Creativity Before Consumption, Interiors


My fifth interiors book, CREATE (inspiring homes that value creativity before consumption) is now available to pre-order! Order your copy now to receive it through your post box on its launch day, November 8th. I am extremely proud of this book and can’t wait for you to see and read about all the inspiring homes we feature. As with all my previous books, this was a true labour of love. I always start with a concept, something upon which I’ve been ruminating for some time and that I feel passionately about and then I seek out people whose homes help me to illustrate the idea. As a friend pointed out, CREATE is my post-pandemic baby, a manifestation of all my pent up creativity of the last few years. For a quick look at what’s inside, click here.

Creativity before consumption is a concept I’ve touched on in my previous books, but has actually been a way of life for me since childhood. I was raised by a mum who had an antique clothing shop when I was little so shopping second hand has never seemed strange to me. I was also always creative, preferring to customise everything from my jeans (patches and embroidery) to my bedroom walls (large murals) to my hair (every colour imaginable) rather than have the same thing as other people. Self expression via creativity has always been essential to me and now I express it mainly through my homes and my work as a set designer and stylist. I also care deeply about the future of the planet and while I sometimes feel like it’s a losing battle (particularly when governments and large corporations are still doing little to lead the way) I still choose to do my part – no matter how small – to limit my contribution to its destruction. It may sound grand to think that by making different choices in the way we decorate our homes we can make a difference, but not doing anything isn’t an option.

In CREATE I share the stories of other creative people who have decorated their homes in ways that aim to do less harm to the planet – whether it’s by shopping second hand or by repurposing things rather than throwing them away – while also being expressions of their unique style. Throughout the book, the homes and details are captured beautifully by photographer Catherine Gratwicke, with whom I’ve worked on three of my five books. It is published by RPS. We really hope you enjoy CREATE!


My career began in a shopping mall

Last week I found myself walking through a shopping mall in the early morning as I connected from one train station to another on my way to view houses for an upcoming photo shoot. I had an unexpected flood of emotions as the sights and sounds and smells triggered memories of working in a similar mall in LA when I was pregnant with my daughter in the nineties. The jangling of keys as store employees unlocked doors. The clang of coins as tills were counted. And the ever present aroma of MSG-laden Chinese food wafting from the food court. I was instantly transported to the Glendale Galleria circa 1998.

In the late summer of 1998 I had recently graduated from Boston university and was working a few days a week at an unpaid internship for a well known studio in Los Angeles. On the other days I was working in an Aveda store in a shopping mall to make some money. I’d only just acknowledged my love for design after finishing a four year degree in media and communications and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life. Had I paid attention to the ways I enjoyed spending my time as a teenager years earlier I would’ve seen that decorating – my bedroom, the family living room at Christmas, my mum’s antique clothing shop – was what came naturally to me. Maybe with better guidance I would’ve studied design. But I’d also been good at writing and thought maybe I’d be a journalist, hence the degree in media. After university I was doing the figuring out thing you often do at 23. I had vague plans to move back to London or to Paris (I’d also been good at French and wanted to become fluent) and work at a fashion magazine – I know, couldn’t be more cliché. Or maybe I’d stay in LA and find a way to work in film – hence the internship at the studio.

When I found myself pregnant with Ella just a few months after graduation, plans quickly changed. I dropped the unpaid internship and switched to working full-time in the mall so I was eligible for their health insurance for the birth. I would casually (I thought) find a way to work it into a conversation with the shop customers that this job was just temporary for me, I had big plans. I cringe now imagining their internal eye roll while they waited for their receipt from this young pregnant British girl serving them expensive beauty products in a shopping mall in Glendale, California. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with working in retail, it wasn’t where I’d pictured myself after graduation. 

My boyfriend (later husband) sometimes had to drop me off at work at dawn before my shift started and before the shop opened because we shared a car, so I would sleep on the floor in the small back stockroom until it was time to open. It turns out being pregnant – even at an energetic 23 – was exhausting. On my days off I taught myself how to use a sewing machine and started making handbags – I’d be the next Kate Spade I thought! (A Kate Spade bag was much sought after in the nineties before they went global and lost their cool). As soon as Ella was born I suddenly wanted to sew baby clothes and later went on to launch a successful kids clothing collection. But at that time in the early days of pregnancy it was sewing that reignited my creativity and in many ways led to where I am today. 

