Interview: Soho House Part Two

In September 2017, I was interviewed for Soho House by Phoebe Frangoul, Soho House Editor for Home and Beauty. It appeared on the SH website in two parts, alongside my edit of best buys from the new Soho House Home collection. This is part two!

Michelle Ogundehin: How to Make a House Feel Like a Home

‘I Decorate Therefore I Am’ is the coverline on Michelle Ogundehin’s last issue of ELLE Decoration. After 13 years and 157 issues, she will become Editor-at-Large, allowing her to pursue her passions beyond the printed page. Find out more about her life in interiors here, and read on to discover what she’s learned about making a house a home…
‘I love to track trends, where they start, what they reflect, how they materialize in the real world, and it’s fascinating to do this through the medium of design and interiors. I think of it as decoding them; joining the dots if you will between the stuff we see and the cultural context. But when talking to people about their homes, I’m always trying to stress that your home should reflect only yourself and not be influenced by externals. Easy to say, harder to do, I know. But it really is about finding the things, colours and materials that speak to your soul, and then surrounding yourself only with those. Why? Because it’ll make you happier, calmer and more content. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money! A single tin of paint can transform a room.However, there are no short cuts to working out your personal palette. I’m often asked to recommend things for people’s homes, but it has to start with the homeowner themself, how do they want to feel, how do they want to live, what calls to them? To do it properly takes time, it’s like being both psychologist and investigative journalist, in order to get all the information you need before you even start thinking about choosing furniture, let alone any structural changes that might be required. Many make a profession out of quick fix makeovers, sticking up some wallpaper and re-upholstering a few cushions, but that’s not the sort of transformative, holistic, interior design that inspires me.
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Any space has to work on a practical level. I have zero tolerance for places that look gorgeous, but then you can’t find the light switch, or those awful taps that are impossible to switch off when your hands are wet. So called “design” hotels can be particularly bad at this, all funky fittings and no bedside tables or decent mirror lighting. Can’t stand it! It’s like being presented with a meal that looks delicious but tastes awful. Why do it? First function, then beauty. The trick is combining the two. Too often designers see a project as a portfolio statement for themselves, rather than putting the user at the heart of the scheme.
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In my opinion, truly good design, in any form, can only come from a deeply considered appraisal of the solution required, and then, layer by layer the aesthetic decision making on top.”Being exposed to so much, and with a memory that stores everything I’ve ever seen in a sort of file index box in my head, makes it incredibly easy for me to quickly assess what I feel is good, bad or genuinely new, but impossibly slow to choose anything for myself.
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Plus, sometimes, I see something that I absolutely fall in love with, but can’t afford, and then I buy nothing as everything else seems instantly inferior. This is a problem. But there are some things that I know I will love forever, from red lipstick and Verveine tea to Saarinen Tulip tables (only with marble tops though and never with the matching chairs). Full length velvet curtains. Linen bedlinen. Robin Day’s Forum sofa. Silver picture frames. Anaglypta’s Turner Tile paper. I also love what I call dirty colours, ie blues, greens and pinks with a big dollop of grey in them. This has been a pretty consistent palette for me over the years. I defy anyone not to fall in love with Farrow & Ball’s ‘Peignoir’ or Dulux’s ‘Nordic Sails’.
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I’d be a complete hypocrite if I hadn’t found the balance between aesthetics and practicality in my own home! I also have two dogs and an energetic three-year old who’s prized train track runs right across the middle of the lounge, so it’s a necessity as much as a desire. I love old houses though, and therein lies my challenge. My current home was built in 1821 and from the outside it looks like the sort of thing you’d see on the front of a chocolate box, all leaded windows and cute entrance portico with hanging baskets either side! Probably not what people would expect. It’s intensely pretty but insanely un-eco due to the walls being made of Bungeroosh (basically flint and assorted rubbish), and the windows being single-glazed.
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However, inside, the feel is thoroughly contemporary and driven by comfort with underfloor heating throughout under a parquet floor laid in a French-style chevron pattern. I spent ages testing different samples to get exactly the right shade of blackish/brown on oiled oak. I absolutely love it, and the fitters were incredibly skilled.I always start with the floor because once that’s right, you could sit on a cardboard box and it’d look good, whereas a cheap floor will compromise everything. Upstairs it’s a mix of a pale celadon-coloured carpet (custom-dyed, natch, and admittedly not the most practical colour, but it’s 100% wool so it weathers well) and ‘Lithoverde’ marble from Salvatori in the bathrooms. I absolutely love marble, and this one is a brilliant ecological product repurposed from salvaged material to give a fantastic patchwork effect. I kept every offcut and used them to do the kitchen splashback, a sideboard counter top and even the headboard in the guest room.
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Elsewhere there’s original panelling, beams (all painted glossy ‘Blackened’ a super pale blue/grey from F&B), some stained-glass and a lot of cushions but the minimum of furniture. Storage is all wall hung. Corian for the kitchen countertops. Greenery in hanging planters, paintings and Fornasetti plates as decoration. Lights were the hardest thing to choose, mine are a combination of Tom Dixon, Lee Broom and Michael Anasstasiades, plus a 50s wooden chandelier in the guest bathroom. In summary, the look treads a fine line between respecting the age of the property and my 21st Century requirements; and the intended ambience is that of a calm, comfortable, clutter-free retreat.
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My dream though is to build my own home from scratch! My very own Grand Design. It’s the notion of custom-cutting a place to exactly suit your requirements, and I’m inspired by the PassivHaus movement to create something really environmentally-friendly with super low bills. However I’d want it to look authentically old and use a lot of reclaimed material, and there are not many new homes which manage to achieve that balance.
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Part One on the Soho House website Michelle Ogundehin: A Life in Interiors

Part Two on the Soho House website Michelle Ogundehin: I Decorate Therefore I Am

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