Most mothers of four boys aim to make their homes as indestructible as possible. Not so Rosa de la Cruz, whose hallway is painted in high-maintenance black, which requires twice-yearly touching up.
«The first time we repainted it, one of my sons asked ‘When can we touch it?’ — meaning when will it be dry — and I said ‘Never!'» laughs the 47-year-old art collector and jewellery designer. «This is not a house where you run your hands down the walls.»
The boys are used to such fastidiousness. The airy four-bedroom apartment in Cadogan Square, Knightsbridge, into which the family moved 12 years ago, is brimming with rare and valuable art and sculpture, the result of De la Cruz’s 20-plus years as a contemporary art collector.
Two of the bedrooms each sleep two boys when they’re home: Lorenzo and Pietro, 21 and 19 respectively, are both at university in Washington DC, while Massimo, 14, and Giovanni, 12, are at boarding school in Marlborough.
Instead of the usual childhood paraphernalia, their rooms are decorated with vintage Memphis design pieces, Ettore Sottsass lamps and original paintings. A typical teenage music poster turns out to be Damien Hirst’s artwork for the band The Hours, signed by the artist.
The hallway, painted in Charcoal by Fired Earth and hung with prints by Mark Bradford CREDIT: ALEXANDER JAMES
«They do live a little bit in a museum,» admits De la Cruz. «They know they can’t break things. But they really appreciate and enjoy it. I put as much effort into buying pieces for their rooms as I do the rest of the house.»
De la Cruz herself grew up in a «finicky household» in Madrid, the fourth of five children of prominent Cuban art collectors Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, founders of the De La Cruz Contemporary Art Space in Miami’s Design District.
It was inevitable that Rosa junior, who initially trained as a lawyer, would follow in their footsteps. She invested in one of her first pieces, an oversized Beatriz Milhazes painting, in 1995. It now hangs in one of the two grand reception rooms that overlook the square.
An artwork by Lucien Smith hangs above vintage Abbey Road Studio speakers in the sitting room CREDIT: ALEXANDER JAMES
With double-height ceilings and huge french windows, these rooms are the perfect showcase for De la Cruz’s museum-worthy collection. She regularly changes the artwork and furniture, yet there is a distinct theme to each space.
«This room is all about diptychs, all on two panels and very symmetrical,» she says of the first reception room, which features process art by Christopher Wool, Lucien Smith and Wade Guyton alongside design from Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand and Christian Liaigre.
The adjoining room is «much more chaotic, with all these circles» — from Milhazes’ exuberant, irregular spheres to circular Sottsass ceramics and a Nate Lowman smiley face above the fireplace.
It’s impossible not to draw a parallel between the latter and De la Cruz’s jewellery, a fashion-world staple since she launched her eponymous line in partnership with ex-Harper’s Bazaar fashion director Tierney Horne in 2010.
Simple, almost childlike motifs — smileys, stars, hearts — are rendered in diamond pavé in addictively stackable, everyday pieces. Do her art purchases influence her designs? «I’m very black or white — love or hate,» she says. «It all comes from the same place.»
Jewellery by Rosa de la Cruz, featuring smileys and stars CREDIT: ALEXANDER JAMES
De la Cruz’s decisiveness came to the fore when she first saw her home. «Right away I said ‘This is it,'» she recalls. «We already lived in the square, but I fell in love with the volumes here.»
It certainly wasn’t the original interiors that wooed her. «The bathroom had initials all over it and swans everywhere; everything was gilded. I said I loved it so much I was willing to live in it as it was, but obviously that’s not what happened.»
She reconfigured the space, opening out the second reception room, closing up an archway into the first and moving the kitchen into a «box» within what was previously the dining room, in order not to interfere with the period coving.
That also served to create a separate entrance hall. «I’m very much a vibes person and it’s not good to have a door that opens up immediately into the dining room,» she says.
The apartment is now decorated in cool, minimalist tones, but there is one remnant of its opulent past. «I was hysterical about this fireplace, obsessed with getting rid of it,» she says, pointing out the gold-bird-adorned centrepiece in the first reception room.
«I called so many people about removing it but they said the potential damage wasn’t worth it. Now I love it; it sets the personality of this room.»
Rosa de la Cruz’s sitting room, with artworks by Christopher Wool and Nate Lowman CREDIT: ALEXANDER JAMES
The back of the house is a sanctuary for family time, and nowhere more so than the master bedroom, which she describes as a «chocolate box» with its coved ceiling, charcoal carpets and 1950s furniture. Another Sottsass totem stands in one corner while a wall displays her ever-growing collection of Chris Ofili paintings.
When it’s time to work, however, De la Cruz stations herself at the Piero Lissoni desk in front of the french windows in the second reception room.
«It’s funny, because I’m not really a ‘jewellery person’,» she says. «But in the same way that I collect art, I’m always thinking ‘What am I missing, what could I change?’ I’m lucky: as with the house, I don’t have to ask anybody’s opinion. I just do what works for me.»