My daughter Ella is now 23, working in her first post-university job (in media, the irony!) and making me proud every day. Having her was the best decision I’ve ever made. After many different chapters and plot twists and rewrites I’m in a place I definitely dreamt about back then but wasn’t sure I’d ever reach. A successful career in interiors and styling/set design, five interiors books with my name on them and a roster of clients across interiors, fashion, tech, food, and beauty who trust me to interpret their vision for photography and film. None of it happened overnight and none was handed to me on a plate. It was persistence and hard work and adapting to change and taking risks and failing and getting up again and again that got me this far.

I am nowhere near done with so much more I want to create and achieve and challenge myself with, but walking through that mall sent shivers up my spine and I knew I had to stop and take a moment to acknowledge and to share. I’m often guilty of always looking forward. What’s next? And then after that. And next year, and five years from now. Always planning the future. But it’s important to recognise that what I have now is what I used to dream about. Otherwise what’s the point?

How strange and wonderful that as I finish writing this piece, a song by Morcheeba comes on the radio, a band I haven’t heard in years but one I played on repeat working in that shop while pregnant with Ella. Shivers. 

First image by Rebecca Douglas Photography.

Second image of me making samples for my children’s clothing collection with a five month old Ella under the table.

Behind The Scenes, Interiors


My mum can’t remember when she started menopause. Her memory is shot (more on why that may be later). It’s only through some sleuthing that I’ve been able to figure it out, at least roughly. I have a clear memory of my mum talking to an auntie and this auntie – who is always up for trying the latest thing – telling my mum about what I now know to be some sort of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) cream. I remember the Spice Girls having just debuted, so it was around 1996 and I must’ve been about 19 or 20, which made my mum about 49. Knowing my mum, if she was talking to someone about peri-menopause symptoms, she’d probably been having them for some time, suffering silently, particularly because it was even worse back then in terms of cultural understanding. Also my mum doesn’t like to worry people so keeps health issues to herself, much to the annoyance of her four children. I also remember my mum saying at some point in my young adult life that she realised she was probably fighting so horribly with her brother for whom she was working, because she was menopausal. She worked for him briefly when I was about 15, so that would’ve made her 43. Just call me Miss Marple.

In December I turned 46 and my first memory of having a night sweat is between two and three years ago – bingo! Similar age to when my mum might’ve started. The pandemic has played havoc on time so I think I was having them before the pandemic but I can’t be certain. The reason I open this essay in this way is that I think it is essential to find out your family history so you can look out for signs and act early. Night sweats were the first inkling that something was going on. My periods were the same, regular, and I don’t recall many other obvious changes. But that’s what makes peri-menopause is so insidious. The symptoms are varied and sometimes begin subtly. They differ from woman to woman, some getting them all, some getting only a few or even none. Looking back I now understand that I was also experiencing other symptoms, emotional not physical, but the combination of being in a pandemic and then my kids leaving home mislead me to think those were the reasons for my low mood (let’s call it what it is – depression) and anxiety and sadness and fear and panic.

Like many, I’d had a difficult couple of years. For most of 2020 I didn’t work and didn’t get any financial help from the government. But I was surprisingly happy. My kids were home with me, I was being creative and keeping really busy – I wrote/filmed/edited/launched two online courses during that time, I was really active on social media, connecting with people through art and self-expression, I sold paintings, I worked on new business ideas. It wasn’t until the end of 2020/beginning of 2021 that I started to feel really bad. Work had actually started to return although I was in the hole financially and had to dig myself out. I’d also decided that I had to leave London. I couldn’t be there anymore. Financially it was killing me. I wanted to buy a house again but was living in a really expensive area giving all my money to the landlord of a flat I didn’t even like, so that I could be in a city to work and make more money to pay my landlord. That’s how it felt. I’d been looking at flats by the sea for a few years, with the intention of having one for the weekends, not to live permanently, but the pandemic came along and suddenly I had to get out. My son was about to start university and daughter was about to finish. I didn’t have to be in London anymore.

