As Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration, can you tell us a bit about what your role involves? How long you have been doing it for and how you got to where you are? I’ve been Editor-in Chief since 2004 and I see myself as guardian of Brand EDUK, steering its route and guiding the team. It’s about having an overall strategy for where we’re going and a vision to accomplish it. I first joined in 1997 as Features Director though under launch editor Ilse Crawford, so if we include a stretch as Editor at Large when I lived in Los Angeles, it means I’ve been associated with the title for almost 20 years! And before magazines I trained as an architect.
Where do you look for inspiration? Such a difficult question to answer because I believe when you look for it, it’s harder to see. It’s more a case of inspiration being all around you, it’s moods and feelings, whether that’s captured in the music you hear on the radio, an ad on a bus shelter, what people are wearing or the books at the top of the bestseller lists. I very rarely find it in other magazines.
Can you paint a picture of where you live and what your home is like? People often assume I live in some paean to Modernism, but my home was actually built almost 200 years ago, it looks like something you’d find on the front of a chocolate box! It’s a ridiculously pretty red brick-fronted Regency cottage with leaded windows and a little portico around the door. Plus roses, honeysuckle and an ancient passion flower tree climbing all over it. That said, inside it has underfloor heating and all mod cons.
What are the biggest home and interior trends you are seeing right now? Bringing a sense of the outside in is the big one right now. Whether that’s through leafy-patterned prints, fabrics and papers, or by literally replacing the back wall of your home with glazed doors that fold right back, Brits (despite our weather) are finally understanding that your outside space is as important as indoors. It’s also recognition of the undisputed health benefits not only of gardening, but also of being able to gaze upon greenery.
What is your favourite era or period of design? And why? I love so many pieces from so many different eras I couldn’t possibly pick just one. But worth special note might be the proportions and elegance of the Georgian or Regency period in English architecture, followed by 20s and 30s styling for it’s curves and streamlined nautical references. I love Gio Pointi’s Superleggera chair and Saarinen’s Tulip tables both designed in 1957 but also the Pilotta chair for Cassina by Rodolfo Dordoni designed some 50 years later. Their refined elegance is the key to my heart! Jean Prouvé’s Tabouret stool from 1941 is also a thing of great beauty. Likewise Charlotte Perriand’s little known Ventaglio dining table designed in 1972 crafted in 1957. OF contemporary designers, Lee Broom has become a master craftsman of beautiful lighting as has Michael Anasstassiades. I think I love almost everything either of them have ever done.
What is the best piece of interiors and home advice you have learnt over the years? Take your time as any space changes with the light and the seasons. It’s important to think carefully over where to fix anything built-in but after that stay flexible, and don’t be afraid to move everything around occasionally. On a more pragmatic note, always install twice as many sockets as you ever think you’ll need; and get three quotes for any building job.
You describe yourself as a clutter-clearing obsessive, what are your top five tips for decluttering? Don’t buy stuff you don’t need in the first place! I fully subscribe to William Morris’s edict, “Have only things that you believe to be useful or know to be useful in your home.” Beyond that, ruthlessly re-assess all your belongings every three months; keep a place for everything and everything in its place; store like with like; and beware of basements and attics, they are a hoarder’s excuse waiting to happen.
Favourite books everyone should read on interiors and the home? Ilse Crawford’s ‘Sensual Home’ is still a treasure. Any vintage David Hicks monograph, or any of Kelly Hoppen’s brilliant home design guides, full of genius advice. Farrow & Ball’s ‘How to Decorate’ and anything by Axel Verwoordt for the contemplative calm of the photography.
And favourite home-related Instagram accounts to follow? I’m more of a Twitter fiend myself with a quite random spread of accounts that I follow from US and UK rolling newstreams to anyone with a Basset Hound (I have two!).
What and who inspires you right now? Anyone sticking their head above the parapet and doing their own thing. People having the courage of their own convictions is what I respect. But I have to say I think the Remodelista peoples are genius. Wish I’d published their new Gardenista book, set to hit shelves this October!
Who are your design heroes? And why? See number 5.
What is your design philosophy? Define your palette right at the beginning of a project, include lots of texture, and then stick to it! By this I mean select a rich and vibrant set of materials that you will be able to use from the front to the back of your home. This will give it consistency, and lend calm. But keep it broad enough to be interesting. For example, my home includes the following: dark stained oak for any wood details and the parquet flooring, pale green carpet, black lacquer, mirror, brass, velvet, grey lacquer (kitchen and cupboard fronts), tiles, Anaglypta textured wallcoverings, all offset by shades of lavender and the sea.
What are your favourite colours, textures, and materials at the moment? See above!
Have you ever been to New Zealand? What are your impressions of the design scene here? I’ve never been, but a really good architect friend of mine emigrated there about ten years ago and she speaks so warmly of the people and the country that I am compelled to visit very soon!
What has been the most exciting part of the Grand Designs House of the Year series? Seeing such incredible domestic architecture right here in the UK. Because we cover the world’s most beautiful homes in ELLE Decoration UK, it’s easy to sometimes overlook what’s on your doorstep. And hearing people’s stories, how they battled with builders and budgets and achieved their goals is always inspiring. Custom-making your own home is a real challenge but one that’s always worth it in the end.
What can we expect from the homes we see in the series? Unparalleled inspiration! And loads of ideas you can steal for yourself.
The perfect home should? Be coloured and crafted to be warm, comfortable and an extension of your personality. Do what you like as long as you do it consistently, and fill it only with things you love.
Anything else you would like to add? My quote to live by: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Attributed to JFKennedy.
First published in the New Zealand Herald in July 2016 to coincide with the screening of Grand Designs: RIBA House of the Year 2015 on the Sky Living channel. Interview by Rosie Kelway.