ARCHIVE’S VISIONARY: LIBERTY BLACKWELL ON BREAKING THE RULES OF INTERIOR DESIGN
We caught up with Liberty Blackwell, the interior styling wizard behind our time defying Archive shoots. Read about her tips on creating the feeling of considered chaos, breaking the rules of interior design and capturing euphoria in every shot.
Q: Tell us about yourself and how you got to where you are now?
A: I’ve been working for Sanderson Design Group for four years. I interned with the marketing team before I did my degree, so I’ve known them for a long time. I came across William Morris designs when I was doing my GCSEs and have been in love ever since, so I feel honoured to be part of the team who are continuing the story of his work.
My life in interiors began with my mother, who has been running her own interior design company for 20 years. She always says I’ve been in training my whole life for this job, and she’s definitely given me the confidence to believe in myself. She always asked for my creative opinion on her own projects when I was growing up.
My degree prepped me incredibly well for being Archive by Sanderson Design’s interior stylist. I studied fashion design and marketing at Northumbria University, and as part of our degree projects we looked at the entire process from research, trend forecasting, concept, design, making, styling, and graphics. The briefs set by the lecturers allowed for a lot of scope, and you were encouraged to make it as conceptual as possible, and to push the boundaries – the more creative and wild the better. During my sandwich course year, I worked as a fashion stylist intern in London, which was an amazing experience and taught me a lot about working in industry.
Q: Is interior styling an Art or a Science? Is there a method behind your work?
A: Science was my least favourite subject at school, so I’d instinctively say it’s an art, however, there is something about creating a balance to a room. Even with Archive, where the flowers are a little off-centre and where everything is displayed in a slightly chaotic manner, the placement of everything in the room has still been considered, so I guess that’s a little bit of science.
Q: Archive is a celebration of 160 years of design. Is creating a space using prints with such rich heritage daunting?
A: Working with other Sanderson Design Group brands - Morris & Co. and Sanderson - can be daunting because they are held in such a high regard, but if you go in with that mindset it can be limiting. You have to embrace vulnerability to come up with courageous ideas while considering whether they are respectful to the heritage of the brand.
Archive by Sanderson Design breaks all the rules. The heritage designs have been reimagined in bold, energised colours and this allows for more flexibility. Though it was important for the imagery to have a nod to its heritage, the idea was for the images to look like they’ve evolved over time, or that they defy time. It’s a bit like the series Sex Education, which I think defies time, in that the aesthetics are like John Hughes films from the 80s, but also feature a few William Morris wallpapers and feels very relevant to today.
Q: Where does your inspiration come from? How does it drive your design decisions?
A: Inspiration can come from anywhere: a book, a film, a piece of art, a restaurant, nature, an exhibition, what’s going on in the news, a conversation. I mostly feel inspired when I visit somewhere I’ve not been before and there’s new smells and tastes and sounds, so you become immersed and very present wherever you are. When researching ideas, I would say I’m incredibly led by my emotions. I’m always trying to create something that makes me feel either nostalgic or passionate in some form.
The concept we went with for Archive was called ‘twilight hour’. It came from that euphoric feeling when the sun is coming up, the world is sleeping, everyone is giddy and a little delirious and you don’t want the party to end. You’re with your closest friends and you go back to someone’s house to find somewhere to sleep - anywhere will do, the bath, the sofa, the floor, it doesn’t matter. You’re so present and alive, there’s no thought of the consequences of tomorrow. I guess it’s that infinite feeling - Stephen Chbosky references this feeling in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Once the concept is decided, I start the design process, and I’m often inspired by the colours within the designs themselves. Once I have the colour palette decided, I’ll begin searching for a location. Often, I’ll find the perfect house and then I can see all the designs beginning to unfold within a space – I love it when this happens.
Q: The style of the shoot is maximalist, eclectic, fun but also fresh and contemporary. How did you achieve this?
