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Celebrity eco-designer who inspired Carrie's Downing Street revamp

Her mission to overhaul Downing Street - in both interior design and inner circle - has seen Carrie Symonds likened to Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette.  

Like the mistress of King Louis XV and Queen of France before her, the Prime Minister's fiancée has become known for her bohemian sartorial sense, love affair for opulence and power behind the scenes.   

The young mother-of-one is rumoured to have spent around £100,000 on a lavish makeover of the family's No 11 flat with a goal, according to Tatler, to get rid of Theresa May's 'John Lewis furniture nightmare'.

It seems only fitting, then, that the 32-year-old should enlist the services of London's designer du jour to create her aesthetic. 

Interior design guru Lulu Lytle counts Prince Charles as a fan and the Duke of Edinburgh and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger among clients at her business, Soane Britain. 

The Egyptology graduate turned her hand to furnishings aged 25, after a stint working for the late nightclub impresario, Mark Birley - the founder of Annabel's. 

Lytle eschews modern minimalism and Scandi chic in favour of grandiose, eclectic designs inspired by her global travels. 

The 49-year-old lives in a £4million Hyde Park mansion with her Goldman Sachs banker husband Charles Patrick St John Lytle and their children Tom, Bunny, and Xan. 

But away from the pomp and glamour, she makes use of eco-friendly materials and offers apprenticeships to pensioners and budding young students. 

In 2011, when one of the country's last rattan-furniture-making companies went into administration, Lytle swooped in and saved the ailing 99-year-old business, and the jobs of two men who had worked there for 39 years.   

In demand: Lulu Lytle with her dog, Panther. Lytle is the Founder and Creative Director of Soane Britain

Royal seal of approval: Prince of Wales with Lulu during a visit to visit to Soane Britain Workshop - Britain's last rattan workshop in Thurmaston in February last year

The Lytles moved to a flat in one of London's nicest squares, close to Hyde Park, in 1999. They then bought its neighbour and knocked through to create a £4million home (pictured)

The founder and director of Soane Britain 'designs and makes British-made furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpaper' (sample designs pictured)

Lulu and Panther relax in one of her rattan chairs. The Egyptology graduate turned her hand to furnishings aged 25 - after a stint working for the late nightclub impresario, Mark Birley

She counts interior architect Ben Pentreath - who masterminded the decoration of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's country pile of Anmer Hall, Norfolk and Kensington Palace apartments - as a close friend.  

Lytle introduced Ben to his now-husband Charlie and gave the best man's speech at their wedding.   

Born and raised in Worcestershire, the youngest of four sisters, Lucy Elizabeth Kottler, known as 'Lulu', spent her childhood 'in the Worcestershire countryside' and enjoyed family holidays fishing in Scotland or on beaches in Wales. 

A trip to Egypt at the age of 17 inspired her 'fascination for the Ancient World' and she went on to read Egyptology and Ancient History at University College London.  

While at university, she got her first part-time job for the late entrepreneur and nightclub king, Mark Birley - the owner of Annabel's. 

Downing Street's restyled décor is said to have been inspired by celebrated eco interior designer Lulu Lytle (pictured)

She helped arrange flowers at his clubs and London home, describing it as 'an amazing experience, my eyes were opened to the possibility of extreme glamour and beauty'. 

She later went to work for antiques dealer and furniture designer Christopher Howe, where she met decorator Peter Twining, with whom she still collaborates.

She met her husband Charles Patrick St John Lytle, known as Charlie, when he was training as a barrister. He is now a senior investment banker at Goldman Sachs.

Mrs Lytle worked in antiques for four years, before starting Soane when she was 25, originally from the couple's one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill, west London. 

In May 1997 Lytle and her business partner Christopher Hodsoll opened Soane in a basement shop on the Pimlico Road.  

Four years later, Lulu moved across the Pimlico Road to a new studio, and in 2008 launched the furniture and fabric company that is now Soane Britain.  

The Lytles moved to a flat in one of London's nicest squares, close to Hyde Park, in 1999.

They then bought its neighbour and knocked through to create a £4million home, which is now a stunning exhibition of Mrs Lytle's interior design genius and often showcased in glossy magazines. 

The couple share their home with their three children Tom, 20, Bunny, 18, and Xan, 15 – as well as a greyhound named Panther and Hammy the hamster. 

She built up her Soane Britain interior design studio by scouring the country for the best artisan blacksmiths, cabinet makers, upholsterers and stone carvers creating furniture, lighting and fabrics using skills going back to the 18th century and beyond.

