5 interior design experts in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 June 2020
We meet the region’s leading lights in the world of homes and interiors, encouraging us all to create homes that not only look beautiful but make us feel good too
Kate Cullum: The textile designer leading a modern revival
The slow interiors movement is gathering at a pace, with a growing awareness of the importance of sustainability and an appreciation of traditional techniques.
Championing this and giving an ancient craft a modern revival is textiles designer Kate Cullum, whose bold collection of cushions are lovingly created at her home studio in Caversham, where she was born and bred.
After graduating with a degree in Textile Design, Kate worked for a leading woven textile design studio in London, designing and selling to big fashion brands, before moving to work primarily for a large high-street store, designing their menswear ranges.
Over the years, working with such huge scales of fabrics, she became keenly aware of the environmental impact of fabric production.
“I’m sick of this throwaway culture we have, in both fashion and interiors. I hate the fact that you can buy a t-shirt for less than you can get a coffee; it seems wrong to me. I want people to value their homes and their spaces again, rather than settle for something they don’t really love and only bought because it was cheap, because it will probably end up in landfill. We need to slow down and not be in a rush to have things so quickly,” says mother-of-two Kate.
As far as possible, Kate uses only ethically produced English sheep’s wool from small farms, which have eco credentials at the heart of their processes, so for example they use recycled water to wash the wools. Eventually she plans to dye all the yarns herself, using natural dyes.
Using such high-quality yarns and natural, biodegradable products means that her pieces will last a lifetime and even become future heirlooms.
Kate then uses these yarns in two different ways. One method is using the ancient craft of punch needling, where a natural linen or hessian is stretched tight over a frame like a drum and the needle punches the yarn through the fabric and is pulled back through to leave a loop; and the other is using her huge Swedish floor loom. The aim is to develop the range to include larger scale pieces, such as rugs and blankets, using this process.
It’s hugely labour-intensive; just the front side of a half metre square punch needled cushion cover can take up to 12 hours, while it can take up to two days just to set up the loom. “I can find myself with back ache and wrist ache after a while,” admits Kate.
Having only launched the business at the start of the year, Kate’s products have already appeared in magazines, and she is taking bespoke commissions and has hosted workshops in the craft.
“There is a real movement and buzz in the creative and wellness industries in Caversham right now,” says Kate. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Jessica Willcox-Jones: The interior designer democratising great design
With the surge in popularity of interiors on social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest, the landscape of interior design is shifting and is no longer just the preserve of the wealthy.
One woman on a mission to democratise great design is Jessica Willcox-Jones, whose interior design practise, JWJ Interiors, based at her home in Pangbourne, helps homeowners with anything from new curtains to entire redesigns.
“There was a time when interior designers had created a bad reputation for themselves; that they were intimidating and would only go to big budget properties or take on full house designs,” says Jess.
“The thing that I found quite upsetting was that interior design was seen as such a luxury; it was very high end and everything was bespoke, which just wasn’t fair on people who weren’t huge earners, who couldn’t afford £190 per metre of fabric. Everyone should be allowed to enjoy their home and make it into a tranquil space, whether that’s using very high-end suppliers or buying curtains from eBay. Now the high street has so much to offer and people are happy to mix it up, which is great to see.”
Moving to Berkshire when she was 10, Jess spent her formative years surrounded by antiques, art and pottery in a very creative home. Her father was the MD for Mary Quant and, following in those footsteps, Jess first carved out a career in fashion before moving into interiors where she spent several years designing luxury properties on the estates of high-net worth clients around the world.
Noticing a shift in the industry, and with the added pressures of raising two young children, she decided to become her own boss and launched JWJ Interiors in 2018.
While Jess loves colour and pattern and recently painted the hallway in her own home a vivid shade of coral, inspired by a recent holiday, her approach is very much tailored to the individual.
She says the first step is to really get to know them and understand their lifestyle, then consider the layout of the property, its function and how the space is used, then giving people confidence to recognise their own tastes and perhaps try something different.
Many clients have become close friends and one still sends Jess pictures on WhatsApp of pieces she buys for the house: “She’s been on a real journey to understand what she likes and it’s great because she has so much more confidence in her choices now.”