I couldn’t convince my boyfriend to leave – he had an office job and even though he’d been working from home since March 2020, it was likely he’d return to the office soon. He also couldn’t yet see the appeal of leaving London, his friends and the life he’d built. We began fighting a lot. You can’t even call it fighting. It was more that I retreated. He and lots of others I knew seemed to be ok (I have to say that most of them were on paid furlough or getting plenty of financial support from the government which may have helped then feel better quicker) but I still felt awful. Emotionally flat. The world looked bleak. I didn’t feel hope for the future. Everything seemed pointless. For someone who’s always been positive and optimistic this was alarming. I didn’t recognise myself. I’m not someone who just gives up but that’s kind of what I did. I was someone who did big things, I took risks, I moved countries, I started businesses, I said yes to things. To give you some perspective: when I was about 26 I moved with my (now ex) husband from Los Angeles, where we were living, to Seoul, South Korea for his job as a broadcaster in the US Army. Our children were small, Ella was three and a half and Johnny was only two months. During the two years we lived there, I started a children’s clothing business (Spike & Ella), traipsing round the huge fabric markets in Seoul with Ella in a pushchair and Johnny strapped to my chest, trying to negotiate deals on fabric even though I didn’t speak the language. I found a small family run factory (run by the lovely Mr Yi) to make my samples and eventually to fulfil orders, I enlisted a Korean speaking friend to translate for me in meetings, I built a website, I designed lookbooks, clothing labels, packaging, I got showroom reps in the big markets in the US – Dallas, LA, New York – and I ran a fucking business in a foreign country when I was basically a child taking care of children! I don’t share this to brag, but to explain that this is who I am. At my core I am a grafter. I’m ambitious and entrepreneurial and passionate and optimistic.

Peri-menopause has changed who I am. Although my work life has so far been less affected thankfully, in my personal life I feel like a different, less capable person. I hope to return to my former self, hopefully an even more improved version, but right now I don’t even recognise myself. I liken it to feeling like a marble sculpture which over time is being chipped away at, teeny tiny bits chiseled off in the tiniest increments so that it’s barely even noticeable. But then two years later, the sculpture looks completely different. When I talk of the insidiousness of peri-menopause I’m talking about how subtle the changes can be and how they can often be attributed to other circumstances in your life. I thought I was shutting down in my relationship because of outside circumstances and I thought my partner didn’t understand that I had been so deeply affected by the pandemic. I felt like a failure. In 2020/2021 we broke up three times. The first time initiated by me in an emotional outburst that I recall so vividly. Wracked with tears, I was convinced we weren’t right for each other. We got back together again, but the following year he ended it and I didn’t fight it. We got back together again. Finally in February 2021 when I couldn’t see the future clearly anymore, he left me again and again I didn’t fight it. I actually thought it was what I wanted. I was tired of having to feel bad about feeling bad. But I also understand how I wasn’t a joy to be around. Almost immediately I decided to leave London and pursue my dream to live by the sea. Within a month I’d found a flat near Margate. At first I felt liberated but after a few weeks I woke up and realised that something wasn’t right. I was an emotional wreck. I literally couldn’t stop crying for about two weeks. I couldn’t talk to anyone without crying. I became obsessed with getting my boyfriend back.

Fast forward a year and if you follow me on social media, you’ll know my boyfriend moved to the seaside with me (and absolutely loves it), he now works from home full-time, and we bought a house. The difference now is that I recognise that a lot of what happened over the last few years was exacerbated by my change in hormones. It’s all linked so intricately that it’s been hard to unpick. The pandemic had an effect on me, my children leaving home had an effect on me, my temporary loss of work had an effect on me and maybe it was the perfect storm with peri-menopause thrown into the mix as well. What finally led me to call the doctor and have a blood test was the change in periods last year. Sometimes I’d have two a month, followed by three months without one. I had bloods taken and was told that they would indicate if I was peri/menopausal. The (male) doctor said that if the bloods didn’t indicate menopause then we could chat further about why I might be experiencing these changes. When I called for the results, the nurse said the note from the doctor said simply “menopause”.That was it. I laughed. “And?” I said. “What now?” I was told by health care professionals to go away and decide what I wanted to do. Read about treatments or just change my diet and make sure I exercise. Really? That’s it? I was shocked. I thought they would advise me, offer guidance but nope.

