Interiors

SHOP YOUR OWN HOME

Last year I made this video for Instagram on how to shop your home as a way to breathe new life into it, and it proved soooo popular! It’s an easy and deeply satisfying way to re-style your home – or just one room – by shopping what you already own. As an interior stylist, set designer and interiors author I’m accustomed to making big changes very quickly on set or when styling/shooting a home for my books in only a day. For shoots, sometimes I design and build a set from scratch in a studio, but often we might shoot in a location house (a real home the owner is hiring out for the shoot) and I’m tasked with using what’s already there and adding a few other props bought or hired for the job. I may grab a chair from the living room and style it in a bedroom or take a group of vases from the kitchen and arrange them in a bathroom. Cushions from one room may move to another and artwork frequently finds a new spot to suit the shot. It’s this fast-paced creativity and resourcefulness I’m suggesting you use to refresh your home – the added bonus being that unlike on a photo shoot, you don’t need to rush and you don’t have to put it all back exactly how you found it!

Now that I’ve moved into a new rental flat by the sea to test the area to see if I want to settle/buy, it’s a trick I’m using once again in my own home, for the short time I may be here. There’s nothing wrong with acquiring new things (I mean new to you – can be second hand of course) and I’m certainly looking to add some new pieces to my space as well, but it’s surprising how much you can refresh a room just by shuffling things around. Perhaps you’re strapped for cash right now but are a bit bored of your space or maybe like me, you’re in a temporary home and don’t want to invest too much, or maybe you know you don’t need anything new but want your home to feel fresh. These are all good reasons to shop your home. It’s also a useful way to see what you really do want to buy instead of just purchasing things willy-nilly. It allows you to take stock of what you have and assess what you need. Maybe a new lamp in that corner would really make the space, or a piece of art on that wall would balance the colour and add a focal point.

Here’s how I do it:

CHOOSE A ROOM/AREA/ONE WALL TO FOCUS ON

The process can have a bit of a domino effect as you move things around the house, but try to begin with a small area or one room otherwise you’ll end up with an overwhelming whole house overhaul. That said, the process does usually end up affecting the whole home because the idea is to swap things around from room to room. But decide on an area you want to work on first – in my video it was a wall behind the sofa that was the most focal part of my living room. You will find yourself going round in circles, starting in the living room for example and deciding to pull a lamp from the bedroom to use by the sofa. But then of course you need a ‘new’ lamp to replace the one you pinched from the bedroom so you move one from somewhere else into there. Round and round and round…You get the picture.

GET INSPIRED

Pull out your favourite interiors books and magazines or browse Pinterest for some renewed inspiration. See what sparks joy, as Marie Kondo says and what would work in your current space. We’re not talking about new sofas, wallpaper or an entirely new house for this particular process! This is about refreshing your home by working with what you’ve got. So find a few images that serve as a guide to keep you focused. For me it was images of gallery walls behind sofas because that was the area I was working on.

SHOP YOUR HOME

LAY IT ALL OUT!

This is the fun part. In the past I’ve talked about the benefit of putting some things away – items you love but don’t want to have on display all the time. I appreciate not everyone has space to store boxes of homeware, and maybe that’s just a stylist thing to do, but if you’ve done that now is the time to have a rummage. It’s the same as putting away your summer clothes in winter – you forget what you have then come summer it feels like you have a whole new wardrobe when you unpack that box/suitcase/cupboard of shorts and summer dresses. Even if you don’t have things put away, start to look around and inventory what you have in every room. Maybe there’s a cluster of vases stashed atop a kitchen cabinet, or some throw cushion covers folded with the bed linen. Perhaps there’s a framed poster that hangs in a hallway and doesn’t get seen much or a lamp by your bed that sheds too much light for night-time reading and would be better in the living room. Put on your stylist glasses and really see what you have, what’s working and what’s not.

STRIP IT BACK

I prefer to strip back an area and almost start fresh. It’s not essential but I find it helps me see a space with new eyes and not get too attached to old ideas. Like in my video where I was tackling a wall behind the sofa in my old flat, I stripped out the pieces I didn’t think I’d keep there, leaving only the large artwork and plants that I knew would stay. Equally, you could just swap in and out the odd piece depending on how much of an overhaul you’re doing.

BUILD IT UP AGAIN

Gather all the bits around you so you can see what you’re working with. On photo shoots a stylist has a prop table to lay out all the ‘smalls’ as we call them – vases, knick knacks, books, artwork etc. Gather it all on your kitchen table, bed, even the floor. Wherever you can see it clearly. And start to play. If you’re rearranging furniture as well as small bits, start with the larger pieces first. I like to work from big to small whether I’m styling a set or giving my home a refresh: Rugs, sofas, cabinets, armchairs, lamps, then smalls – in that order.

