You may remember grand designers Born and Elinor Olisa Barikor for their hypoallergenic home project, but their build is just as centred around art, as Elinor explains. 

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A build project is never just single-faceted. While the main focus of Born and Elinor Olisa Barikor's self build was to create a home that would meet the needs of their children, who suffer from extreme allergies that affect their everyday lives, Elinor is also a consumate art-lover and co-founder of, so it was inevitable that this build would also become a gallery for her collection. 

"Although we were building the ‘Healthy House’ I was aware it was always going to be an ‘Art House’," Elinor tells Grand Designs magazine. 

Take a tour of Elinor's art collection and find out how she approached creating a collection for her Grand Designs build. 

Read more: TV house: look inside Britain's first hypoallergenic home

How did you approach the art aspect of your build?

It was also the first time that our collection was going to be on show to more people than friends and family which added to the general pressure of the project, as I realised we had to make sure we made the art work as much as finish the build, on budget and on time.

I remember the first time we saw the floor plans printed out to A0 size and my first reaction was "look at all those walls we can hang art on." It made it hard to concentrate on the plumbing questions we were meant to be answering!

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A consequence of my job is that I had what I thought was a fairly large art collection but, very quickly we realised that we were going to be able to collect and commission larger artworks than we had been able to display in our previous properties. It was great to have an aspect of the build that I felt fully confident about, as the rest of the build was certainly rather daunting. When making large, structural decisions became overwhelming, I often found myself looking at the art.

grand designs healthy tv house - living room


How did you choose the artwork pieces for the house?

It was really hard as everyday I discover a new artwork or artist that I want to collect from, but like every other element of the build, we had to consider our budget. However, there were several artists that I have always wanted to collect from and this was our chance. At the time of the build, we were holding the 2017 solo show of  Sophie Derrick’s at the gallery and they were a natural fit and created a time stamp for us marking the build period. 

The art loan scheme ‘Own Art’ was incredibly helpful as our costs increased on the build meaning that although we didn’t get all the art we wanted straight away, we were able to move in and hang/ instal pieces that completed key spaces like the living room and hallways.

Do you have a favourite piece?

One of my favourite pieces is a mural by Alexandra Gallagher that she came and installed. It is an experience I remember every time I walk past the piece and being able to understand the meaning behind the artwork has made it even more important me.

We took advantage of the chance to borrow from the gallery (a service we offer all clients) and try out artwork in different rooms before we even moved in and then kept the pieces that worked. Once we had moved in, we propped up works and then waited a few days before committing to their location only after we had lived with them and experienced how we saw them from different angles as we moved around the house.

grand designs healthy tv house - hallway


Did you need to consider the health-conscious element of your home when choosing the art?

Yes and fortunately this has been something we have been aware of ever since starting the company in 2003. It is becoming more and more standard for art materials to be safe, not only for the artists using them but equally the owners of the finished products. Using solid wood with staining when framing was our choice and asking about the glues used to ensure they were non-toxic once dry. Art materials can be toxic to use but with proper and careful use, artists handle them safely and once they are dried and sealed or in frames, the levels of any VOCs is negligible. That said, we were very relieved when the monitoring of our home’s VOC levels came back as virtually non existent.

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Do you think that art should match your interior design choices?

I have always believed that if you fall in love with something, it will work with your style. I realise this requires an element of confidence, but your home should be filled with items that you love and that make you happy, representing things that are important to you. One of the best parts of my job is being able to go on the art discovery journey with clients who have often finished every aspect of their homes apart from what they are going to display on their walls.

I would do walk-throughs in my head, trying out art on different walls in my imagination and I think I felt, for the first time, like a client rather than the art dealer which was great fun. As the build progressed, we used mood boards and Pinterest to pull together the final elements creating ‘mock ups’ to share our vision for the home with those working on the build.

Read more: 10 art buying tips for self-builders and renovators

Were you able to display all of your existing collection in the house?

Yes! We found little spaces for all the works and if something didn't quite seem to fit, we arranged to have them re-framed or mounted to suit the space. For instance, we own three collages by artist Helen Gorrill which we wanted to hang in our bedroom, but they were too small for the space. We had them re-mounted and framed up to make a bigger impact.

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What is the most surprising place you displayed work?

Our mural idea raised a few eyebrows, but now it is installed it is obvious that no other work would have done justice to this space. We also have installed art in the garden which complements the landscaping more than I could have hoped.

We created a picture ledge running along the top of the staircase which was a happy unplanned result of the staircase design that allows us to prop pieces up to enjoy as we travel up and down the stairs.

Our glass floor gives a brilliant view upstairs of the entrance hallway art. The design of the house included several alcoves which we were able to work with our lighting designer to light effectively and then display sculpture in.

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What will be you be collecting next?

Even when I think we have completed the art in the house, I discover a new piece that I must own and incredibly, a wall or space always appears! The bathrooms are my new project.

I might have to admit soon that the inside is almost full (although there is always room for more sculpture), our attention has turned outdoors. We have several large, white walls in our garden terracing and it struck us this summer that they would be perfect for a mural and I am hoping to commission the very talented Ottelien Huckin to recreate one of her Baroquesque artworks for us in her signature blue. I am also saving for a piece by artist Luke M Walker of London that is a view of London from Bankside looking back towards East London taking in the development of the landscape. It seems to sum up, for me, the move from East to West London and the journey we have been on.


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