Creativity Before Consumption, Interiors

creativity during captivity

The heading is dramatic, but it’s not far from the truth, my truth at least. I am one of the fortunate ones who hasn’t had to work on the frontlines of healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic. I haven’t had to stock supermarket shelves, only to see them emptied in minutes by frenzied shoppers fearful of running out of pasta and toilet paper. I haven’t had to drive London buses, ferrying key workers to and from their jobs. All I had to do was stay at home. I didn’t have any income or government help and my bills were (and still are) piling up as all my styling work was cancelled overnight, but I had a home, I had my children and I had money for food. When life itself is threatened by an invisible and deadly virus, it quickly becomes crystal clear what is actually important in life.

As an introvert I wasn’t fazed by the idea of having to stay at home. That bit was easy. In fact, I enjoyed those first few weeks of government mandated lockdown a bit more than it’s probably appropriate to admit. My creativity and resourcefulness kicked into high gear within days. On social media two tribes quickly formed. On one side the message was “You may never get this time again so enjoy doing nothing! You don’t need to learn a new language or to play a new instrument. It’s ok to binge watch Netflix”. On the other side the message was “You may never get this time again so make shit happen! Try that sourdough bread recipe, redecorate that bedroom, paint that still life”. You can guess which tribe I fell into. There was a bit of backlash toward the do-ers, some shaming even, as if those who were keeping busy (and sane) by being creative were trying to make others feel bad. But it was never about that. My chronic busy-ness was just a way of coping with my own fear and despair for the future. Some people cope by watching boxsets, others cope by making stuff. They’re both totally acceptable and equally useful.

Like a lot of freelancers, I am used to being a self starter. Without the security of a full time job I am always, always thinking of new ways to use my skills to make a living. Partly because I like making money (there is no magical money tree after all) and partly because I’m inexplicably driven to do it. At heart I guess I’m an entrepreneur, always thinking of the next big idea. You know how you hear of businesses selling for gazillions of pounds/dollars and you wonder why the now filthy rich former owner has already started a new company when they clearly never need to work again? I think that would be me. Yes I’m driven by money (and I would certainly enjoy my gazillionaire status) but more than that I’m driven by the bit that comes before you make the money. I’m driven by the promise of something, the possibilities. I guess I’m always chasing that dangling carrot!

Lockdown changed the rules for many. Suddenly freelancers who weren’t getting any financial help had to be even more creative to try to bring in some cash. We had to take it all online to still be visible. Luckily for me I’d already built a good online presence and connecting with my followers became a lifeline financially, creatively and emotionally. And I tried it all in an effort to keep my business afloat: I sold my books via Instagram; I painted and drew postcards and bookmarks, selling them far and wide; I offered remote interiors consulting; I made interiors videos for Instagram; I designed online courses. I just kept doing and trying and creating (with the occasional off day/week where I lost my mojo and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel). All that ‘doing’ gave me a purpose at a time when the future was uncertain.

Even though none of the ideas I dabbled in have yet to grow into my next big business, the dabbling itself was an essential part of the process. I’m not now an established artist, selling my prints to millions. Nor am I suddenly selling out online courses (although they haven’t yet launched so that carrot still dangles enticingly ahead of me…) But for me lockdown was a strangely safe space to dabble in creativity with literally nothing to lose.

If there is a lesson to be learned (aside from the obvious don’t eat weird shit at wet markets) it is this: Do your own thing. If you’re a creator, create. If you need to chill, chill. And most importantly if the world seems like it’s ending, remain hopeful.

Interiors

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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