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Playing with style: at home with Karen Poole

The singer-songwriter from Alisha’s Attic knows all about dance music, but at home she likes a more retro feel

Karen Poole grew up with music. Her dad sang with the Tremeloes through her childhood then, in the 90s, she and her sister Shelly were the duo Alisha’s Attic. Since then she’s written more than 35 UK top 10 hits, working with the likes of Kylie, Galantis and David Guetta. But in the kitchen of her north London home, you’re more likely to hear classical or ambient chill than pop. “In the car, our daughter Rose always puts Capital FM on,” says Karen. “But if I played dance tunes at home, I’d be in work mode, analysing it or thinking: ‘Hmm, not sure I’d do the pre-chorus like that…’” she says. “I prefer my home to be a place where I can switch off.”

Karen shares this house with her husband David Etherington, a TV music composer, and their seven-year-old daughter. But with her platinum discs hidden away in her box-room studio, the decor is more about intrigue and vintage than music business bling. “I do like a bit of 70s glitz and Studio 54 glamour, but that’s all part of my love of retro style,” she says. “The 60s and 70s were such turning points in music, fashion and art, so finding pieces that evoke those eras, be it an original film poster or a Biba-esque wallpaper, is what motivates me.”

In the groove: Karen in her home studio. Photograph: Rachael Smith for the Observer

Karen and David moved to this 30s home from an Edwardian house a few streets away. “These houses are still seen as less desirable by some people, because you don’t get very grand proportions,” she says. “But I love the nooks, the Arts and Crafts-style joinery and stained glass windows – they have a lot of character.”

The house was, however, decorated in a “typical granny style” that needed a revamp. Karen and David knocked through downstairs to make an open-plan kitchen-diner linking the front and back spaces with a pair of salvaged glass doors. After that, it was all about painting, papering and adding plenty of decorative touches.

Karen had a style steer from Audrey Carden of Carden Cunietti for the dining room and bathroom, but the rest is the result of trawls through eBay, vintage shops and online art galleries. “It’s taken a while to come together, but that’s what makes a home feel personal,” Karen says.

The living room is painted in dark Hague Blue by Farrow & Ball, while wallpapers by Lucy Tiffney and Anna Hayman add vivid pattern to a bedroom and the downstairs loo. An area of Rose’s room is papered in glittery pale purple. “She wanted sparkly disco paper – I can’t imagine where she got that idea from.”

Hints of Karen’s music career come in the form of framed photographs around the house. An image of Demi Moore by Dave Stewart hangs in the living room (he produced Alisha’s Attic’s first album and remains a good friend); and one by photographer Anoushka Fisz, Stewart’s wife, takes pride of place in the bedroom. Terry O’Neill’s portrait of Paul Newman in the kitchen was a wedding present from Will Young.

Flower power: Lucy Tiffney wallpaper in the main bedroom. Photograph: Rachael Smith for the Observer

Other art has been chosen for its atmosphere – as with the pictures by Lucas Price, aka Cyclops, and Bob Cosford in the living room – or for its retro feel. An East German disco poster and one for the 1975 film The Story of O hang in the dining room, while a geometric string-art picture from a charity shop acts as a style litmus test in the hall. “Visitors either love or hate its pure 70s-ness,” says Karen. “And that’s fine. After all, a home is all about what’s personal to you.”

Karen Poole is at @kazpoole

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