Sera Hersham-Loftus’s parents must have despaired of her when she was a child. She had two off-putting habits. She used to rearrange all the furniture in her bedroom when she came home from school, and she also tended to get herself expelled from whichever school she happened to be at — Hersham-Loftus reckons that six posh all-girl schools gave up on her before she gave up on education without so much as an O level.
But it was precisely those traits which caused her trouble as a teenager which propelled her into the interior design stratosphere a few years later. As a rebellious teenage punk rocker she began to devise original combinations of materials to wear — lace tops with rubber jeans, for example.
She incorporated these designs into her room and painted it black. She is still painting things black now — the living room of her St John’s Wood house is freshly painted for autumn but come summer she will almost certainly rearrange the furniture again and change its colour.
The design work got serious when she was on kibbutz as a teenager. She fell in love with a ballet dancer and started designing sets for the Israel Ballet. Two years later she was back in the UK and doing the same for Sadler’s Wells.
She says: “People liked the way I did things. It was always very boudoir — feminine but with a touch of rock ’n’ roll about it. A couple of people from the dance company asked if I could do their apartments up.”
Her big break came courtesy of some lampshades. “I made a collection of corset lampshades one summer. Vogue magazine gave them a whole page. The phone didn’t stop ringing after that.”
Patsy Kensit, who was then married to Liam Gallagher, bought the whole collection. When the couple broke up, Kensit invited Hersham-Loftus to decorate her new place. “From then on I got known for this really bohemian kind of style.”
This features in her new book, Seductive Interiors, which is full of photos of her own house and those of her celebrity clients, including Eliza Doolittle, Frances Ruffelle and Sadie Frost. Others have included Rachel Stevens and Yoko Ono.
So what are the hallmarks of the Hersham-Loftus style? She says: “I have a big collection of African, Victorian and Chinese textiles. I love things that are cheap and cheerful but look good. I get most of my stuff from markets.”
Her house is constantly changing, partly because it is where she tests new looks. “I try things out here for my clients and if they like them I tailor it to their own homes. I don’t see myself as an interior decorator. It’s more of an art-form for me and my home is my canvas.”
Although her style varies depending on the client, there are constants. “I don’t like overhead lighting. I always use raw materials like wood and stone. I don’t have doors except for on the bedrooms — you don’t need them and they get in the way. I use lots of plants and I prefer low seating. All the rooms reflect my personality. I’m a free-spirited person.”
Her designs have attracted top photographers and models to her house for shoots. “My kids got very blase about famous people coming in and out,” she says. “It would not be unusual for them to come back from school and see Kate Moss draped over the living room sofa.”
Hersham-Loftus thinks that her Jewish background plays a part in her style. She laughs: “I could definitely see myself as Yemenite Jew wandering from place to place, setting up tents.”