.” The studio’s work also tends to be enriched with mesmerizing furniture and lighting by refreshingly non–household names. Chez Caten, that roster includes furnishings by Italian modernists Gianfranco Frattini and Luigi Caccia Dominioni. Moran and Salci are also restrained when it comes to relying on iconic anything. About the only instantly recognizables in the Catens’ seductive rooms are a scattering of walnut stools by Charles and Ray Eames in the chinoiserie living room and the Andy Warhol portraits of David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor on the staircase.
“It’s a combination of all the things we usually do but in a house that has its own patina, with good proportions and moldings,” Moran observes. “Maybe that’s why it worked so well.” Plus, Dan adds with a laugh, “We’re great clients; we don’t complain too much.”