PLAY AROUND UNTIL YOU’RE HAPPY

Don’t expect it to all fall into place immediately. This is a process and it might take time. On shoots time is the one thing usually in short supply so I’ve learned to work fast and trust my instincts. This is something you can learn too over time and with experience. But in the meantime enjoy the process. I did this exact thing yesterday in my new flat and felt really good by the end of the day. I know now some items that I don’t have but want to add – artwork and a special lamp – and the small changes make the space feel more considered. But I’m also not 100% satisfied with it and I know there will be more faffing over the coming days/weeks (months/years?) Don’t get frustrated and if you need more inspiration, hit those interiors books and Pinterest again and come back when you’re feeling ready.

FINISHING TOUCHES

Finishing touches to me mean that final layer – plants, a vase of flowers, fresh cushions on the sofa, maybe a small arrangement of books and bits on the coffee table (if you don’t have small children to contend with). A ‘shop your home’ refresh is a great opportunity to have a bit of a declutter and add that layer of finesse that often gets overlooked. We’re all rushed with jobs, children, caring for others, life and all it’s busy-ness and messiness and maybe things like this don’t seem important. But I think that a little bit of care and consideration in our interiors can positively affect the other areas in our lives – we feel better and things run more smoothly when we love our home. Amid all the chaos, it’s important to have even a corner of calm and beauty in our homes. Trust your gut and also know that it’s a process of experimentation. As I said in the last post, a home is never done. There will probably always be areas you’re not happy with, things you wish you could buy or do to make your home more special, but in the meantime I hope a bit of shopping your own home can bridge the gap x

Interiors

A HOME IS NEVER DONE

I was walking along the canal last night after dark, all the apartments lit up and on full display, like one of those illustrated cross section books where you can see inside huge ships and the Empire State building, except far more interesting because these were occupied by real people just going about their everyday business – making dinner, sitting at their computers, the ordinary stuff of life that I find so comforting (I wasn’t being creepy spying from the bushes with a telescope – these homes are on full display to a very public walkway, with benches for optimal viewing comfort!) Seeing all the different interiors, different lighting, colour choices, artwork or lack of it, I was mesmerised by the sight and for some reason it made me think of that much quoted scene in the film American Beauty, where Wes Bentley’s character talks about how he filmed a plastic bag ‘dancing’ in the wind for 15 minutes. (When I looked up the scene just now for accuracy, I read that it’s pretentious and unoriginal to reference it, so I guess sometimes I’m just a basic bitch!)

Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.

Excuse the clunky segue to interiors, but this is often how I feel when I see how many different styles of home exist in the world (or in this case, on one stretch of canal in East London). There are so many beautiful ways to create a home, sometimes it feels overwhelming. That sounds ridiculous to write, but I’m talking really about the lives lived there, not simply the way they’re decorated. On my many lockdown walks and bike rides over the past 12 months (see last post) I’ve fallen in love with one house after the other, all in varying styles and representing completely different ways of living – luxurious canal side loft conversions, Brutalist high rises, curved Art Deco apartments, Georgian townhouses, bungalows by the sea, converted pubs and on and on. And with the many trips I’ve taken to photograph and style homes for my four books, I’ve been lucky enough to see the way people live all over the world. I often joke that I feel equal parts inspired and depressed when I leave these gorgeous homes. (I really ought to know a lot more about the history of architecture considering how much I am obsessed with it! In the same way that I should know a lot more about wine considering how much I enjoy it 😉 )

I feel this same beauty overload when I browse interiors on Pinterest, making board after board of imagery on different interiors styles and loving each of them equally. Sometimes I’m left feeling overwhelmed by choice. Which one is my style, I still find myself wondering, even after all these years as an interiors stylist and author! How can I like the frayed beauty of vintage floral curtains but also the clean lines of polished concrete floors? How can I be obsessed with the modern eclectic sophistication of a New York Townhouse (Jenna Lyons‘s place, swoon) and the charm of a French cottage where every surface is whimsically hand-painted (Natalie Lété‘s country home)?

The question of how to find your style is one I know many people struggle with – I get asked constantly. I think what it boils down to is a feeling rather than a defined look. Your taste will change over the years but there will probably always be a thread that links it. What’s the thread that is woven through all the interiors and homes that I love? I think it’s a sense of creativity and authenticity rather than a particular trend or colour palette. As I write in my book Life Unstyled, I fall in love with the sense that people actually live here. Their heart and soul and creativity are on display through the choices they’ve made with their home design. I may be attracted to many different styles of home, but at their heart they are the same. If you analyse the interior styles to which you’re always drawn, I bet you’ll find there’s a common thread. That’s your style.