I didn’t do anything. Work became really busy (halleluah!) and I just got on with it, as women tend to do. It was only when I hadn’t had a period for a full six months that I called the doctor again. I’d found myself having conversations about HRT with women on set who were a few years older than me. A makeup artist I work with is in her early fifties and said she started taking it at my age and it changed her life (for the record she looks amazing and is always a joy to be around). I started to do a bit of research and I also suddenly became fully aware of how bad I was feeling. A different bad to two years ago. Not depressed, but still emotionally flat. But I also experience ever changing combinations of the following at various points in a day: anxiety, indecisiveness, heart palpitations, disorganisation, messiness, forgetfulness, feeling spaced out, panicked, inability to think clearly, argumentative, difficulty focusing, quick to anger, tired. The list goes on.I do still feel joy and elation at times – particularly when I’m running (I’ve developed a craving for running, something about the burning off energy). It’s like now that I’ve accepted this is real, it has all come into such sharp focus. I’m not imagining it, this isn’t ‘normal’, I do deserve treatment. What I’m trying not to do is my usual excuse making. “Of course you’re stressed/anxious, you have a lot going on, blah blah blah”. I’m writing a book and have a very tight deadline ( I should be writing it now…), I’m planning a number of shoots over the next couple of months, at the end of the month we’re moving into the new house which is still a building site, I’m planning various work and family trips, and on and on. But I used to be able to handle this. Remember the Seoul story? I did all that with two small kids in tow!

So I’ve decided to go on HRT. Unfortunately I got my prescription just in time for the UK shortage! You have to laugh really. It was front page news literally the day I spoke to the women’s health nurse. So my first prescription cannot be filled right now. The good news is, more women are seeking help in the form of Hormone Replacement Therapy. The bad news is the pharmaceutical industry wasn’t prepared and can’t produce it quick enough! With a family history of breast cancer I do need to be more careful as there are links to cancer for some women and some treatments. But I’ve decided to accept the risk. My mum didn’t use treatment back in the nineties. Women were scared by the research linking it to breast cancer and her mother had died from it in her sixties. My mum’s decision coloured my own and is partially why I didn’t seek treatment earlier. It is also because there is so little information out there in the UK. Growing up and until very recently if I’m honest, I thought menopause was hot flashes and mood swings. “Women go a bit crazy” is the general narrative.

There has been a movement in recent years amongst women, now speaking openly about it – this is why I’m writing this. But the national healthcare system is seriously behind. Davina McCall’s recent documentary on Channel 4 and another she did two years ago shone a light on many aspects women may not know and has made so many women, myself included, feel seen and heard. We are not imagining it and we don’t have to just put up with it. A fact I found interesting/alarming was scientific evidence suggesting that if we don’t replace lost hormones in the earlier stages of menopause, there can be irreparable damage to memory. At the beginning, when I spoke about my mum’s memory loss, it’s hard not to wonder if her decision to not take treatment has affected her memory, which is not good. There could be many contributing factors but for me, who already struggled with a less than perfect memory, this stood out.

The fact that peri-menopause can go on for up to ten years before menopause itself arrives and we are expected to just deal with it, is quite shocking. (Once you have had no period for 12 months you are considered to be in menopause). And it is also why it can be difficult for women to pinpoint. Am I? Aren’t I? Is it the weather, the economy, the state of the world, the stress of my job? Raising a family? The difference for me has been that I’ve always managed to handle all those things, until now. I’m not expecting HRT to be a magic pill although some women say it literally saved their lives. It may take some time to get the treatment right, but I am so looking forward to the prospect of feeling like myself again. I’d love to hear your stories if you’ve been going through it or have words of wisdom to share with me and other readers. Thanks for reading. Comment below x

Even when you are renovating a home there are moments of beauty to be found amidst the mess

Transforming a 1950’s bungalow in Margate

When I realised my last post was about Christmas decorations I knew there was a problem. It cannot – CANNOT – almost be April. Can it? But how? To say time flies would be both an understatement and a cliche, yet it’s truer than true. I think about writing here all the time, every day in fact. Actually doing it proves more difficult.

