The boundaries between my home, art, designs and creative process are very blurred. The whole place is a multidimensional expression of the beginning, middle and end of the creative process — and that includes my children! I often say that I decorate in such a way that it gives the experience of living within a piece of art.
Before I moved here four years ago, I’d been in a small cream and beige rental flat where I’d landed in a daze eight years before, after unexpectedly becoming a single parent of a baby and a toddler. I’d been planning to start a new creative career after leaving the city law firm where I’d been head of marketing and business development. But now it was far more difficult. I’d lost the house I owned, all my money and all my joie de vivre.
However, the urge to create was still burning away, and out of the blue, I was suddenly offered a solo show of paintings at a local gallery. I had three weeks to paint the whole thing, so pragmatically, I chose to paint in ink on watercolour paper because I didn’t need an easel — I could just paint on the kitchen table; plus, ink dries fast and paper is thin, so it takes up very little storage room. I never looked back.
I also felt a great need for colour, a need to work with it. It lifted my spirits, gave me joy, even energy — which can be in short supply when you’re on your own with small children. I realised I also had a great sense of hope and freedom, even excitement, despite the disaster, because I had been left with the two things that I’d always wanted most in life — children and creativity.
So, for my first show, I painted big, beautiful, colourful flying birds. They represented flying free from the past, that moment of peace when you finally fall into the pocket of who you truly are, flying forwards with joy and hope.
I’m telling you this story because it helps to explain the home I’m in now, my big, bright, colourful one. That first show was a great success, and a successful homewares design business also grew from it. But despite painting and working with colour, every time I walked into my increasingly scruffy beige flat, I felt my heart sink and depression setting in. As luck would have it, we were then burgled five times in 15 months, and so we had no choice but to move.
The first time I walked into this flat, I knew this was it. It was big and beautiful with lots of the original Victorian features. And beige! But that didn’t put me off. I met with the landlord and said that I needed to be able to paint it with lots of colour — and he agreed! By sheer coincidence, he and his partner were already fans of my colourful design brand, so he said I could do whatever I liked.
I’d realised from the beige flat of doom (as my mum liked to call my previous home) that it was very important for my sense of well-being and creativity to be surrounded by colour. So, I intentionally created a home with colours and designs that made me — and the children — feel happy but also relaxed and calm where necessary.
It all started with a vision for the central staircase. It was a scruffy white unloved non-space. I wanted to switch that around to make it the most joyful space in the flat, as it is at the heart of our home. So, I painted a vivid blue mural up the wall, which completely transformed it. The success of that mural then encouraged me to paint the zigzag mural in the bathroom (which was hellish to paint, by the way!), and that’s when magazines and newspapers started calling.
More murals and more colour followed, and then location agencies started calling, too. I also use it as a location for my own shoots — photographing my new cushions and lamp collections, which I design from my original artworks. So now, the very act of decorating my home has become a part of my creative business.
My artwork is often very detailed, and the colour is very important, so I prefer painting in natural light. That means that while I’m working, I move from room to room during the day as I create the work. I often get up really early in the morning to get some painting in before the kids wake up for school — that’s when I paint in the kitchen on the kitchen table. It has a large east-facing window, and the table sits just in front of it, so it’s the perfect place to catch the early-morning light. I’ve decorated it in lush greens and aqua blues to reflect the garden and woodland outside the window, which are also very creatively stimulating.
“I think the way kids create is so inspiring. They’re drawing a picture? They love the picture they drew; they’re not tortured about it.”
— Spike Jonze
My two main inspirations are the natural world and art. Nature has so many incredible colour palettes and is always an exquisite balance of light and shade, different textures and beautiful forms. I think I also experience it in a slightly enhanced way, almost like technicolour, and that’s reflected in my interior decorating. Art often distils those elements to create a moment of wonder that you can keep coming back to. My decorating style builds on that so that the interior almost becomes a 3D piece of art that you can exist within.
As the sun rises, the light moves round to my bedroom, which is also east facing and catches the sun for the rest of the morning. So, I have my desk in my bedroom, as I get all my best work done in the mornings. The desk is pretty big and is actually the kitchen table from my old house 20 years ago. When I paint, I reference both my own and other people’s photographs, as well as research sketches, so the desk — a big table right by the window — can accommodate my laptop as well as space to sketch and paint.
I actually really love having a workspace in my bedroom. When I’m relaxing, drifting to sleep or dozing in the morning, my mind is often at its most creative, so it’s wonderful to be able to just jump out of bed and straight to my desk to start designing or writing up an idea. On the flip side, I actually also really enjoy working on my laptop in bed. I find that if I’m tired, it’s much easier to carry on sitting in a big comfy bed! My bedroom is painted in a beautiful soft green, called Deep Water Green by Paint & Paper Library. It’s a very calming colour but also has a little ripple of energy running through it, which is useful for working.
“You use a glass mirror to see your face. You use works of art to see your soul.”
— George Bernard Shaw
After lunch, the sun moves round to the living room, so my work does, too. I have two coffee tables; one slides under the other. They were both battered old wooden tables left by our landlord, so I painted the top one, and my daughter, Coco, painted the smaller one, which she uses as a craft table. I use both to paint on in the afternoons. I painted the room itself in a cool duck-egg blue to keep it fresh and airy, even in the warm sunset light. As the evening approaches and the light fades, I stop work, and then it’s time for the kids.
Until very recently, my flat was only decorated with my own art, lamps and cushion designs. It’s incredibly useful to live with them like that because it means I can really get a feel for how they work in different light, in different rooms and with kids running around. However, I began to feel like I was living in an echo chamber creatively; so, for the first time, I splashed out and invested in a beautiful abstract diptych by a local artist friend. Then I bought a few small prints and even some cushions by other designers. It was actually very liberating and has given me a new spark creatively. Perhaps that’s why I also recently changed media for the first time in 10 years — my latest collection of paintings was in gouache on card instead of ink on watercolour paper, and I absolutely love it!
So in the end, my home becomes the birthplace of my creativity, as well as the art and the creative business itself.
“I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”
— Saul Bass