I think I speak for many when I say that this year has prompted a great deal of self-reflection. All our plans vanished, our way of life changed overnight and it left many thinking, what do I want my life to look like when things go back to ‘normal’? As an interior stylist/set designer and writer, for me it always comes back to the home. Where do I want to live? When I’m not working on a shoot, where do I want to spend my days? This was the case before the pandemic, but now even more so. I wonder how has your view of your home evolved this year? Do you feel like making a big change, seeking a life you’ve dreamt of but never had the courage to take the leap? Perhaps you’ve fallen back in love with your home and vowed to make it a place you want to stay for years to come? Or maybe you’ve given up entirely on the idea of a permanent home and can’t wait to travel the world once we’re allowed. Tell me, tell me. I’d love to know what home means to you now x

Behind The Scenes, Interiors

Ways to stay sane

I sat down to write this hours ago after being inspired to blog while on a freezing cold bike ride. Since then I’ve checked the news, checked instagram at least ten times, browsed Rightmove and Zoopla, googled books on being an Empath (more on that later), changed the music three or four times because it was bugging me, gone downstairs to refill my hot water bottle, gone downstairs to get a blanket from the sofa, gone downstairs to ‘check’ the cat (Really? He’s fine!), and fidgeted endlessly. In other words I have procrastinated and exercised an extreme lack of focus. Which in a way was what I’d planned to write about, at least in part.

In the UK we have just begun another lockdown, most likely to last 6-8 weeks, meaning Boris’ tired rules will be enforced a bit more strictly than before – shops/pubs/restaurants closed, work from home where possible, only go out if it’s essential, no household mixing etc. Exercise is allowed and it was on my daily bike ride that I thought about the handful of things that have got me through the last nine months. Things that have truly saved my sanity, helped me focus, kept me creative. I know this has been written about endlessly and I may not be offering you anything new, but as with most things I do, I put my own spin on things. So maybe my version of these old ideas might strike a chord with you.

I want to share a few very simple suggestions that may help you as we trudge through what will hopefully be the home stretch of this terrible ordeal. Obviously I’m writing from my own unique point of view because what else can I do? I’ve got a bit of money in the bank, I live near green spaces where I can exercise, my family and I are healthy. I’m not a doctor or other frontline worker, overworked and at risk. I don’t have small children to homeschool, in fact I have no kids at home at all right now, and I don’t have a full time job that keeps me glued to Zoom all day, stressed and worried. As a freelance stylist and set designer I have the opposite problem – absolutely no work. My days are wide open to fill as I please and I’m trying to do my part to stop the spread of covid by staying home. I know many would love to trade with me. It will sound idyllic to some I’m sure. But of course I have no income and only vague plans for future shoots which may or may not go ahead depending on the virus. So there’s that.

I worry constantly. For my kids future, for people I don’t know. I worry for the world as a whole. Just because I’m fine for now doesn’t mean I don’t empathise with those who aren’t. I know worrying is pointless but knowing that doesn’t make it go away. After 45 years I’ve finally discovered a label that explains a lot about the way I am – apparently I’m an Empath. I read this article and let me tell you, I feel SEEN! Have a read if you feel like you take on the world’s problems as your own. It’s this endless worry and uncertainty that have driven me to weave the following practices into my daily life as a way of coping.

Throughout the entire year as I, like many, scrambled to salvage something of my career so that I could literally feed my family and pay my bills (thanks government for excluding me and 3 million others from your rescue plan!), new patterns emerged that have now become essential to getting through the days. They might seem silly to some of you and to others they may reek of privilege: some may say that if a bike ride can fix your problems, your problems must not be that big. Take what you will from my words and know that my goal is to reach people in similar circumstances to mine. I can’t speak to everyone. Working the following ideas into my days has helped me fight anxiety and maintain a sense of purpose at a time when my purpose and my work has disappeared. Even if a couple of people feel inspired, that’s good enough for me.

1. out of your head/onto the page

During lockdown 1 last year I made an IGTV video sharing my 3 notebook method for staying clear headed and organised. Like many, the initial novelty of lockdown and the desire to keep busy inspired a lot of creativity at that time so the 3 notebook method was well justified. Have a watch to see what I mean. June 2020 Emily seems so much more enthusiastic and goal oriented than the January 2021 version 🙂 Right now I’m in a one notebook phase and my only goal is stay sane. Every day after I get my coffee, I scribble about 3 pages of whatever is in my head into a notebook/journal. Stream of consciousness rubbish, worries, repetitive thoughts, anything that comes out. As with most things, negative thoughts are better out than in! Inspired by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way which I read more than 20 years ago, it’s a practise that can help whether you’re an artist or just a person living through a pandemic! She recommends doing it as close to waking up as possible when you’re still in that dreamy half conscious state. I don’t always achieve this, being the coffee fiend that I am, so I’d say do it as soon as you can. Some days if I can’t get to it it for some reason in the morning, I try to write later in the day. Other days I write as soon as anxiety and repetitive stressful thoughts arise. Think of it as an outlet, a way to help clear the mind even if it feels like you aren’t actually solving the problems that plague you. Trust me, it helps.