In 2011, she bought the last rattan-weaving workshop left in England, Angraves, and started an apprenticeship programme for workers in their 60s and 70s. 

She told The English Home: 'We knew it was crucial that it survived, the alternative being the loss of these skills forever. 

'We bought all the relevant machinery from the administrators and kept working with some of the craftsmen. 

'Today these same men (all in their 60s and 70s) are now training apprentices. It means a great deal to me that there is a future for rattan in England.' 

Furniture maker Phil Eyres, 57, told House and Garden: 'We thought we'd never get another job. We were over the moon.' 

In 2011, she bought the last rattan-weaving workshop left in England, Angraves, and started an apprenticeship programme for workers in their 60s and 70s. Pictured, the Prince of Wales at the workshop last year 

Lytle's designs (pictured) combine a riot of bold colours and showstopping old-fashioned glamour

Soane's clients include five-star hotels and restaurants, private members' clubs, boardrooms, yachts and private houses all over the world

Mrs Lytle, 49, says her furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpapers all aim to 'contribute to the joyful atmosphere of any interior'

Lytle is one of the UK's most influential and successful interior designers and her pieces combine a riot of bold colours and showstopping old-fashioned glamour.

Think oiled-oak shelving, rattan furniture, shimmering gold wallpaper and intricate textiles. A marble bathroom, perhaps, with wrought iron finishings. 

She is especially passionate about sustaining traditional British craftsmanship.  

Her plan was clear and has never changed — to create beautifully made contemporary furniture based on antiques. 

She said: 'The life of an object is endlessly fascinating, there's a depth to old things.' 

Prince Charles, himself passionate about sustaining traditional craftsmanship, visited her Leicester workshop a year ago, just before lockdown, to admire its creations.

Soane's clients include five-star hotels and restaurants, private members' clubs, boardrooms, yachts and private houses all over the world.

Mrs Lytle, 49, says her furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpapers all aim to 'contribute to the joyful atmosphere of any interior'. 

Her home mixes old and new Soane pieces, along with textiles collected worldwide, paintings, maps and artefacts. 

Searing Chinese yellow walls make a study area dramatic, while hand-painted lapis lazuli rocks bring luxury to the master bedroom's Carrara marble ensuite bathroom.

Born and raised in Worcestershire, the youngest of four sisters, Lucy Elizabeth Kottler, known as 'Lulu', developed a romantic passion for Egypt and took a degree in Egyptology

She built up her Soane Britain interior design studio by scouring the country for the best artisan blacksmiths, cabinet makers, upholsterers and stone carvers

Ikea it's not! £12k for owl lantern by designer who inspired Carrie? What a hoot! JAN MOIR takes a look at the work of Lulu Lytle, the designer who has inspired Carrie Symonds' No10 makeover 

By Jan Moir for the Daily Mail 

Lulu Lytle? Doesn't she design yoga leggings or something? Beyond the salons and drawing rooms of fashionable London, few have heard of the interior designer who is said to be the inspiration for Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds's refurbishment of their Downing Street living quarters.

I say Boris and Carrie. I mean Carrie, of course, for it is the Prime Minister's fiancee who is in the chintz-covered driving seat when it comes to sprucing up the flat above No 11. The couple have lived there for 20 months, along with baby Wilf, Dilyn the dog and — oh my goodness, I think I'm going to faint — Samantha Cameron's glass-fronted Ikea cabinets.

Carrie has clearly decided this is simply Not Good Enough and has embarked on a plan to bring a little glamour and class to the dowdy Downing Street digs.

And who better to provide an example of wall-to-wall luxe than Lulu Lytle and her Soane Britain company? While not exactly a household name, they have established themselves as a 'conspiracy of excellence' since launching in 1997.

Style... at a price: Lulu Lytle's products are very exclusive. Her own West London home is an alarming riot of patterns and pinks in a style that could be called 'bohemian casbah'

Carrie (pictured above, with Boris Johnson in March last year) has clearly decided this is simply Not Good Enough and has embarked on a plan to bring a little glamour and class to the dowdy Downing Street digs, writes Jan Moir

Lulu has decorated some of the grandest houses in London and has at least one royal client among her wealthy patrons. 

Her own West London home is an alarming riot of patterns and pinks in a style that could be called 'bohemian casbah' or perhaps even 'squat chic', but many interiors for her clients exude classic simplicity and beautiful craftsmanship.

Soane have supplied furniture, fittings and fixtures to five-star hotels, to the Soho House group, to Annabel's nightclub and to Anya Hindmarch shops. 

