I’ve always been obsessed by Victorian architecture,” says British rapper, singer and songwriter Tinie Tempah, explaining why he still can’t get over his luck at “finding myself a double-fronted big old Victorian terraced house smack bang in the middle of one of the coolest places in London – Hackney.” He bought the four-storey terrace overlooking east London’s Victoria Park, once owned by the late Alexander McQueen, a few years ago.
“McQueen spent millions in here, redoing the interior and making it perfect. I thought, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. When I first went in there, a 23-year-old boy from south London, I was overwhelmed.
“Walking in, it reminds me of an art gallery, a bit like Saatchi’s on the King’s Road. It’s got glass walls and gigantic white walls, begging to be filled with something.” McQueen did the honours with a stuffed giraffe’s head in the hall. “It’s the pièce de résistance of the house and I thought, you know what, this speaks to me.” Tempah matched it with a zebra’s head in the minimalist white kitchen. He bought it in Dover Street Market – “as you do! They said it died of natural causes. I took their word for it, man.”
The relationship between space, wellbeing and creativity underpins Tempah’s interest in design. “The ceilings in the kitchen are so high you could build a mezzanine in there and turn it into four rooms,” says Tempah, who turned the basement into “the ultimate bachelor pad. Growing up in a council estate and then in a 1930s semi-detached, I never had a basement. I was fascinated by it.
“I turned it into a boys’ den – punch machine, massive TV and projector, red velvet sofa, a popcorn machine, exposed brickwork.” He added a mini gym and a steam room. A pair of Back to the Future Nike Air Mags trainers are displayed, trophy-like, in a glass box and his music awards line one wall. There’s a laugh in his voice the whole time he speaks.
When he first moved in, he kept the rest of the house “secret. I got some of my mates to design it so that it looks like a one-bedroom flat. People I wasn’t too sure of, I would invite them into the house through the basement and pretend there were other flats in the house.” It is a mark of his modesty. “Everyone was my age, and I was a bit shy of it,” he says.
The basement is “colourful and fun,” says Tempah, who has moved to the ’burbs since becoming a father; this is his urban bolthole for now. “I naturally gravitate to colour,” says the natty Tempah, winner of GQ’s best dressed award. “It’s something to do with being African. I wasn’t born there, but my motherland is very, very colourful. In my dress sense and my style colour is a no-brainer,” says Tempah, whose own label, What We Wear, nods to a Lagos vibrancy.
The golden ostrich-leather L-shaped sofa in the living room is part of McQueen’s legacy – “one of our greatest creatives” – as is the horn chandelier. “Everything happens for a reason. I believe in God and I believe God wanted me to be in this house.” He’s added his own flourishes, including a grand piano. “Take it out and it’s just a massive space. I’m keen for my daughter to learn.”
A painting by Chicago artist Hebru Brantley featuring two comic-style superheroes sits on the mahogany partition wall in the main bedroom, one of two in the 3,126 sq ft house: “It reminds me of me and my daughter.” The free-standing bath beyond it reminds him of the creative restrictions of council accommodation. “I’ve always wanted a massive bath,” he says. “I got one like an egg. Maybe it was just having the same generic bath as everyone else on the Aylesbury estate. Here I redid the taps; they’re a bit industrial, like fire hydrants. But it’s not even a thought to do modifications in a council flat; the council does it for you.” The flat was all about “uniformity”.
“That’s why design inspires me. Your home is basically like your world. When I think of the way I grew up, I thought everyone lived like that. Then, through the vehicle of music, I began to be exposed to different spaces – photoshoots in Shoreditch, abandoned warehouses. My mind was blown. The same London I was born and raised in had all these different people living in all these different ways.”
That includes whopper beds. McQueen had a super-king-sized bedframe built for the main bedroom. “The skylight is exactly the same size as the bed.” Lie there on a summer’s day, he says, and ping on the remote to open the blinds, “and it’s the most incredible feeling. That is when I understand how the amount of light and height and windows you have affects your energy in all kind of ways.
“I’ve got a massive window, too, overlooking this incredible Japanese-style garden. I added mood lighting in blues and purples.” He put some koi in the Zen fish pond, too, and built a relaxation pod. “You can see Anish Kapoor’s big slide from up here, too,” he says, and raves about the views of Victoria Park from the roof terrace. “Up there, I feel like I am in this tangible ivory tower. It makes me feel proud to have achieved this for myself at a relatively young age.” But his real pride and joy is the wall of trainers, displayed like rare finds behind tinted glass.
“Some people like to collect watches and Gucci handbags. Growing up, trainers were the ultimate achievable luxury. A lot of our heroes were associated with one of the big brands. I’ve got a bit of a collection. It’s my ghetto luxury.”