It’s also a good way to have a record of your experience, your feelings and emotions. Over time you can go back and see how far you’ve come, how you were feeling at a particular date in time (always date each entry). I frequently wrote in a journal after my divorce and it’s really helpful to have an account of things as they were happening. Sometimes if I’m feeling a bit shit I re-read my entries from that time and see how far I’ve come in terms of personal growth, strength, mental wellbeing and so on. I highly recommend making this practise regular if not daily.

2. change your scenery/change your mind

This is the bit where I talk about daily exercise and how important it is. Obvious I know. Except, for me there’s more to it than just getting an endorphin rush, as much as I benefit from that (endorphins fuelled the idea for this blog post, so they work). I used to train regularly at the gym and became a devotee of weight training. I tried to carry on with some weights at home when Covid hit, but it only lasted a couple of months and it wasn’t the same for me. Now I walk and cycle. 60-90 minutes a day although I did have an amazing 3 hour bike ride last month on a slow business day (i.e. no business day)

The most important part of this for me is that every time I take a slightly different route. It might sound small, but after nine months of walking the same parks and cycling the same roads, altering your view even a little bit, makes a big difference. While I was grateful to live near a nice park where I was allowed to exercise even during lockdowns, I got so bored of the same views. I craved newness so I started to take different routes. Eventually I skipped the park altogether and zigzagged all the side streets in my neighbourhood and beyond. When I’d done all those, I got on my bike so I could go further and I’d find myself in a deserted central London seeing sights I’d never noticed. My insistence on taking a slightly different route even if my destination was the same led me to discover green spaces I didn’t know about, beautiful architecture I’d never seen, and snippets of history I was unaware of. Even this morning, after many months of cycling around London, I found the most beautiful crescent of houses on a street I’ve been near but not on many times. I took a left when usually I take a right and was rewarded with a beautiful and uplifting sight. When very little changes in our daily surroundings – same four walls, same laptop view – these little moments of newness, whether you’re in the city, countryside or anywhere in between, somehow lift the spirits.

3. food and how you eat it

I’m not going to lecture you about what to eat. We all know that fresh, non-processed diets fuel our body in the best way possible. But we also know that sometimes the body craves a spicy msg laden korean ramen from a packet or a jumbo size bag of wotsits (who me?) But I do want to talk about how you eat. Starting last year when it was just me and the kids in lockdown, meals became the highlight of the day – what else was there to look forward to! Friday nights were especially fun because sometimes we’d choose a theme and dress up (silly and sillier). Since then meals have held a more special place in our lives. Credit where it’s due – my boyfriend now lives with me and he’s Italian, so food naturally plays a starring role in his life, and now by association, mine too. He puts a tablecloth down for morning coffee for heaven’s sake. What I’ve learned from him is that every meal should be savoured and honored and enjoyed, no matter how humble. So whether dinner is a tin of soup and cheese on toast or homemade lasagne, treat it like an occasion. I’m not saying you have to set a full table or even sit at a dining table – maybe your coffee table is where you eat and that’s fine too – but make eating dinner an event. I know that if you live on your own it sometimes doesn’t seem worth cooking for one, but even if you’re having a microwave ready meal, put it on a nice plate, light a candle and savour it.

Can I also suggest an aperitivo hour? Hear me out. I know it sounds indulgent and properly middle class poncy, and my photo of broad beans and pecorino isn’t helping the cause. But really it’s just another way to treat yourself and to mark time – when treats and time management are hard to come by. The Italian tradition of enjoying a drink and a small, usually salty snack before dinner is well worth adopting, either to mark the end of your working from home day or if like me, you’re currently out of work, to have something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be much and it doesn’t have to be alcoholic – a bag of crisps and a glass of fizzy water counts, but put the crisps in a bowl and some ice and an orange slice in your glass and enjoy it like you’re outside a bar in Rome in the May sunshine.

4. home comforts

This last point is a trickier one for me to talk about because home is so different to so many. I live in a world where through my work I see beautiful homes constantly and I know a lot of people with very nice houses, some of whom have lost touch with just how lucky they are. Home is very important to me and even though I don’t have a huge house and a big garden I am still one of the lucky ones. So whatever your situation I hope you can find a way to make your home a place to comfort and cocoon you in this horrible and upsetting time. A few things that have helped me get used to spending so much time at home are decluttering and simplifying my surroundings. This year I discovered the joys of selling on Ebay and even though I’ll never be a minimalist, 2020 pushed me to get rid of a lot.

