‘It was a one-way journey’: the couple whose flat changed with their life | Interiors

Architect Mike McMahon and optometrist Jewlsy Mathews have built every piece of furniture in their home. There’s a papier-mâché dog sitting on top of the first shelving unit Mike designed to make the most out of a nook in their London flat. The ornament ran the Dalston Derby, a remote-control car race the couple organised to celebrate Mike’s 30th birthday in 2011. “Before we started making art together and selling pieces of furniture, we put on events like these,” Jewlsy explains. “The pace at which Mike comes up with ideas is dizzying and he actually brings them to fruition.” Combined with a pub crawl, the Dalston Derby ran for four years.

Shelf life: Milo’s bedroom. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Observer

These activities began to wind down when the couple’s son Milo, now nine, was born. “Our life used to be very outward-facing, but when he arrived we started to spend more time indoors,” Jewlsy says. She owned the two-bedroom second-floor flat in London’s King’s Cross before meeting Mike, who moved in in 2012.

After the arrival of Milo they split the larger of two bedrooms in two with one of the new spaces serving as an office for their new architecture studio. The other is their son’s room, a calm, yet playful space. “We designed and built the bed, deliberately choosing atypical awkward dimensions for the steps,” Jewlsy explains. “Children stretch their limbs in a way that adults don’t, jumping down three steps at a time, so it made more sense than using standard half stair-height steps.”

Changing spaces: the remodelled kitchen. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Observer

Made from birch plywood, the bed also features built-in shutters that can be opened and closed for privacy. The upper half of the room, designated as the sleeping zone, has been painted in Little Greene Aquamarine Mid, with the lower dado, the play area, in Little Greene Tea with Florence. The gloss finish helps reflect light around the room. In their own bedroom, lights bought from Jewlsy’s ancestral home, Kerala, feature the kind of geometrical shapes that Mike is passionate about and which are reflected throughout the property. “You can also find CNC geometric patterns on the fronts of the wardrobes that we made,” he says.

The couple’s own bed adopts the form of an inverted pyramid, which they designed to be space-saving, with the base sections neatly sliding out to provide further storage.

Back in the living area, another of the couple’s built-in furniture projects is a Mondrian-inspired nook, which serves as seating and storage space. It’s a private retreat that all friends and family enjoy, and each section has been configured to contain useful household items such as an ironing board. “I adore sitting there and having a cup of coffee looking out at the balconies,” Jewlsy says. It’s easy to understand why, with the space opening out on to a verdant oasis that’s been 10 years in the making. Dubbed a “junglette” balcony, the outdoor space is impressive and features a naturally filtered pond that oxygenates and cleans itself: “We just need to feed the fish,” Jewlsy says.“And if it gets really cold, we add a tennis ball in there, which stops it from freezing over.” Mike adds Jewlsy says. Mike adds, “I love gardening and we have 80 different species out there. They provide a good buffer and keep the apartment cooler in the summer with solar shading.”

In the frame: the cosy Mondrian-inspired nook. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Observer

Opposite this nook area is the more communal space with a sofa made from 40mm thick Dinesen Douglas fir. It sits on concrete legs that were cast in recycled rainwater pipes. It was upholstered by Jewlsy using fabric they bought from India and is complemented by the coffee table they’ve crafted from the same wood, but set atop undulating cork legs.

The seating is modular: “We realised that we’ve been creating furniture that’s built-in and if we ever decided to leave, we wouldn’t be able to take it with us,” says Jewlsy. The chairs were made after the couple had finished one of the most time-consuming projects in the property, their kitchen revamp. “I absolutely love cooking and we had a tiny kitchen, which was awful,” says Jewlsy. The space is bigger now with hidden appliances and design features that help them maintain a clutter-free zone. Smart additions include a Finnish drying rack which is great for keeping Tupperware hidden away, and dropdown plug sockets from Evoline. “We have exceedingly tactile porcelain tiles by Vicalvi. They were made by pressing folded paper in the porcelain to imprint the pattern on the tile backsplash and we didn’t want to break them up with electrical outlets,” says Jewsly.

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Sitting pretty: Mike McMahon and Jewlsy Mathews with the Unfurl chair. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Observer

The framework for the new kitchen is made from concrete they cast in their dining room. “I did a lot of research before we made it as it is a one-way journey and if you mess it up, you’re stuck,” Mike explains. “We created our own shutterwork [a wooden frame to pour the concrete into] using waste timber panelling from a previous scheme.” The concrete frame was sanded to produce a polished finish and then left to cure for three-four months. Whitewashed spruce timber cabinet doors soften the utilitarian material for a neutral pared-back look.

Repurposed materials from the kitchen were used in the bathroom, with timber offcuts made into panelling. Mike and Jewlsy have made a conscious effort to maximise what is already there. “With the effects of climate change, designers have to be clever – we can’t just rip everything out,” says Mike. “So we used tile paint to refresh the space.”

Inspired by the natural fractal geometry of an unfurling fern, the Unfurl dining chairs are sculptural but also structurally sound. “We made a model first to make sure the chair would actually stand,” says Mike. “It is based on the way a person sits and curves so that a person can sit comfortably.”

The spaces Mike and Jewlsy have designed for their family home consider the user first – and this usefulness makes their efforts all the more beautiful.


Architect Mike McMahon and optometrist Jewlsy Mathews have personally crafted all the furniture in their London home. One notable piece is a shelving unit designed by Mike, adorned with a papier-mâché dog from the Dalston Derby, a race they organized for Mike’s 30th birthday. Jewlsy recalls their past of hosting events and making art before transitioning to focus on their growing family, especially their son Milo.

The couple shares their second-floor flat, dividing one bedroom into an office for their architecture studio and a room for Milo, featuring a uniquely designed bed with non-standard steps to accommodate a child’s playful nature. Birch plywood is a common material in their furniture, including their bed with built-in shutters for privacy. Their home is adorned with geometric patterns and shapes, reflecting Mike’s passion for design.

In the living space, a Mondrian-inspired seating nook serves both as a retreat and storage area. Their balcony, transformed into a lush oasis over the years, features a self-cleaning pond and various plant species for a cooling effect. Recycled materials and fabrics from India are used in their furniture, such as a sofa made from Douglas fir and a coffee table with cork legs.

Their kitchen renovation was a significant project, resulting in a larger space with hidden appliances and clever design elements. Tactile porcelain tiles and unique features like a Finnish drying rack and dropdown plug sockets enhance the functionality of the kitchen. Jewlsy and Mike’s attention to detail and craftsmanship are evident throughout their home, creating a personalized and functional living space for their family. Our website is protected using Google reCaptcha, and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service are applicable.