They supplied the casino chairs for the late David Tang's China Club in Singapore, they kitted out a grand hotel dining room in Gstaad, Switzerland, they designed and made the scallop shell sconces that light up Bentley's Oyster Bar in London.

They produce their own exquisite textiles, wallpapers and furniture. Everything is the best it can be and is produced by traditional British craftspeople including weavers, printers, saddlers, blacksmiths, chair-makers and upholsterers. 

Miss Lytle has a particular fondness for rattan, and when Soane revived and saved the last rattan-weaving workshop in the UK, Prince Charles came to visit and offer his support.

Brass shell wall sconce - £1,500

Apparently many Soane customers go for the Shell brass wall sconces, to hold candles rather than lightbulbs, at £1,500 a pop

When the Camerons were in residence, their £64,000 makeover included extensive work on a bathroom. But perhaps Carrie would like to shower off the old and embrace the new?

Lytle's style is less power shower and more freestanding bathtub. 'A big room can have rugs on the floor, artwork on the walls, a sofa perhaps,' she once said.

Apparently many Soane customers go for the Shell brass wall sconces, to hold candles rather than lightbulbs, at £1,500 a pop.

Bear sofa - £19,600

The sofa is made by British craftsmen who build wooden frames ready to be hand-sprung, hand-stitched and webbed using feather and down cushions

If Boris is hoping for bulging sofas with fat cushions, he's not really adopting the Soane style, which is about elegant lines that let the fabrics do the talking.

But the Simplified Bear Sofa might be right up his street, the 'elegant take' on a Chesterfield.

He'll need deep pockets, though, because a model with beech legs would cost £11,200 and that's before the leather, which would be £8,750 for a cherry-red cowhide — so a total of £19,950.

The sofa is made by British craftsmen who build wooden frames ready to be hand-sprung, hand-stitched and webbed using feather and down cushions. 

One piece of the furniture might involve five different trades across the country, and take eight to 12 weeks to complete.

None of this comes cheap. At Soane, corners are not cut, they are bevelled, upholstered, polished and stitched by expert hand. 

Soane is so posh and high end that there are no prices on its website, although there are terrifying reports of £20,000 sofas and wallpaper that costs £700 a metre.

Whatever Carrie has chosen for the refurbishment, Boris is said to be appalled at the bills, reportedly complaining that the cost is 'out of control' and perhaps was even 'over a hundred grand'. Can that possibly be true?

It is certainly no secret that many men freak if you try to buy a cushion that costs more than sixpence, and question the wisdom of buying another scented candle when you've already 'got one in the hall'.

Owl lantern - £11,600

They 'give off a sublime glow', says Lulu, who has two Aten lights and an Owl lantern in her kitchen dining room

Perhaps Boris and Carrie will enjoy romantic dinners under the soft glow of Soane's Owl lantern — layers of brass 'feathers' cut and welded by Sheffield silversmiths.

On the walls they could opt for a shell wall light, manufactured on the Sussex coast, using traditional metal-pressing methods. 

The fittings can be used with real candles or with bulbs, just like Soane's Aten fittings, so named because the concave, hand-beaten back plates allude to a sun disc — Aten in ancient Egyptian. 

They 'give off a sublime glow', says Lulu, who has two Aten lights and an Owl lantern in her kitchen dining room.

Dianthus wallpaper - £840 (per roll)

'I'm a great proponent of covering all surfaces of a room', Lytle says

Soane's social media feed is a showboard for matchy-matchy style. Like that print, Carrie? Why not have it on the walls, the sofa and the curtains?

'Go all out,' is Lytle's attitude. 'I'm a great proponent of covering all surfaces of a room — walls, ceilings and upholstery — in matching wallpaper and fabric to feel enveloped in the most cosseting way,' she says.

She's also a devotee of chintz. 'The rich, saturated colours are exquisite, but can be overwhelming, which is why I have re-coloured some of my favourite patterns to be a little more muted.'

Boris will be relieved. Unless he takes a fancy to Dianthus Chintz, a botanical print Lytle has in her own bedroom — one roll of wallpaper is £840.

Door handle - £260

The Hand and Bamboo range start from £190 for a cupboard handle and £260 for a door

The Hand and Bamboo range of door and cupboard handles are cast in brass and come in three finishes: dark bronze, polished nickel and antiqued brass, and start from £190 for a cupboard handle and £260 for a door.

After seeing those eye-watering prices, Boris will probably need a drink from Soane's 1940s-style cocktail trolley (a snip at £4,900).

Yet the Prime Minister is said to have whimpered that his fiancee appeared to have ordered 'gold wall coverings', which does indeed sound worrying. However, what I want to know is: could it be Lulu's Pineapple Frond or her Scrolling Fern?