‘Things’ can make you feel good, but they can also weigh you down. Take a look around and see if your home suits your current needs and if not, purge. I’m currently fighting the urge to get rid of all my summer dresses because it feels like it will never be summer again and we’ll never travel again! Don’t be dramatic like me, but do get rid of things that take up valuable space and whose maintenance may contribute to your stress and anxiety. In its most primitive form the home is meant to offer shelter. If we’re lucky it might also look nice. I’ve rediscovered the value of the basics of a good home – comfort, function, cleanliness. Forget the perfect coloured sofa you’ve got your sights on or the new wallpaper you covet, right now make sure you’ve got a soft throw to wrap yourself in by the sofa and clean sheets on the bed. These are the things that your soul needs right now.

Interiors

My favourite interiors books to give (or keep)

Long before I was myself an interiors author, I’d spend hours and hours flicking through interiors books, daydreaming about one day living in houses like those within their pages. I still do it now, with old books and new. It’s part inspiration, part nosiness, and part fantasising about the possibilities the future might hold. I don’t always love every home featured in even my favourite interiors books, but it’s the general vibe of a book that attracts me and keeps me coming back. Once you find an interiors book you love, you’ll re-visit its pages many times over the years, even as your own style evolves. There may be one or two homes in a book that become your north star of decorating and you’ll remember them forever. That is certainly the case with me. Before I share my six recommendations, a little housekeeping.

Note: some book covers may have changed – when books get re-issued years after their first publication, publishers often change the cover image. The content inside usually remains the same. So if you buy a used version of a book, its cover may be an older version of what’s currently for sale new.

Where to buy: If you can avoid using Amazon, please try. I know it’s tempting and so so convenient, but there are other options depending where you live. In the UK I recommend World of Books, an online used bookshop. They have new books as well and very good condition used ones. There is nothing wrong with gifting a used book ok? Wrapped in tissue and ribbon it will be just as lovely. Also check eBay and Etsy and if you can still visit shops in your area, support your local bookshops, whether new or used. Even if the shop has to order it in and you give your gift a bit late this year, does that really matter? Alright here we go.

FLEA MARKET STYLE by Emily Chalmers and Ali Hanan. Photography by Debi Treloar, published by Ryland Peters & Small, 2005. Buy here.

This is an oldie but truly a goodie. If you’ve followed interior stylist Emily Chalmers career, you’ll know she has a shop Caravan Style, has written a number of books, and has a really consistent style: Vintage, a little bit kitsch, comfortingly retro and sweetly feminine. Even though the book is 15 years old, the homes featured in Flea Market Style still hold up. In fact, as the tides of interiors fashion change, it’s a style that always comes back around. It’s a book for collectors and flea market find lovers and for those who prefer to shun new shiny things and it has a couple of my favourite homes within its pages.

A PERFECTLY KEPT HOUSE IS THE SIGN OF A MISSPENT LIFE by Mary Randolph Carter. Various photographers, published by Rizzoli, 2010. Buy used here.

In Carter’s own words, this is a book on “how to live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc…and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place”.

I discovered this book a year or so after I started this blog back in 2009. And obviously it spoke to me! Life Unstyled is all about embracing imperfection to create a home you love, so it was exactly the validation I needed about my own interiors philosophy. It’s a hefty book, designed more like a scrapbook than a glossy interiors book, and Carter has curated a mix of room shots, lists, ideas, and stories about the people who live in the rooms. It features beautifully cluttered homes from artists like Natalie Lété (my idol), photographers like Oberto Gili, and Carter’s own home.

Now I don’t love every home in this book – it isn’t necessarily a book where you’ll scour for inspiration on how to decorate your home in a specific style, but if you want to be freed from the pressure to keep a perfectly tidy house, then this book is for you. It’s much more about a philosophy for living than a particular interiors style.

NEW NORDIC COLOUR by Antonia AF Petersons, 2017. Photography by Beth Evans, published by Ryland, Peters & Small. Buy here.

Quite different from the first two books, this one is packed with clean lines, bold colour and effortless Scandinavian styling. A fresh look at this new and confident way of decorating Nordic homes, it offers an alternative to the typical muted and neutral homes we’re more familiar with when it comes to Nordic interiors style. Some of the homes featured are quite stark and minimal, while others have a more lived-in feel – although nothing like the previous book I mentioned! But they all share a brave use of colour, from deepest blue to salmon pink, and that indefinable coolness that the Scandinavians do so well. With a few small changes (more stuff) I could live in almost all of these homes.

ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Anna Spiro. Photography by Sharyn Cairns and Felix Forest, published by Conran Octopus, 2014. Buy here.

“Nothing in my world matches and everything in my world clashes”. Australian interior designer Anna Spiro sums up her style in the first line of her gorgeous book. When people ask me the rules on pattern mixing I always refer them to Anna’s interior design portfolio (or her Instagram or this book of course). She’s a very successful designer and yet this book feels personal and far from preachy. The homes she decorates and some of which she features in her book are filled with colour and pattern, but because they’re mostly set against a light and airy backdrop of white-washed paneling and that gorgeous Aussie sunlight, they never feel heavy or suffocating.

