I’m a strong believer that interior design should be as much about the way a space makes us feel as the way it looks, and as a result I’ve always been drawn to the work of British designer and stylist Louisa Grey. Her studio House of Grey is renowned for its holistic approach, and she puts wellbeing firmly at the heart of every project – from the understated yet luxurious schemes she creates for clients to her own North London home, which I was lucky enough to visit last year. I caught up with her again recently in Copenhagen, where she had just collaborated with Frama to curate a wonderful exhibition for 3 Days of Design, and I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed for the blog. So, read on to find out more about her work, the processes and experiences behind it, and her tips for how we can all turn our homes into happier, healthier places…
Hi Louisa, and thanks for taking the time to talk. Firstly, where does your interest in design stem from, and how did you get started as a designer?
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in Cambridge, which is an extremely creative city. My parents have an inspired circle of friends, and several were working within the interiors industry. I began as an assistant to a designer and then embraced it as a career. I respect the idea that we learn from our elders, and I’ve always seen my parents as my mentors. They have always encouraged me to think differently and consider my dyslexia as a strength. My father was an architect and builder, and I would watch in awe whilst he spent time crafting spaces into well-thought-out, beautiful places. His eye for detail and craftsmanship are elements I acquired and use in my work today. My mother was a successful international knitwear designer. I watched her juggle being a businesswomen and a mother, and that impacted me hugely.
“I’ve always thrived when making things and working with raw materials. From a young age I had my own toolkit and would help my dad build. I trained in weaving, working with multiple textures and natural yarns at the Chelsea College of Art, and that provided me with the ability to be super patient. Days of threading a loom can be rather taxing, but you develop mental tools which I’m now discovering are invaluable.”
How would you define your style?
“It’s derived from my desire to create calm, quiet luxury interiors, with an emphasis on elegant simplicity. I believe many of us have increasingly found ourselves feeling overwhelmed by life and overloaded with visual stimulation, and as a result the minimal aesthetic is one that I’m particularly drawn to. As a studio, our style is natural yet progressive, and we believe in creating more thoughtful and meaningful spaces that stimulate all five senses and provide a grounded sense of wellbeing.”
Has wellbeing always been such an integral part of your approach to design?
“My holistic approach has been continually revised, but it’s a strong thread that links many elements of our work at House of Grey. It’s drawn from reflecting on the calmness and solitude that weaving brought me when I first came to London from Cambridge, and the need to acclimatise to life in a busy city. It became second nature to juggle meetings with various clients, a selection of projects and shoots, and being a mother. Living at such a pace made me reassess the importance of balance and the need to feel calm in the place where you rest your body and mind at the end of the day.
“Initially my daily rituals arose from living in rented accommodation. I didn’t want to invest a huge amount in the property, so I would create a scent scape according to my mood and how I wanted to feel. This idea seeded itself and prompted me to design environments which soothe, energise and nourish, and which use our five senses. It’s a simple formula that has allowed me to feel more content in a very busy life.”
What impact do you feel our surroundings have on our mental and physical health?
“It’s clear to me that self-care and the choices we make can be massively beneficial. What we choose to surround ourselves with, the environment we’re in and even who we allow into our personal space can all make a huge difference to how we feel on a day-to-day basis. Spaces can combine an aesthetic with mental and physical values that actively contribute to their occupants’ health and wellbeing.”
Do you feel there’s an increasing awareness of wellbeing in commercial interiors, too?
“I think a lot of businesses are becoming more aware of how employees are their most critical resource. The quality of a workplace can be heavily influenced by the atmosphere, and a healthy environment stems from developing innovative and inspiring spaces.”
For you, what are the keys to a creating a healthy, happy space?
“Being mindful of what we allow into our surroundings, and choosing materials that have a positive effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. This is a vital aspect of our philosophy at House of Grey, and we use sustainable, natural and organic materials where possible. For example, we’ve painted our studio walls in a wonderful paint from Airlite, which acts as a natural purifier and reduces air pollution; it’s also mould-resistant, and repels dust and airborne dirt.”
You recently collaborated with Frama to create the ‘Senses’ exhibition at its Copenhagen studio store, and it exemplifies your design philosophy. Please can you tell us more about your vision for the project and how it came about?
“We’ve worked closely with our friends at Frama for the past year now, and their aesthetic and values align perfectly with ours at House of Grey. Niels [Strøyer Christophersen, Frama’s founder and creative director] and I have a similar view on life philosophies, so when he approached us about collaborating with them for 3 Days of Design, it was perfect timing for us at the studio.
“When we started work on the initial concept, we had several conversations in the studio about how life is for everyone now, and what we would like more of in order to bring a sense of contentment into our lives. There was a strong feeling that the conversations we have in our lives should impact us positively on a daily basis, and that we’re all driven towards more human connections now that we spend so much time on our phones and laptops. We also wanted to draw on and develop the five senses, as so many people have spent years desensitising themselves from over-stimulation.
“Our response was to create a deep, multi-levelled exploration of the senses, and we decided to present our ideas as a visual concept board. This allowed Frama to understand the journey we wanted visitors to enjoy at the installation, which incorporated sight, sound, scent, taste and touch.”
Finally, are there any small, easy changes which we could all make to our homes to enhance our wellbeing?
“We can all consider the choices we make, from the cleaning products we use in our homes to how many material things we actually need. The clutter that we’ve all become accustomed to isn’t necessary – it visually overloads us. So, I would start by editing your home and the things in it. Taking time to consider the pieces we surround ourselves with – with an emphasis on life’s necessities – can help clear our thoughts, remove distractions, and increase productivity and wellbeing.
“If you’re at the start of the decorating process, then really think about what materials you’re using. We need to look at the long-term impact of what we allow into our homes. Most paint is synthetic, and the same applies to most carpets and flooring. It’s worth keeping in mind the triangle of budget, quality and time. For example, you can achieve a high-quality project on a tight budget but at the expense of time, whereas a high-quality building delivered in little time will likely have a large budget. We certainly feel it’s worth investing in the elements that become the backdrop to the home you rest and breathe in.”
Visit House of Grey’s website to see more examples of Louisa and her team’s inspiring work. There’s also a journal charting travels, trends, techniques and more.
Images six-eight by Michael Sinclair, images nine and 10 by Jake Curtis, and images 11-13 by Rory Gardiner; all other photography by Abi Dare