The Red Thread. Literally.

Entirely unplanned, I’ve somehow ended up with a pop of red in all my homes over the past 20+ years. The decision at the beginning of my adult life to buy first one piece of red furniture, then others in quick succession, and the later decision to hold onto these pieces as we moved around the world (even though they no longer suited my taste), means there has been a red thread throughout all my homes ever since. Of course I could have rid myself of these pieces as my taste changed, but I tend to value sentimentality over aesthetics, at least to some degree, and holding onto certain things brings me comfort in their familiarity even if they no longer represent my current style. Thinking back to all my homes of the past twenty years and their red accent, it got me thinking about how there are very few examples of the successful use of red in interior design. Red gets a bad rap. Whether you associate it with Christmas baubles or Valentine’s hearts and roses, it’s unlikely to spring to mind when you think of stylish design.

While researching this post I was reminded of the concept of The Red Thread – a Nordic metaphor for a common element that runs through a creative work, be it a story, a film, or the design of a home. In interior design it can be a colour, texture, or material which links the rooms in a home, sometimes it’s obvious, other times more subtle (read more here about its role in interiors, by Kate Watson Smyth). Today I’m not actually writing about the red thread concept specifically, but upon realising that the actual colour red is the thread that connects all of my homes, it seems worth mentioning.

Above image: 1999. In case it wasn’t clear, the theme was red and navy

I no longer love the colour red as much as I seemed to 20 years ago – at least I don’t buy red things with quite the same frequency. In 1999 I was pregnant with my first child (just a year after graduating university) and had recently moved into a tiny apartment in Burbank, California with my then boyfriend. As we began fixing up our rented apartment before the baby came, I fell in love with and bought a red velvet wingback chair from the discount section of IKEA, on sale for $150 which was a splurge at the time for two 23 year old, broke parents-to-be. At the same time we painted the walls of our bedroom burgundy which we printed all over with a Fleur de lis stamp dipped in gold paint (Can I blame my ex for that decision? Surely I wouldn’t have made that choice…) There were also red brocade curtains draped over the bed (which was actually a platform of pallets) and our bedding set was a red botanical/paisley silk from Ralph Lauren which I bought with my first ever credit card (and subsequently took ages to pay off and taught me that credit cards are BAD). Not stopping there, I also sewed red chiffon curtains with navy tabs for the living room, (to go with the navy walls, obviously because yay, matching!) If you’re wondering if I was that person who also dressed in head-to-toe red, I promise I wasn’t. Although I did have red silk slippers bought in Chinatown, as evidenced above, which I paired with, oh – just a pair of knickers and a giant belly. Casual.

Above image: The bowling pin/leopard lamp somehow saves this, doesn’t it…?

The red theme continued a couple of years later when we lived in Seoul, South Korea for two years and bought a beautiful red cabinet hand-painted with butterflies (opening image) for $350 – I seem to remember the price of all the significant purchases. When we settled back in LA a couple of years after that, the TV cabinet we chose for the house we’d just bought was red and I carried pops of red elsewhere in the house, on chair covers or light fixtures. And now I live in an apartment building whose exterior is painted bright red. Perhaps there’s some psycho-analysis needing to be done here to unpick my attraction to the colour, but for now we’ll keep that analysis purely superficial. I liked red, it made me happy, the end.

Above image: 2007-ish. Our first home in Highland Park, LA. If you can still only afford IKEA and charity shop furniture, go bold.
Above image: The same home – an IKEA chair updated with a vintage fabric seat cover and a charity shop chandelier sprayed red

Two designers come to mind when I think of red in interiors, not because it’s their signature style by any means, but because of their deft use of it to make a stylish statement, be it bold or subtle. Ilse Crawford, whose interiors I’ve admired for many years, and Beata Heuman whose work I only discovered a year or two ago, both have brilliant examples within their portfolios which are simultaneously modern and timeless.

Many of Ilse’s designs prove the power of a single piece of red furniture, as shown in the below three images. It doesn’t have to be red walls, red sofas, red rugs. Small doses go a long way, particularly when the finish is glossy paint or enamelled metal. Red can be youthful and a bit funky, it can add a tongue in cheek playfulness to a more traditional setting, and it can work with a surprising variety of colours.