“I don’t have a signature style that I mass manufacture and plop in people’s rooms, I really listen to what the client loves and wants and produce what I think is best for them functionally, for durability and longevity,” says Jess, who likes to work with local suppliers as far as possible.
“Home is the poster of your life, your family and who you are. They are our sanctuaries. So there’s a huge amount of trust involved in what I do and I really have to get into my clients’ heads so that I know that what I’m doing is going to be the right thing for them.”
Rosalind Sack and Jessica Jonzen: The magazine editors looking beyond the trends
Realising that there was more to say about homes and interiors than simply selling an unrelatable lifestyle, journalists Rosalind Sack and Jessica Jonzen set up The Home Page; an online magazine celebrating what truly makes a house a home.
Written with warmth and wit, the magazine, which launched in January 2019, has grown to become a trusted source of homes inspiration, while also remaining true to its roots as a place to explore the deeper, emotional connection we all have with our homes.
“We felt that many of the traditional interiors magazines were presenting beautiful properties, but they often looked a little too staged and clinical, or were simply unrelatable for many.
They also overlooked the emotional connection that we have with our houses; a real home is about far more than just designer paint and nice cushions. A house might look ‘perfect’ and tick all the boxes of ‘good taste’, but what good is that if it’s not a welcoming or comfortable place to be?” says mother-of-two Jessica, who grew up in Marlow and lives with her family in Lane End.
The Home Page brings inspiring interiors, culture, thought-provoking first-person pieces, delicious recipes and expertly selected shopping inspiration all under one roof.
Drawing from their years of experience as national journalists and editors at the likes of The Sunday Times, Hearst UK and Net-a-Porter, Rosalind and Jessica aren’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects too, and The Home Page features compelling interviews with well-known names spanning the worlds of design, food, entertainment and politics.
Labour MP Jess Phillips spoke to them candidly about the impact of feeling safe in your home, both from the perspective of the vulnerable women she worked with at Women’s Aid domestic violence charity and her own experiences, having received death threats.
Singer and broadcaster Cerys Matthews MBE discussed the way housing developments are designed and the impact of community on health and wellbeing. And author and campaigner Anna Whitehouse, the woman behind the Mother Pukka blog, talked to The Home Page about the blurring boundaries between home life and work life, and finding happiness in the ordinary.
“We want to scratch below the surface to tell the often untold stories of our homes and open up the conversations around issues facing us all right now,” explains mother-of-one Rosalind, who moved to Cookham from London six years ago.
“In turbulent times our homes are our sanctuaries and we want The Home Page to be a true celebration of home – not just in how it looks but also how it makes us feel.”
As well as speaking at panel events at The Conran Shop and Top Drawer London trade show in 2019, Rosalind and Jessica have hosted events in partnership with The Henley Literary Festival and have recently partnered with a Home Counties events company to plan more live events this year. Their story-telling expertise extends to the Content Consultancy arm of the business, through which they create compelling branded content for interiors and lifestyle businesses.
Sarah Swain: The interior designer and coach who promotes cohesive living
Originally from Leicestershire, Sarah Swain’s husband’s work was the reason they moved to Maidenhead in 2001. “We already had friends in the area and settled in straight away, even embracing the proximity to the Thames by taking up rowing,” says Sarah.
“The arrival of two daughters opened our eyes to more new places to visit and Berkshire began to really feel like home.” Sarah has always been interested in people and in creativity, so it is perhaps no surprise that she has ended up developing a business that incorporates both.
“By combining my background in psychology, education and interior design, it is my aim to help people identify how their lives are impacting on their homes and/or vice versa,” she says. “This stems from my belief that there is a fundamental relationship between our wellbeing and the spaces in which we spend our time, especially our homes, and I have seen this first-hand in my work.”
Sarah believes our homes are great conduits for our lives and can give us clues as to what is happening and point to something within us that we can address and optimise.
Conversely, we may have dreams and goals and, if we design our homes appropriately, they can support those by either working efficiently for us on a practical level or by being nurturing, stimulating spaces that allow us to get into the right frame of mind to tackle what needs to be done.