One wonders why on earth the couple are bothering, considering that they are essentially living in a rented flat and at some point in the not-too distant future they will have to move out. 'It is simply outrageous,' says interior designer Nicky Haslam. 

'It seems very odd to spend all that money on changing it when the next person who moves in is going to change it all back again.'

Boris is said to be struggling to fund the makeover and wants to raise cash by trying to set up a charity that would cover the refurbishment. 

Venus chair - £5,900

In 2011, Soane bought Britain's last rattan-weaving workshop, Dryad in Leicestershire

If they've got their finger on the pulse, Boris and Carrie will be indulging in Lytle's passion for all things rattan.

In 2011, Soane bought Britain's last rattan-weaving workshop, Dryad in Leicestershire. In days gone by, its workers made chairs for the Titanic — hopefully no omen for Boris.

Rattan lighting, rattan mirrors, there's plenty to choose from; picture Carrie reclining in the shell-shaped Venus seat (named after the Botticelli painting) — 'just' £5,900.

Stag table - £11,600

The Stag table is an iron work of art, forged by a blacksmith on the Welsh borders

Should a few choice items of furniture be required, Soane has plenty of options which all feed into the made-in-Britain model.

The Stag table (from £11,000) is an iron work of art, forged by a blacksmith on the Welsh borders, with 50lb sections of metal lovingly moulded into the shape of deer's legs.

'It's seriously tough work — he's had to see the osteopath every time he's made a table — but it's extraordinary to watch him do it, and you feel his soul in every piece,' declares Lytle proudly.

Considering his expensive divorce and Carrie's lack of visible means, one wonders if they are living the kind of five-star life they simply could not afford if left to their own devices.

At the end of the day we are talking about the flat above the shop. We expect our prime ministers and their families to live in reasonable comfort, but does it have to be quite so fabulous or grand?

The Camerons got by without hand-painted wallpaper or leather sofas, Theresa May just made do with what was there and, in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher paid for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat herself.

I love a nicely padded chair as much as the next girl, but should Carrie start to cut her golden wallpaper according to her budget?

Picture research: Claire Cisotti

Boris Johnson's secret fund for Carrie Symonds' No.10 makeover: Prime Minister plans new charity backed by rich donors to help pay for lavish revamp of private Downing Street flat 

By SIMON WALTERS FOR THE DAILY MAIL

Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of his official flat by his fiancée, it was claimed last night.

The scheme is based on one used by the White House to raise millions of dollars for interior design, antiques and art.

The presidential charity is bankrolled by private donors – and the proposed Downing Street version is expected to be funded largely by wealthy Tory benefactors.

It runs the risk of claims of conflict of interest if it is seen as a back-door way of providing a financial benefit to the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson has complained the cost of the refurbishment by Carrie Symonds was 'totally out of control', the Daily Mail has been told. He reportedly said during one meeting that the sum amounted to 'tens and tens of thousands'. On another occasion he said it was 'over a hundred grand'.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his fiancée Carrie Symonds in Whitehall in November last year

He is said to have told one minister he was particularly alarmed by the cost of wallpaper chosen by Miss Symonds, saying she appeared to have ordered 'gold wall coverings'.

Mr Johnson has asked multi-millionaire financier and Tory peer Lord Brownlow, who has close links with the Royal Family, to run the charity. It is believed that an application to register it with the Charity Commission is under way.

The White House fund envied by Boris Johnson 

If the new Downing Street charity follows the lead set by America, then Carrie Symonds could play a major role.

Incoming presidents and their families are allowed to spend $100,000 (£72,000) on redecorating the White House.

By tradition, the First Lady takes an active part in the White House Endowment Trust which maintains the fabric of the building.

Funded by private donors, it has reported assets of around $50million (£36million).

Rosalynn Carter, wife of Jimmy Carter, is credited with a major shake-up of the White House Endowment Trust in 1978, including raising large sums of cash.

George Bush's spouse Barbara handed oversight of the trust to the White House Historical Association.

And Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, increased the trust's wealth to more than $35million (£25million).

A White House Furnishings Committee established by John F Kennedy's wife Jacqueline was replaced in 1964 by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, which includes top interior designers who advise on makeovers of the Oval Office study.

The official purpose of the charity is to raise funds to preserve No 10 and No 11 Downing Street for the nation on heritage grounds. But insiders say the proposal stemmed from the soaring cost of a makeover of the No 11 flat, which is preferred by prime ministers with families because it is bigger than the No 10 flat.