This is a picture heavy book and doesn’t have pages and pages of text, so it’s a good one for immediate visual inspiration without feeling like homework. In a bite sized but highly informative way, Anna imparts her wisdom on everything from establishing your sense of style to buying a sofa to her thoughts on specific fabric and rooms, all accompanied by the most gorgeous images of rooms, objects, fabrics and vignettes. It’s been a while since I’ve opened this book and flicking through it to write this reminded me just what a great book it is. I highly recommend this for the pattern lovers who might need more confidence in putting it all together.

INSPIRED BY NATURE by Hans Blomquist (including the photography). Published by Ryland Peters & Small, 2019. Buy here.

This is Hans Blomquist‘s fourth book and they just get more and more beautiful. Blomquist is an incredible interior stylist, renowned for creating breath-taking shoots for H&M Home, Anthropologie and West Elm among others. In general I like Hans’ books as pure inspiration and a glimpse into a fantasy world where only beautiful things exist; where flower arrangements are artfully, well…dead; and where real people may not actually live. What I mean is that the images in this book are so heavily styled but in a way that looks like they’re not styled at all and it’s all just bloody gorgeous! As long as you take his books for what they are – impossibly beautiful styled sets inside impossibly beautiful homes – then there is inspiration to be had.

Inspired by Nature focuses on personal and natural homes and has a luxe bohemian vibe to it. I like to look at the way Hans groups collections in the shots, the way he creates artistic vignettes with household items (albeit very beautiful ones) and the way he often focuses on texture to add depth rather than colour or pattern. It’s a great book for someone who loves a more muted and rustic boho look, think rich hippies in Ibiza.

MAD ABOUT THE HOUSE: 101 Interior Design Answers by Kate Watson-Smyth, with illustrations and design by Abi Read. Published by Pavillion, 2020. Buy here.

Kate doesn’t really need an introduction, but for anyone in the UK who may have had their head under a rock, Kate is an award-winning journalist, blogger, podcaster and author who writes about all things interiors. Her blog Mad About The House and her podcast The Great Indoors (which she co-hosts with Sophie Robinson) are both number one in their categories – she knows her stuff.

I wanted to include this book because I think it’s just really bloody useful! It isn’t filled with beautiful photography and Kate didn’t travel around visiting inspiring homes across the globe. Instead she has compiled a huge list of questions (101) that people ask when decorating their homes and she has used lovely illustrations throughout – very effective in helping you visualise an idea without getting too caught up on a particular style. Some of the questions are “When is it ok to paint furniture?” “How do I mix different woods?” What can I do about ugly radiators?” “When should the TV be over the fireplace?” (Answer: never. Couldn’t agree more Kate!) It’s basically a homeowner’s manual and it should come with every new home purchase!

I love this whole idea because this is often the stuff that holds us back. The little things that no-one ever taught us and that we’re afraid we’ll mess up. There is so much to know when decorating a home, aside from just what colours are you going to paint, and it can often feel overwhelming. Kate manages to answer a wide array of questions with in depth answers on topics ranging from kitchen layouts to rug sizes to mattress choices. This would make a great gift for a new homeowner or anyone who owns a home for that matter!

Emily Henson's four interiors books surrounded by plants

I suppose I’d be silly not to mention my own books. It would be odd to say they’re my favourites, but equally it would be falsely modest to act like I don’t think they’re any good. All I’ll say is between my four books there is something for (almost) everyone. I have a very limited number of signed copies of Be Bold for sale, otherwise, they’re all available from good bookshops worldwide.

There are so many excellent interiors books out there and this is just a small selection of some of my old and new favourites currently on my shelves. I’ll have to write another list soon! But I hope it’s given you some inspiration and even better I hope you’ve discovered a book or two you hadn’t heard of before. Happy reading!

Interiors

Back to School: Interiors Online Learning

I was one of those children who actually liked school, always at the top of the class in the creative subjects like Art, English and languages (closer to the bottom of the class in Maths and Science, I might add). I still love learning and thanks to 2020’s pandemic (a weird thing to say, I know) it’s now easier than ever to learn more about our favourite subject – interiors – all from the comfort of the sofa. Some courses that were previously taught in person have now moved online and others that didn’t exist have launched during lockdown, including my own online course on how to publish a lifestyle book (more on that later).

I wanted to offer a round up of some of my favourite online courses relating to interiors and creativity: how to decorate your home, whether you own or rent; how to be an interior stylist; how to publish an interiors book; and one on sparking creativity via photography. In no particular order, here are my current recommendations:

PIMP YOUR RENTAL BY EMILY RICKARD DESIGN

Bristol based designer and interior stylist Emily Rickard has designed her aptly named Pimp Your Rental course to help renters create a home they love without spending a fortune. This is such a great idea for a course, especially as it becomes more and more difficult for people to become homeowners, particularly in expensive cities like London where it often feels like you have to earn a banker’s salary or have a trust fund to get your foot on the property ownership ladder.

