We might now have more freedom than we’ve seen in the past 18 months, but the pandemic has changed our relationship with our homes for good. Never before have we been forced to contemplate our own four walls with such intensity and be inspired to create something beautiful at home.
We’re in luck because London’s interior scene is fizzing. The city has the hottest interior designers, product makers and craftspeople. The reason, Louis Platman, a curator at the newly opened Museum of the Home in Hackney says, is because the capital is a crossroads of style. ‘For centuries London has been a cauldron of different cultures and styles, constantly blending and clashing to create new fashions and objects to fill our homes with,’ he says. There is also a ‘deep sense of history that connects London interiors to their past, creating a unique mishmash of styles’.
But what’s new is the urgency with which we need our homes to look the part. Dinner parties, garden soirées and hanging out with mates at home are all are back on — and we want our spaces to be as well dressed as us. The reason, designer and artist Yinka Ilori says, is because ‘you want to leave an imprint of that experience in your home when your guests leave’. Because, let’s face it, it’s been a long time coming.
The modern antique dealer: 8 Holland Street
Antiques used to be the preserve of the fusty and the wealthy but in the past year we have all craved the sense of heritage and storytelling that they can bring to a room. ‘People are looking at what other people were doing on Instagram and learning how to become their own collectors,’ Tobias Vernon, owner of Kensington-based 8 Holland Street, says. ‘Everyone realised the wealth of antiques and resources out there.’
Vernon came to antique shop proprietary via training as an interior designer (his business also offers design services). Until recently, the store had been an insider secret, with its mix of museum-quality works of art on the walls or 20th-century designer Italian chairs, along with rustic ceramics that would leave you with change from a £20 note. The way he styles his stores (he recently opened an outpost in Somerset, too) mixes high and low pieces, with no sense of hierarchy.
This is also how you should style a home, he says. ‘You build up layers of objects that work together, some that are expensive and some that are cheap. The things I have at home aren’t particularly expensive or perfect-looking, but they all have a little story attached to them, and that’s what is important to me.’
While he sells via Instagram, Vernon is delighted that IRL retail is open again. ‘I strongly believe in the power of seeing something in real life — in touching it, hearing the story for the collector and trying things together. You lose all context when you see a photo of something online.’
The connection builder: Yinka Ilori
Like many of us, artist and designer Yinka Ilori now looks at his home in a new light. ‘Home has always been important to me; I love coming back after a day at work because my home is like my shrine. But in lockdown it became something more: it was my safe space.’
The designer, who grew up on a local-authority estate in Islington and graduated from London Metropolitan University in 2009, is known for his brightly coloured designs that pepper the capital, from the Dulwich Pavilion in 2019 to more recent reimaginings of Canary Wharf and Greenwich Peninsula. ‘What I love about London and find so inspiring are the different pockets with different communities,’ he says. ‘What I want to do is give some of these areas that feel lacking in culture an identity and make them accessible to everyone.’
Recently he also turned his eye inward to design his first homewares range. ‘I found myself looking at simple everyday objects, like a plate or a bowl, and thinking about how you share them with friends and family over a wonderful meal,’ he says.
The collection includes stoneware bowls, jacquard tablecloths and melamine trays — all in Ilori’s signature pops of yellows, reds, greens, blues and pinks; colours he says evoke happy memories of bright patterns in the clothes worn by his family. ‘Now that we can have friends and family into our homes, I want these pieces to help create new memories.’
The eclectic experimenter: Beata Heuman
‘The reason I wanted to move to London was that there is such variation in style and so many people are creative and trying to express something different,’ says the interior designer Beata Heuman, who hails from Sweden but calls Hammersmith home. ‘Eccentricity is celebrated here; it’s a very open-minded place.’
Heuman herself loves an eclectic mix when she is designing. Her rooms are fantastical, colourful and filled with details that will leave you drooling — and wanting to copy them. But identikit rooms, she says, are a mistake. ‘The main message I wanted to convey was about the individual. How you decorate your room should be about conveying something personal, because how you design your home helps you connect to it.’