A: It’s a process! From concept to design to prop shopping to hiring animals and models, it’s a multitude of layering. With Archive, maximalism comes quite naturally from pairing the prints together. Whether you focus on one print or combine multiple designs, it’s important to stick to a colour palette so that there are a few of the same colours running through each design, and it doesn’t overwhelm the space.
A space becomes eclectic when you source accessories and furniture from a variety of places, antique and new. For example, the contemporary wave Golden Lily sofa was made for us by Recoire. It was styled with two vintage button-back tub chairs from Vinterior with tassels sourced from Etsy.
With accessories, I often pick things up on my travels, whether that’s a pot or vase or drinking glasses. I love for an item to hold meaning and a memory with it. I don’t like having photographs up at home, but these items have the same sentimental value in a different way. It makes me think of an adventure with a friend or family member and creates that eclectic, thoughtfully curated feel at home.
The fun element on shoot comes from playful accessories such as the Lola Mayeras ear hooks and laundry vase. The lived-in feel, with shoes and bags left on the floor and clothing and feather boas draped across a chair, adds light-heartedness, which makes the space feel more fun. And of course, the animals bring an element of humour too. They always make for an eventful day on set!
Q: Do you have any top tips for utilising a mixture of bold prints and patterns?
A: The best thing to do is start with a mood board, pull all your favourite prints together, and select paints and plains to tie everything in. I think mixing prints with rich colour palettes is an effective way of layering a mixture of bold patterns. Print placement is also key. Go bold with a full print sofa or choose a block colour velvet or linen sofa in a rich tone, and then choose a selection of print cushions and pair with full print curtains. The same goes for the headboard – go for a full print and source plain bedding, you can then mix plain and printed cushions and a printed throw. If the colours tie in together, you could use four or five different prints within a room.
Q: Which is your favourite Archive product and why?
A: I love the Daisy Strawberry Fields wallpaper and the Serotonin Pink Golden Lily fabric. The colours are so beautiful. I like how the daisy wallpaper is quietly bold. It would lend itself to any room in a house, whether it’s a new or older property. I was so excited about styling this in the kitchen, and this is definitely up there with my favourite Archive images so far. The golden lily fabric is definitely a showstopper. It has been printed on a super soft velvet and the colour palette is so vibrant and playful. I love it so much I’d like to wear it – a golden lily serotonin pink suit or coat would look incredible! I also think it has so much scope to enhance a space as there are a lot of gorgeous colours within the print that can be pulled out and used to create a full colour palette for a room.
Q: Props incorporated in the shoots often came from small and up-and-coming designers. Are there any designers you are really excited about at the moment?
A: There are so many! I really love Lottablobs and Al’s place mirrors. They are both small companies set up by women who actually make the mirrors themselves in the UK. I’m looking forward to seeing where their companies take them. Also, I absolutely love Tatiana Alida’s artwork - the colours she uses and playfulness of her designs pair very well with Archive designs.
Q: Maximalism isn’t for the faint hearted, but Archive can suit a plethora of styles and tastes. How do you suggest incorporating these daring designs into a more muted space?
A: The perfect examples of this are Nick Grimshaw and Meshach Henry’s bedrooms. In the main bedroom they selected a warm neutral for the walls, and incorporated prints with our Archive mix print Fruit in Twilight curtains and some over-sized cushions for their bed. The room felt so sophisticated and sleek, like it could have been a fancy hotel room.
In their spare bedroom they decided on the full print Mildmay curtains and kept everything else quite neutral, then used a bright block contrasting cushion to add more playfulness. This worked so well. It felt like the perfect balance between cosy, practical and stylish.
If you are looking for somewhere to start, get a paint chart, order some Archive print samples and some plain fabrics from Sanderson, Harlequin or Zoffany, create yourself a mood board and go from there. I think starting with a blind or a cushion is a gentle way of bringing in bold designs, and this can build up over time. If you already have a wall colour, order your favourite samples and put them up on your wall with some masking tape and see how you feel about them over a few days.
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posted on 12 Nov 2021