We’ve been a bit busy over here at Life Unstyled HQ. A new book and a new house in the works has meant little time for writing, even though it’s one of my favourite ways to express myself. Plus styling for my usual commercial clients and launching a new business (art prints, coming very soon!), it all adds up to a bit of a scrambled brain and very little time.

Anyway, there is so much I want to share with you about all of these new ventures, but until things slow down a bit (who am I kidding though?) here are a few before pictures of our new/old bungalow in the coastal town of Margate, Kent. I lived here from age 10 to 17 – my mum was one of the first DFL’s (Down From London), moving us from the gritty city as kids to the pretty seaside town of Broadstairs, in search of a purer lifestyle. At 17 I left the area for New York and never thought I’d come back. Yet here we are, 30 odd years later and I’ve just bought a house barely a mile from where we lived!

So follow along on Instagram for more regular updates but always stay tuned here for juicier, more meaningful chats. I know that if you’re here reading this, then likely you aren’t just an Instagram scroller, looking for the next dopamine hit of image/video/meme/repeat. If you’re here, it means you still like to read words. So thank you. I can’t always promise they will be grammatically correct, nor can I promise they will be original and informative, but my words will always be from the heart. So for now, please enjoy these snapshots of our little bungalow after we stripped it back and before the big demo jobs begin. And see the joy on my face when I found the perfect green sink at a local reclamation yard. The first purchase for the house – and a total impulse buy – before I’ve even designed a single bathroom! You have to start somewhere right? x

Creativity Before Consumption


A couple of years ago I teamed up with my friend Yolly, a talented florist and a former photographer, and we created these sweet handmade ornaments for the Anthropologie blog. Using elements from nature – feathers, pine cones, dried lotus seed pods and other foraged, found and purchased bits and pieces – we made these simple, shimmery modern rustic ornaments to add to our ever growing collection.

(It’s been a few years since we shot this craft and in that time we have realised that using glitter, even so-called eco or bio glitter is harmful to the environment. We used bio-glitter to make these ornaments, but now that has also been found not to be much better than real glitter once it gets into the water supply. I suggest removing glitter from this craft. An alternative is to replace the glitter with a sprinkle of sugar to give the effect of snow. Otherwise, paint alone will still look sweet).

Every year I try to add a few homemade ornaments to my tree along with those made by my children when they were young. I also ask them each to buy a new ornament every year, now that they are young adults (we have ceramic santas driving cars, snowmen in tutus, glittery mobile phones, knitted sushi, glass pickles, you name it). We don’t have a huge amount of Christmas family traditions, but this is one I try to carry from year to year, so that decorating the tree becomes a trip down memory lane as we remember where we were when we made/bought each ornament.

I’ve always loved contrast – in interiors, in fashion, in food – and I love this craft because of the contrast of the natural rustic elements and the shimmery glitter. The feeling of painting on the raw, porous surfaces is also deeply satisfying and calming. So put on some Christmas tunes, pour a glass of something warming and create some magic. I hope you enjoy x






Paint sections of each piece – just the edges of a feather or the tips of a pine cone
While the paint is still wet, sprinkle with glitter (SUGAR), catching the overflow on a plate below
Once dry, thread a loop of wire onto each ornament
Hang onto your tree with fairy lights and watch them shimmer
The power of lighting to add ambience to a room


I sometimes struggle with the idea that I am solely an “interiors writer”. My brain is full of so many thoughts and ideas I’d like to share, some about interiors, but many others about art and creativity, about parenting and menopause and a long list of other topics, some trivial, some profound. I am a writer and stylist working in the interiors industry, but that doesn’t mean I particularly enjoy writing about the next interiors trend or which designer just launched a new collection. I probably can’t advise you where to buy x/y/z homeware product, and it’s unlikely that I know what Dulux’s paint colour of the year is.