“This is why, whether we ultimately decide to proceed with interior design or coaching work, Cohesive Living’s unique approach will always start in a client’s home,” says Sarah. “Whether in person or via Skype or Zoom, the first session involves a tour of your house and completion of the Cohesive Living wheel, which will then allow us to discover and discuss what is and isn’t working for you and formulate a plan together.
“When I explain my approach to people, they are often quick to see the connection but exclaim that they had never thought of it before. Knowing that I am interested in the person and how any redecoration is going to benefit them beyond a purely surface level, is reassuring to clients and results in us, together, creating the right space for them.”
And it is that team-work that also symbolises the Cohesive Living approach. Clients see Sarah because they know they want to change something but need support to work out what that is. Sarah brings a fresh pair of eyes and ears to their situation, asking questions and making suggestions, they start to develop their vision: “Whether it is design or coaching, we create the plan together but they ultimately make it happen. They take ownership of their worlds and enjoy the feeling of empowerment that results.”
One of Sarah’s favourite designs is at Elizabeth House in Cookham. This wonderful place is a social day centre for the elderly and serves as a home from home for the members. “I was invited in to create a scheme that would refresh and re-energise the Day Room and also encourage more independence amongst the users,” says Sarah. “When chatting to everyone there, I realised that, whilst they may not be very mobile now, they had lived full, exciting lives in interesting and exotic places. To that end, I wanted to get the practicalities right but also reflect their experiences and stimulate memories. We did this by adding a subtle travel influence and a good dollop of glamour.
“Every life is different so every home is different and I love being able to find the style and plan that works for each individual.”
In addition to personal consultations, Sarah also offers workshops. These are aligned with life coaching, in that they are a safe, fun space for people to explore what they want to be, do and have in their lives. However, there is a strong interior design connection as Sarah creates vision boards, which she says are “design boards for life”. She adds: “When you have a future view, it informs the decisions you need to make along the way, be that about nurturing goals or deciding where to put your electric sockets!”
Contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Cooper: The architect leading the way in green design
As we become ever more mindful of how our lifestyle choices impact the environment, so we need to build a more eco-conscious approach into all aspects of design. Leading the way in ‘green architecture’ is
Kate Cooper, who set up her Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) Chartered Practice, Absolute Architecture, in Newbury in 2008.
Originally from Thatcham and having trained as an architect and worked in Edinburgh, Seville and London, she returned to the county to be closer to relatives and have more space for her own family.
Recognising a growing appreciation of design and aspiration when it comes to homes, she decided to bring her expert knowledge and experience to Berkshire, offering a seamless service of architecture, interior design and project management.
Having grown from a team of one to a team of five, including Managing Partner Roger Scully, eco-conscious, energy-efficiency design underpins every project they undertake – whether it’s a more contemporary and innovative design or a more classic, understated aesthetic.
“Buildings consume a huge amount of energy and in our current global climate we have a responsibility to use less energy. I’m equally convinced that building a home that’s sustainable and warm and efficient is also building a home that gives you a massively comfortable living environment. It’s not an add-on, it’s something that’s absolutely fundamental to everything we design,” says Kate, who has also served as a sustainability judge for the RIBA Design Awards.
While we’ve all become familiar with the idea of solar panels and wind turbines producing renewable energy and many of us have the ambition to make our homes more eco-friendly, the stumbling block often falls in simply not knowing the best steps to take.
“People are quite attracted by visible renewable technologies, whereas actually you need to get your fundamental principles right first. So the best thing you can do is to pack a building full of insulation and make it super airtight, and really invest in the fabric. It’s not until you’ve done that that it’s then worth investing in technologies,” says Kate. “It’s not always as glamorous as people think! It’s often a case of balancing budget with ambition and considering the long-term payback.”
It’s an integrated approach which, Kate believes, needs to be designed in right at the beginning of a project so it doesn’t become an add-on that gets stripped out when the budget tightens. So, for example, as our buildings become better insulated and airtight, the spaces inside them need to be designed in a way that allows natural ventilation in summer so they don’t overheat.
Kate explains: “Increasingly we come to work on older properties which are leaky, draughty, cold and not particularly nice to live in.
So if we can give people a more comfortable living environment, reduce people’s running costs and reduce our carbon footprint as well, there are three winners there.”