Above image: Ilse Crawford’s design for Soho House. An image I’ve loved for many years.
Above and below images: Two more Studio Ilse designs

Beata Heuman has taken a varied approach to her use of red, from high impact to a gentle hint. At home, her summer house is decorated head-to toe with red patterned wallpaper and red painted woodwork. In another of her designs, a red and white striped headboard is paired with red-flecked artwork. And in her own living room, a red and white cushion adorns a shell rattan chair, a subtle and easily changeable way to begin to introduce red to a home.

Above image: Beata Heuman’s summerhouse in her back garden. The contrasting patterns of the floral sofa and the wallpaper are what make this room so perfect.
Above and below images: Two more Beata Heuman designs showing the impact of a pop of red and the many colours which make it sing.

The thing about using red in interiors is that it’s undeniably bold (duh) and it dominates. Unlike even a vibrant blue or an electric green, a red object or surface will always become the centrepiece of a room. The eye will automatically be drawn to it, whether it’s a glossy tomato red armchair or a cherry red throw on a sofa. It can also be challenging to find the right shade of red and to know what colours to pair it with, to avoid it becoming garish and reminiscent of a circus (although I’ve always loved the madness of circus style). Hint: don’t do floor to ceiling burgundy and gold like I did circa 1999. But with careful research and some experimentation you can hit upon the perfect combination to breathe warmth and vitality into a space. I know it’s not for everyone, but I also think it’s worth re-considering if you’ve always ruled it out as an option. A literal red thread in a home can be modern and joyful and bold in all the best ways.

Behind The Scenes, Interiors

Modern Rustic Nostalgia

This month it will be six years since my first book Modern Rustic was published. I was planning to write a post about the book – how it was made, share a few photos of that time – but as I was thinking back on that period, I had a bit of an aha moment. I realised that I was looking back fondly on a time that was actually quite difficult. This got me thinking about memory and perception and the past and the present. Deep, I know 😉 And here you were thinking this was a blog about interiors!

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Behind The Scenes, Interiors

Becoming an interior stylist

Part Two: London

In the past few weeks I’ve sat down many times to write the second part of this story, but each time I’ve struggled to begin. Mainly because the details of my story aren’t easy to pick apart. My journey to the career I have today has been a constant uphill battle, with brief moments of feeling like I’ve reached the summit, only to realise there’s another mountain to climb. (If you haven’t read the first part of how I became a stylist, click here).

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Behind The Scenes, Interiors

Becoming an Interior Stylist

Part One: Los Angeles

Not a week goes by without me receiving emails from aspiring stylists asking for advice. I’ve always done my best to reply to each one because I remember writing the same emails to stylists when I was starting out and they very rarely replied. But after years of writing the same message and occasionally not having time to reply at all, I thought I’d share some insight here as well. Every stylist will have a different story about how they made interior styling their career. There isn’t one fail-safe route and everyone’s circumstances will be different, so the only story I can offer is my own in the hope that you might glean some valuable information if you’re hoping to follow a similar path.

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Behind The Scenes, Interiors

The Joy Of Working With What You’ve Got

Like a lot of people, I long for my so-called dream home and all the money in the world with which to decorate it. But right now that’s not my reality and I suspect it isn’t the reality for many of you. If I’m honest I’m not sure I’d even know what to do with unlimited funds, I’m so used to making do and working with what I’ve got! It’s how I was raised and it has now become one of the key tenets upon which I’ve built my styling and writing careers.

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To Kondo or Not to Kondo

Everyone is talking about it so of course I had to watch Marie Kondo‘s new Netflix show, Tidying Up. To stay in the loop. To see what the buzz was about. So I could formulate my own opinion. Because there’s nothing more ignorant than having an opinion about something without actually knowing anything about it. In the reality series Kondo, the queen of organisation and author of several best selling books on the subject, teaches people how to deal with varying levels of clutter and disorganisation in their homes.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of this reality show format, I took the time to watch a couple of episodes. While my opinion on living a minimalist life is probably pretty obvious from the unstyled photo of my apartment above, I did in fact take something away from the show. Because it turns out Kondo isn’t actually trying to promote a minimalist lifestyle. She is just encouraging viewers to take control of their stuff, rather than letting it control them.

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