Even in my interiors books I like to delve more into the why of a home rather than the what. Why did the owner choose this home? Why did they pick that artwork and hang it in the bathroom? Why did they decorate in these colours? I want the story behind the home, not just the catalogue of where they bought what. I love design and art and creativity and I love inspiring others to create a home they feel proud of and that reflects their personality. I love writing and I love creating something magical and unique out of very little and I love my little community of people as obsessed with HOME as I am. Creating a home wherever you live and regardless of your budget or the particular chapter of life you’re living through (married, single, with/without kids, divorced, flatmates, whatever…), that is something I can help with. So what makes a house (or apartment or boat or room) feel like a home?

If you’ve followed me for a long time you’ll know that I’ve moved around a lot over the years: London>Kent>New York>Boston>Los Angeles>Texas>Seoul>Los Angeles>London>Kent. When you move a lot you become uniquely skilled at settling into a home really fast, whether it’s rented or owned. It doesn’t take much. My brother came to visit recently from LA and he commented that my homes always feel ‘homey’ very quickly. And as I sit here now and look around my little rented place by the sea that I’ve only lived in for a few months, I can see that he’s right.

Even when I know I won’t be in a home for very long I still make an effort to put my mark on it. Actually it’s not an effort, it’s a compulsion – I have to do it! It’s what I love and it’s what makes me tick. I don’t really bother with paint or anything that costs real money because why would I renovate my landlord’s home for them? (The question of whether or not to invest much into a rental is a topic for another piece because it really depends on where you live and what your prospects and desire for home ownership are. In some countries owning property isn’t a high priority and I do wonder if my children’s generation, at least those living in expensive cities like London, will be forced to not care about owning a home because it is rapidly becoming financially impossible without a high paying job or wealthy parents). Anyway, tangent! Like I said, it’s an entire article in itself.

Speaking personally, my goal has been to buy another home after selling my place in the States, so saving my pennies has taken priority over fixing up a rental while I live in it for a short time. I know I’m not alone in this. And what is the first thing I do when I move into a new place, especially a rental where I may not love everything about the decor? I light it well.

My NUMBER ONE tip for instant ambience (read: homey vibes) is lighting. I know, I know, don’t roll your eyes, it’s not groundbreaking. Every designer who has ever lived has shared this nugget of interiors advice. And yet…how many homes do I visit that get it wrong? So many! Seriously, a shocking amount. I styled a big commercial shoot in a massive house in North London last year – trust me, there was plenty of money sloshing around – but the most shocking lighting situation throughout the home. Cold, harsh LED bulbs adorned a huge and likely very expensive chandelier hung in the triple height foyer – the bulbs with that blue-ish tint like you’re in the cheese aisle at the supermarket. The right bulbs and it would’ve felt like a different place entirely. Warm and cosy and inviting instead of too bright, harsh and a little bit sad and depressing.

The day I moved into my current rented home earlier this year, I plugged in all my lamps before I did almost anything else. Below is my first night, surrounded by moving boxes, but with one corner of calm lit softly by lamp light. A glass of wine and my favourite chocolate biscuits from childhood helped as well. The next day I added a couple of lamps to the bedroom along with some favourite artwork and plants and it almost felt like home.

lamp lighting adds ambience to a simply decorated room

From where I sit, in my 30 square metre, high ceilinged living room I count seven lamps. Some may say it’s excessive but honestly I’m thinking it needs more. They are dotted around, on the piano, on the mantel, a side table, and they elevate the room’s custardy magnolia painted walls (a favourite of UK landlords. Why?) to something close to elegance. With the harsh overhead light switched on, the room loses it’s charm, but with the warm, low light of a variety of lamps, it glows warmly. Low energy LED bulbs (I bought mine at IKEA) – the warm, almost amber toned ones – prevent my electricity bill from being shocking. So, lamps. If you see one you like, don’t ask do I have anywhere for it, just buy it. You can never have too many. And don’t even think about putting that overhead light on unless you’ve lost something down the sofa and you need searchlights.

I just deleted an entire paragraph with other quick tips (plants, books etc…) because you know what? This is THE ONE. If you can only do one thing, sort your lighting and it will transform your home.