“There's something in all of us that causes us to seek out new things,” says the writer and estate agent Matt Gibberd. “I’m the sort of person who will always question everything about the way I live, and while too much can be destructive, a little bit is healthy and can drive you forwards.”
His quest for the new is the reason, he says, that The Modern House, the reimagined design-led estate agency selling architecturally significant buildings that he co-founded with school friend Albert Hill in 2005 has become the success that it has – turning browsing property listings into a luxury pastime.
But his deep fascination with buildings and homes has also led to him moving from flat to house at a dizzying rate of every three years “largely at my insistence”, leading his wife, the designer and stylist Faye Toogood to describe herself – as Matt writes humorously – “as a hen waddling around trying to make its nest, only to have it whipped away before she can lay any eggs.”
After exclusively living in London, the couple decided to move to the countryside, prompted by their nine-year-old daughter Indigo’s health, as well as a desire to be near Faye’s parents in Hampshire for occasional help with their four-year-old twins Etta and Wren. The move will be the last for a while. “I think it’s important to give the children a settled place,” Matt says, appreciating the stability of living in the same home between the ages of six and 18. “I often dream about my childhood home,” he says. “There’s something about where you grew up that is really psychologically important.”
But finding that family home and satisfying both his and Faye’s exacting aesthetic standards was a challenge. It wasn’t, as one might imagine, on the company books, “but if anyone should be able to do it, it should be me, right?” he says, laughing. He worked with a local agent to find the house, a Victorian manor house set in the middle of a nature reserve, with ponies in the field next door.
Along with the grandeur and the proportions of the rooms, it was the light that falls through the almost floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides of the house, that seduced him. As he writes extensively and poetically about in his book A Modern Way to Live, light “brings character, emotion and comfort into our homes.”
Having found the house and moved in 18 months ago, he has left the decorating largely to Faye. “She is brilliant at adding texture, without which it would be quite bland,” he says, noting a lack of period features. It is an ongoing process – teams of decorators are still applying finishing touches – but custom-made wallpapers created from beautiful blown-up sketches by Faye line the entrance hall, while curtains and blinds add pattern at the windows, with further layering to come when more of Faye’s iconic furniture is installed. He says that while their tastes do differ, their home is a demonstration of where they agree.
Matt comes to the design world with a family heritage behind him. His grandfather – or Grandpa Whiskers, as he was known – was Sir Frederick Gibberd, one of the leading British modernists. His father was also an architect and his mother a teacher and a talented artist who took great care in how she decorated their home. “My mum and dad always impressed on me this idea that every object should have a beauty and a function to it,” Matt says. “I was quite sensitive to my home environment. I was that kid teenager who decided to put overalls on and repaint my bedroom purple, because it felt important to do so.”
He had always felt drawn to the family love of architecture and buildings and after studying history of art, he joined The World of Interiors as a writer, where he met Faye, who was a stylist. The love of buildings never went away; he started an architect degree, whilst still senior editor for the magazine, when his school friend Albert Hill, then architecture editor at Wallpaper*, floated the idea of what would become The Modern House. “I instinctively thought this idea was a go-er, and one I needed to give my full attention,” Matt says.
They launched the business in 2005, bringing their magazine training to transform the estate agency model. They commissioned editorial photographers and wrote magazine-worthy copy to seduce viewers into another world, adding a magazine, podcast, book, and sister agency, Inigo, which specialises in historic homes, to the fold. Its success is demonstrable, from their nearly 700,000 Instagram following across the two brands to the stories of people who have moved home on the strength of a beautifully shot image. “You can reimagine your life from one single photo, and there’s quite a thrill from that,” Matt explains.
His own family’s life has had quite the reimagining since the move out to the country. Being surrounded by nature has been transformative. The views out onto the wildflower meadow that is about to bloom are instantly calming, Matt is in training for a marathon in the fields around their house and the girls spend sunny afternoons playing with a fairy house in a secluded corner of the garden, under which, they recently discovered, a field mouse has made her nest. “They have realised that they can poke their fingers down and stroke the babies.”
Right on cue, the twins run in from their morning at nursery, dressed in little gingham dresses and clamour for cuddles and lunch. Having children changes what a home means, from the way it is designed, decorated and used. “I’ve been around a lot of homes, and the ones that are most successful are those where everyone has a place of refuge,” Matt says.
Having said that, it is something he himself is still working on; his desk on the landing, while benefiting from “great light” and views over the garden, is less than private. “When the girls are home, and I’m trying to work, it can be chaos,” he admits. But also, that is exactly what home now means to him. “When you have your children here and they are trooping around and the whole place is alive with their chatter, that really is the feeling of home.”
Interview by Jessica Salter.
Photographs by Marco Kesseler.
A Modern Way to Live by Matt Gibberd, The Modern House magazines and The Modern House podcast are available on The Modern House website, along with property listings. Also visit Inigo for historic home listings and its Almanac.