The restyled décor is said to have been inspired by celebrated eco interior designer Lulu Lytle. She is the founder and director of Soane Britain which 'designs and makes British-made furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpaper' based on 'traditional crafts including blacksmiths'.

Prince Charles visited her rattan workshop last year just before the pandemic. Miss Lytle's fabrics start at £100 a metre.

Work on refurbishing the No 11 flat is believed to have been completed in recent months. It went on for more than a year and was disrupted by Covid.

Mr Johnson first expressed concern at the rising cost early last year. He is said to have commented there was 'no way' he could pay for it after being informed by the Cabinet Office that the maximum taxpayer contribution was 'around £30,000'.

That left a massive shortfall. Despite his salary of £150,000 a year as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson has taken a big pay cut because he earned £500,000 as a newspaper columnist and author before entering No 10.

In addition he has had an expensive divorce from his ex-wife, Marina Wheeler.

This newspaper understands that there were several meetings in No 10 where Mr Johnson discussed the possibility of asking Conservative donors to bridge the gap, either directly or via Tory Party HQ. After being warned that could be unethical, his advisers came up with an alternative scheme.

They said the most practical and ethical way to secure extra financial help to pay for the refurbishment was by establishing a new charitable fund.

Its purpose would be to maintain not just the No 11 flat, but also other parts of Downing Street, including the state rooms.

That way, it could be presented as having a wider heritage purpose that would benefit future prime ministers, not just Mr Johnson, he was advised. He is said to have agreed to the proposal.

However, according to some sources, in reality the real purpose was to bail out Mr Johnson and pay for Miss Symonds' expensive tastes.

It is believed that the new charity will be designed to allow money to be used to pay for the refurbishment. It is modelled on a similar scheme used to maintain the White House, where the US president's wife customarily plays a big role in interior design.

Incoming presidents and their families are allowed to spend up to $100,000 (£72,000) on restyling the Washington mansion.

When David and Samantha Cameron occupied the No 11 flat, they paid the bulk of a £64,000 redesign by Mrs Cameron, including a new kitchen.

An ally of Mr Johnson last night defended the charity plan, saying: 'Downing Street is as iconic as Windsor Castle but is in danger of becoming tatty because the Civil Service does everything on the cheap.

'A new charity with privately raised money to preserve it in great shape for all time is great value for the taxpayer and a great idea.'

Friends of Miss Symonds deny she has been extravagant.

'The makeover is appropriate for a building of such huge importance,' said one. 'Carrie has exquisite taste. It is classic, stunning, stylish and chic. She should be congratulated not criticised.'

The Prime Minister's official country residence, Chequers in Buckinghamshire, is maintained by a trust with funds from Lord Lee, who gave the house to the nation a century ago.

A No 10 spokesman said: 'The Downing Street complex is a working building, as well as containing two ministerial residences.

'As has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishments and maintenance are made periodically.

'Matters concerning works on the Downing Street estate, including the residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts.'

The spokesman declined to answer further questions from the Mail, including whether Mr Johnson had voiced worries about the cost of the refurbishment and whether he discussed asking Tory donors to help pay for it or asked Lord Brownlow to take charge of the proposed charity. The Charity Commission said it was not aware of any application to set up a Downing Street charity.

Conservative Party HQ, the Cabinet Office, Lord Brownlow and Miss Lytle declined to comment.

According to one insider the idea of creating a blind trust, an arrangement wherein a public figure's investments are handled by others whose identity is not disclosed to him or her to avoid a conflict of interest, was also discussed as a funding option.

This is said to have been ruled out on the grounds that the identity of the Tory donors would almost certainly be known to the Prime Minister.

Miss Symonds is involved in another charity controversy.

She recently announced she was joining the staff of the Aspinall Foundation, whose financial governance is now being probed by the Charity Commission.

Founded by the late John Aspinall, a friend of Lord Lucan, the foundation helps gorillas in the Congo and runs other conservation projects.

The commission has launched a probe into concerns about 'financial management and wider governance'.

The non-profit foundation allows its founder's son, gambling tycoon Damian Aspinall, to live in a 30-room manor for a fraction of normal market rates.

He is charged just £2,500 a month for Howletts mansion, a Grade II-listed Palladian pile it owns in rural Kent.

The charity is also shelling out large sums of money to Mr Aspinall's wife Victoria.

Miss Symonds has suggested the Charity Commission's inquiry is all perfectly normal. She said: 'The commission made a number of ongoing routine inquiries at the end of last year as part of its regular checks.'

However, commission sources told the Daily Mail: 'A routine check of their accounts in November raised a number of red flags, and these concerns are now being looked at.'

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