Interiors: Bright ideas in the home

House of Lovely Stuff, Essex LivingFrom renovated sofas to bright colours on your wall, Leigh-based House of Lovely Stuff’s Jo Bolter tells why it pays to be bold when it comes to interior design…

Q How did House of Lovely Stuff come about?

A I grew up in a house sewing, designing, drawing, cooking, making and creating. But like most families I had no idea that normal people did this as a job, so I left school and started working in a local bank. I met my husband who was a graphic designer and art director and we’ve always enjoyed a shared interest in photography, going to the cinema, gigs, galleries and decorating (the designing bit) our home.

House of Lovely Stuff, Essex LivingBut the catalyst came one day when our youngest daughter came in from school moaning about her homework. It was Eighties week and she had to design an Eighties outfit. I happily explained to her that when I was her age (in the Eighties) I spent hours and hours designing clothes and occasionally making them for fun. My husband said, “Really? You designed and made your own clothes? Why did you stop?”

The answer was sad but simple. The school system/syllabus doesn’t value creativity so when it came to choosing my options I could only choose one creative subject. I loved cooking and I loved textiles. I chose home economics and then as I concentrated on passing my exams.

A couple of weeks later my mum decided to buy a new sewing machine. She asked if I wanted her old one, it was a bit tired but could do a job. I made a cushion. It went okay. I made another one. I started to match fabrics together, playing about with angles, prints and textures. I was happiest experimenting and making. Friends started to take notice. Then I was asked if my cushions were for sale. Sure, I said. And before I knew it a few more friends and friends of friends were interested.

As we spoke to more people it became apparent that people want their homes to be different. Attention without standing out. So, we wanted to create a quiet revolution of fabrics, prints and design. My style is eclectic, I didn’t want to be bogged down by doing the same thing over and over again. I think there are people who love the craft more than the design. I love the design so much that it drives the craft, my eyes and hands don’t want to let down my brain and imagination. And we can’t help people enjoy their originality if everything is the same.

So, we started a business. The House of Lovely Stuff. With the sole purpose of providing the “art of a lovely life” with bespoke and limited edition lifestyle collections.

Q What’s the biggest job bespoke design job you’ve ever taken on?

A We have recently recovered a large sofa. That has been monumental in problems because of a lack of patterns.

Q And what has been your favourite job? Why?

A Hard to choose, but I enjoyed a couple of projects where I have a favourite colour to start with and design specifically for the room and person.

Q And the hardest? Why?

A The monumental sofa, as there wasn’t a pattern to work from…plus different fabrics work in different ways.

Q Explain the commissioning process… how do people/companies book you?

A You can buy direct from our website. If you want something more bespoke or to see more of our work (not everything is on the website) then drop me a line and I’ll happily meet at a mutually convenient time. I then listen to them, what they like, what they don’t. We’ll look at some fabrics. I’ll try and get a cultural reference or two then I’ll go away, put together some ideas. Share them. Talk about them and then when we’ve agreed what they like, I’ll make it.

Some of my clients are very trusting and let me get on with it. Some want to be involved in the process more. Obviously if they have very distinct ideas that I don’t agree with then I’ll happily step aside. After all, if it’s got our name on it, we have to be proud of it. And secondly our curation and design skills are what makes us different from our competitors. And finally, it doesn’t make financial sense to pay for a skill that you don’t need or want.

Q Where do you get your inspiration from?

A Inspiration comes from everywhere. Pieces of art, architecture, fabrics, designers from other fields like Es Devlin the Stage Designer, going to gigs, cinema, friends’ homes, cooking.

Q You also find and reupholster old furniture…has there been a big increase in interest in this in recent years?

A Upcycling was all the rage once but pretty hardcore when it comes to skills and tools. Reupholstering taps into the world of quietly revolutionising your room with fabrics. Being a little bolder and experimental. Which is really much easier when you think your sofa or chair is looking tired. With Ebay and sites like Gumtree we are seeing all this lovely old, beautifully designed furniture that was built to last for sale, reupholstering them could be cheaper than buying something brand new, but also allows us to be more original and bespoke.

I don’t think people are bored of the IKEAs in the world, I just think some people in the world want a little bit more originality in their life.

Q What has been your favourite ever item you’ve ever upcycled in this way?

A We bought a little armchair from Germany and reupholstered that in bold, bright fabrics. It lifts the room and I always smile when I look at it knowing there isn’t another one in the world like it. It’s like owning a piece of original art, it adds something to your life when you look at it, in a way a print never can.

Q What’s the most important skill you possess as a designer?

A A mix of open-mindedness to ideas and stubbornness when it comes to quality.

Q What are you working on right now?

A Another sofa project!

Q What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to their homes’ decor?

A Thinking it’s forever so not trying in case it goes wrong. The amount of people who say they wish they had the guts to use bold colours on the wall. Paint the wall, live with it, if you don’t like it then paint over it. Reupholster the sofa. Nothing in design is forever, so stop treating it that way.

Q What are the top trends in the interior design world at the moment?

A Opulent colours mixed with metallics and/or pastels.

Q What is your personal favourite look, when it comes to interior design?

A Eclectic, colours and textures that show you the personality and life lived.

Q What one item of soft furnishing will instantly update anyone’s home?

A Cushions are always an easy way to add colour/texture.

Q What’s next for House of Lovely Stuff?

A We’re working on a new collection that we’re really excited about. And this year is the year we create our own prints (and maybe weaves.)

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This feature was first published in the January 2018 issue of Essex Living magazine 

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