I know Emily through her styling work for clients including West Elm, Primark Home and Bloomingdale’s, but she also runs an interior design studio in Bristol and her design portfolio showcases her bold, modern bohemian style. Like me, Emily lived in the US for some time, renting three different homes in Brooklyn, so she’s well positioned to share her experience and knowledge on how to dress up a rental home without spending too much cash. My experience is that in the US people put more effort into decorating their rental homes, whereas in the UK, the focus is on saving to buy, often sacrificing an enjoyable living experience while you rent. I’ve always felt it’s possible to do both – save to buy your own home and create a rented home that brings you joy in the meantime.

Pimp Your Rental launches on December 10th for £189 but Emily is offering a limited time pre-sale price of £99, so if you’re a long term renter or perhaps renting until you can afford to buy, but you’d still like to enjoy the home you’re in, check out Emily’s instagram and take advantage of the sale price while it stands. A hundred quid for styling tips from a pro is an absolute bargain in my opinion.

HOW TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL INTERIOR STYLIST BY LUCY GOUGH

Not a week goes by without me receiving a stream of emails from aspiring stylists asking for advice on how to get into the industry. Now I just direct them all to Lucy’s course! Lucy Gough is a leading interior stylist who has styled for Living Etc magazine, Habitat, and John Lewis to name just a few. I met Lucy not long before lockdown when we were guest speakers at an event and we hit it off. As a stylist myself, I don’t often get to meet other stylists – technically we should be in competition with one another. But like me, Lucy likes to meet others in the industry and to share her knowledge and experience. Which is what led her to create this course.

How to become an interior stylist is exactly the course I would’ve loved when I was starting out – someone to show me how to build a portfolio, what different types of styling there are, creating a client-ready mood board and lots more. It’s self paced so you can work on it when your schedule allows and Lucy also offers an add-on if you want some one-to-one feedback.

Learn how to become a professional interior stylist is £249 and is comprised of a whopping 43 lessons. Lucy is also launching a new course next year ‘How to style your home like a magazine’, sharing her extensive experience working for leading interiors magazines. You can pre-order now for £149.

SOPHIE ROBINSON’S DESIGN SCHOOL

Interior designer and television host Sophie Robinson has not one but three courses on offer, hence the ‘design school’ heading. Sophie has been offering online courses for a couple of years, but has recently added to her collection. Currently online are three quite different courses: Colour Psychology for Interiors, Be Your Own Interior Designer, and her latest Brave, Bold & Beautiful Interiors. If you follow Sophie on instagram you’ll be familiar with her bold and eclectic style, expressed brilliantly in her gorgeous home. All of her courses are infused with her joyful use of colour and pattern and they are filled with practical steps to lead you confidently down the path to self expression at home.

Sophie is a total pro and the photography, filming and format for her courses is top notch. But her delivery style is relaxed and familiar – important for those who may be looking for some interiors coaching for their home without feeling intimidated. Sophie’s courses usually sell for between £195 to £225 depending on the course, but are currently on sale until December 1st – a huge 30% off, so take advantage while you can. If you like my book Be Bold, you’ll love Sophie’s style.

THE ART OF NOTICING BY GEORGIA GLYNN-SMITH

Georgia Glynn Smith is an award winning food photographer who has worked with literally everyone in the business from Nigella Lawson to Gordon Ramsey to Mary Berry. She’s photographed over 90 books – 90! – during her 25+ year career. Before getting into the world of food photography, Georgia studied design at Central St Martins and worked at Elle Decoration – she has great taste and an unwavering eye for interiors, most evident at her London location house N5 Studios.

This is a bit of an insider tip since Georgia’s courses – there will be three – aren’t launching until next year. (Full disclosure here, Georgia is a friend of mine, hence the insider knowledge). Georgia’s first course The Art of Noticing uses her wealth of experience and knowledge to help you kickstart your creativity by becoming more attuned to your surroundings. In The Art of Seeing, you’ll learn how to use your iPhone to photograph and edit all the fabulous things you notice. And in The Art of Sharing, she’ll guide you through ways to use your newly found iPhone photography skills to create a better social media profile. For more info on each course, follow the links above.

HOW TO PUBLISH A LIFESTYLE BOOK BY EMILY HENSON (THAT’S ME)

Finally I’m going to shamelessly self-promote my own online course, conjured up by me in the depths of lockdown 1. In How To Publish A Lifestyle Book I use my experience as a five times published interiors author to teach you exactly what you can do to boost your chances of publishing your own lifestyle book. Whether you dream of writing a book on interiors, food, DIY, craft, gardening or some other niche lifestyle topic, I designed this course to guide you through the process. From fine-tuning your idea to creating the actual proposal to promoting the book if you get published, I’ve tried to cover it all. I wracked my brain to remember all the details of the process and to answer the questions I had as a first time author back in 2012. Questions whose answers I had to figure out myself, often the hard way. As well as a step-by-step guide, I also interviewed six published lifestyle authors and share their varying journeys to publication. And I include advice from a senior commissioning editor at a leading publisher, so you get real, current advice from an industry insider.