This past year of house arrest has opened our eyes to what is possible in our homes. She says that Londoners should feel as confident in their home decor as they are about their fashion choices. ‘You shouldn’t be afraid of expressing yourself,’ she says. ‘Of course, you want your home to be beautiful and comfortable, but it should be more than that. It should be uplifting and inspiring, too, and that is down to making it feel personal.’
The holistic designer: Fran Hickman
There is a reason that good interior design can make a home feel special, according to interior designer Fran Hickman. ‘In creating a home, we are designing a space that people will spend their lives in, so it is deeply personal and inward-looking,’ she says. Good design makes ‘life more productive, playful, calmer, happier, even healthier’.
Since establishing her London-based interior and architectural design studio in 2014, Hickman counts fans including Gwyneth Paltrow and fashion designer Emilia Wickstead, and her work reflects a holistic approach to design. She champions a sense of feeling — rather than a specific style or trend. Light, material and colour and how they interact with each other are crucial, she says, to her design process.
Hickman says London is particularly exciting because ‘we are so very lucky with our historic buildings and, by extension, our antiques trade which is second to none’. Which in turn attracts an exciting international crowd and melting pot of ideas: Hickman’s clients come from all over the world, with their own sense of aesthetic, including ‘Japanese and Scandinavian minimalism; European mid-century modern and contemporary British craftsmanship’.
If one overriding trend emerges from the past year, she says it is the idea of ‘trying to live with less and also buying better. When I travel, I only ever take a carry-on as it feels so liberating. All I really need is a few of my favourite of things.’
The collaborators: Pentreath & Hall
Ben Pentreath, architectural and interior designer, and Bridie Hall, decorative artist and maker, have collaboration sewn into their fibres. Stalwarts of London’s interior scene, they set up their fabulous shop just off Lamb’s Conduit Street in 2008, selling a cornucopia of decorative homewares.
More recently they have given a space over to upcoming makers, with pop-ups featuring young interior start-ups from Tat London to East London Cloth. ‘We’re so fortunate to have the space to welcome in and champion promising young brands — and people with ideas that we recognise and work in line with our own ethos and set of beliefs,’ says Hall.
The past year has seen a surge in interest in crafted, often handmade products — something they think will continue. ‘You’re putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to this kind of consumerism,’ says Hall. It shows a respect for skills and livelihoods ‘and what home isn’t going to benefit from that kind of attitude?’
Even as London is open for business, Hall says we will continue to appreciate the sanctity of home. ‘We all have a great thirst for getting out and reacquainting with and experiencing every nook and cranny of London. But I think coming home afterwards will be all the more rewarding and appreciated.’
The taste-maker: Matilda Goad
For the creative consultant and homeware designer Matilda Goad, London is a place ‘where there are no constraints or rules in terms of interiors style. Other European cities have very particular ideas of how your home should look, but here we’re more interested in the mix between high and low styling. People are open to new ideas, particularly at the moment, and that is what makes it such an exciting place to be.’
Goad is herself the queen of mixing it up. Her own home is a temple to her talent for throwing together seemingly incongruous pieces and layering colours and textures. She has a fondness for scalloped edging — seen in her own designs for her eponymous brand, from lampshades to napkins — but likes to ‘toughen them up’ by using ‘colours that aren’t too sugary pink and sweet and pretty’. An ottoman in her sitting room — re-covered in a denim — is testament to her unique style.
She also loves an eBay bargain — her four-poster bed was a £150 steal — but her happy place for browsing is Kempton Market in south-west London. ‘I go before work in the morning and I crave that interaction with the sellers and hearing the story behind a piece.’ Wandering around an antiques fair is, she says, ‘a good way of not buying into trend-led pieces. If you go often enough, you’ll see what you’re drawn to — not what is in fashion right now.’