Have you heard the one about the man who walks into a pub, has a chance encounter with an estate agent and ends up buying his dream home off her six months later? Fashion designer Oliver Spencer was the lucky punter in that meeting back in 2016, but he is far from the butt of the joke.
Spencer and his wife Nancy had been looking for a weekend escape on the south coast of the UK to no avail, when they decided to hop on a ferry to the Isle of Wight to have a drink with some friends. By the time the year was out, they were the proud owners of a midcentury modern waterfront home complete with 2.5 acres of botanical gardens.
“We didn’t even look at another house,” says Spencer on FaceTime from sunny Wootton Creek, between Cowes and Ryde. Built in 1970, the house had been designed by a local architect, “who did a really nice job, but built it using London brick, which is cheap and salmon pink.” One of the first things the couple did was to paint the entire structure “off-black, which instantly changed the whole thing”. As well as the lick of paint, they added a huge extension that would become home to their kitchen, and reconfigured the space to make an open-plan five-bedroom, four-bathroom escape.
Thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows, the house is flooded with all-day light. “They were massively important,” says Spencer. “We are west-facing, so we get the most amazing sunsets.” These sunsets are enjoyed with anything from Steely Dan to Four Tet playing on Spencer’s beloved 1992 JBL Quad speakers as Nancy mixes up jalapeño margaritas from their drinks bar.
For the couple, the gardens are a highlight, but one with strings attached. “The lady I bought it from said to me, ‘If you’re gonna buy it, you have to employ this guy Mel who has been tending it for 20 years and knows it backwards,’” he explains. “It’s true; I feel like I own the house, but I’m a caretaker of the gardens.”
Back inside, a mixture of cosy corners and breakout areas (a room devoted to ping pong and darts came into its own during the 10-week lockdown period the family spent here) are joined aesthetically by a well-clashed mix of midcentury and contemporary furniture and art.
Just like his famously relaxed sartorial signature – which counts Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jude Law and James McAvoy as fans – the self-taught tailor’s home has an idiosyncratic appeal that looks happily lived in. “Being eclectic is what I like [with my work], it has a feeling of modern and old, so I guess that’s why our interior is really random and eclectic.”
By his own deadpan admission – and in keeping with his reputation as one of fashion’s most laid-back nice guys – he is “really bad at remembering” where a lot of his lovely art is from. He does, however, especially like “a piece my mate didn’t have space for so asked me to look after,” depicting ships seemingly falling off the edge of the Earth that he’s mounted in his wood-clad TV snug. He also likes an oil painting of a yacht in the English Channel given to him by his dad, which hangs above the drinks bar in the living room. (Boats are a thing; a large model of a sailing boat that Nancy bought him in lieu of the real thing sits atop a rosewood sideboard in a hallway).
His 50th birthday present, a copy of the Rolling Stones’ 1968 album Beggar’s Banquet, signed by the band, sits proudly above the fireplace.
“It should be in the toilet, really, but it’s the only thing I show off about,” he admits. This double-facing fireplace, set into the wall, connects the library to their kitchen extension. “It’s definitely the heart of the home,” he says. “Our dining table was designed by a friend, who owns Another Country in Marylebone, so it can sit 12 people around it – basically, loads of space for friends.” The kitchen pays homage to the seafront location with porthole windows mirrored in the ceiling skylights – it also brings a sense of fun with a huge hammock chair suspended from the ceiling.
When it comes to furniture, chairs are another thing. Two iconic Wassily steel structures, that Spencer has owned for years, have been reupholstered with pebble-grain leather from one of his collections; the red Bertoia Bird Chair, which he used for his 2016 collaboration with the photographer Rankin, takes pride of place in a bookshelf nook; and sprawling B&B Italia sofas in rich velvets are suitably sumptuous. “The whole house is about texture, I love it,” says Spencer. “Texture is more important to me than colour, which is why the walls are white. I wanted to keep it clean.”
It makes for the perfect canvas to fuel creativity, too. “I’m very happy thinking about fashion here. I feel like I’m connecting with the sea and connecting with the earth just being here,” he says. “But really, it’s just the best place for us to switch off and hang out with the kids.”