So if you’ve been sitting on an idea for a book, 2021 is your time to make it happen. Publishers are once again beginning to commission new books, especially as travel begins to open up again in some areas, so get the ball rolling now and by 2022 you could be signing books for your admiring fans.

How to publish a lifestyle book is on sale for £149 (normally £199) so sign up while the offer lasts. It’s self paced and you own it forever, so buy now and work on it when the mood strikes. Also available is a companion course for only £35, How to Create a Digital Moodboard, where I teach you how to create a moodboard/presentation using Powerpoint. It’s how I create every book proposal and set design plan for my shoots and I made the course to show you that it doesn’t have to be complicated to present your ideas efficiently.

I hope this sparks an idea for you to either decorate your home, find your style, or write a book! Let me know if you take the plunge into any of these courses – happy learning! x

photo of ragdoll cat sitting on a coffee table in a sunny plant filled room
Interiors

Feathering an empty nest

At the ripe old age of 44 I am, for the first time in my life, living alone. (No the cat doesn’t count). First it was 17 years of family homes, then a shared college dorm, a string of shared houses on campus, then immediately into a house with my future husband, then 20 years later just me and the kids. And now? It’s just me and the cat and about 60 houseplants. Hold the crazy cat lady jokes please.

When you start a family at a young age – I was 23 – a tidy, quiet house and any amount of headspace is something you rarely experience and therefore something you often crave. With both children no longer living permanently at home, overnight I have the tidy, quiet house and all the headspace I could want. I relished it for about 2.5 days. I rearranged cupboards, installed my home office in my son’s room and my prop cupboard in my daughter’s. I de-cluttered, deep cleaned, and reorganized.

And then it hit me. THIS IS IT. That period in my life that had always existed only in the distant future? Well it had arrived. I was in the nest and it was empty. OK, the house has never been more clean and tidy. And the coffee table is no longer strewn with half empty water glasses, nail files, and empty crisp packets. But there’s a reason people say you’ll miss those things when they’re gone. Because you bloody well will!

When your entire adult life has been built around your children, whose needs always come first, it’s easy to fantasize that an empty nest is going to be a dream. No-one else to think about! No-one else to shop for! No-one else’s mess to moan about! But when it finally happens it’s just weird and sad and lonely and you have to work insanely hard to adapt before you get swept up in a sea of emotions that threaten to pull you under. The only friends who’ve commented that it must be great to have the place to myself are the ones with no children. Once your children lodge themselves in your heart, their absence is felt in a way that is difficult to describe.

I’m not here to offer advice on how to handle being an empty nester. I have none. Talk to me in a year. But I will say that creating a home that calms and comforts you and one that serves your new needs, should be your priority. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself making minor tweaks to my surroundings, in part to keep busy, but also to adapt to life alone. (Don’t feel sorry for me, my boyfriend lives round the corner and I do have friends!) The hallway no longer has three people’s shoes and coats and bags, so the coat rack that took up space and always got knocked over has now been put away. The spot on the kitchen counter where my son’s cereal boxes used to live (I’m not a cereal fan) is now a tidy coffee and tea making station (I am a big coffee fan). You find ways to look on the bright side, even seemingly small things like this.

I’ve also found myself once again gravitating towards a calmer, more muted palette and – shock horror – a more minimalist approach at home. Note I said more minimalist, not actually minimalist. This is still me we’re talking about! I no longer want to have quite as many cushions on the sofa or knick-knacks on the shelves. The same thing happened when I separated from my husband, so it must be my instinctive way of dealing with loss. It’s impossible to say if this would’ve happened anyway – maybe it’s a middle-age thing, maybe it’s a Covid thing, maybe it’s an empty nest thing – honestly who knows? More likely it’s a perfect storm of all these factors.

Anyway, the homes I’m currently loving still have the essential elements to which I’m always drawn – texture, rough & imperfect finishes, and a sense of authenticity in the styling – but they are softer, quieter, more gentle than my usual bold style. In my own home I imagine I’ll continue to strip things back, inspired by homes like these, and then ever so slowly the colour and pattern will creep back in. After all, our homes are often a reflection of our emotions and the inner workings of our minds. Both my mind and my home are currently getting a reboot, stripped back to what’s essential in preparation for the next chapter. Who knows what’s next, but I’m doing my best to ease myself into it gently.

Photographer Lorenzo Pennati
Kristin Perers‘ Flower Factory
IKEA
Kritin Perers’ Flower Factory
Armadillo
Watson’s Bay Boutique Hotel