by Jerry ElengicalJun 20, 2022
From sage green lavender notes and teal turquoise tones to weathered golds and warm monochromes, Michelle Ogundehin has a colour for every mood, trend and season (her Instagram is proof!). A writer, TV presenter and also the former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK, her practice delves deeper than décor to explore the power of home as a path to well-being; a philosophy she articulates in her new book titled Happy Inside.
In a conversation with STIR, Ogundehin reflects on her journey in design - of crafting and curating interiors with a soul - and shares her happiness manifesto.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview...
STIR: You have been in the design and decor industry for many years now. What prompted you to get into this line?
Michelle Ogundehin (MO): Even when I was a child, I was always moving my furniture around. Somehow I just knew that shifting this here and that there would make a space work better, and thus help me feel better. This carried on throughout my student years, trying to make terrible rentals feel more like home, while training to be an architect. It was basically a seed inside me that grew and grew!
STIR: From your time at ELLE Decoration UK, you have probably seen a lot of trends and changes in this segment. Is there one moment that you distinctly recall that was like a turning point for the industry?
MO: I have always been more interested in looking at the big contextual picture of design, rather than the more fleeting moments of fashion, so when you look at these, I think the trends pendulum actually swings pretty consistently from one extreme to the other.
Also, you start to see how everything has its time and place and many things exist concurrently. Each trend effectively sits on the shoulders of the one that came before it, and each inspires, even if by rejection, what follows. Add in manufacturers' compulsive drive for the 'new', and it becomes less a series of moments than a continuous flow of quite predictable action and reaction.
STIR: Your upcoming book Happy Inside describes how the spaces we live in and the way we lay them inform the way we experience emotions. What inspired you to put this book together?
MO: I wrote Happy Inside because I want to change the way we think about home-making. Most importantly I wanted to completely debunk any ideas of home-making as being something frivolous which it's not. It is fundamental to health and happiness.
And the link to mindfulness? Applied to the creation of a home, it's about really leaning into the choices you make about what surrounds you. And I don't just mean the physical pieces of furniture, lighting and accessories; I mean every single colour, finish, fabric and wall covering chosen, alongside the products you use to clean your body and home, the food you eat and the way in which your home enables relaxed downtime. It is an entirely holistic endeavour.
STIR: Last year, you were the Head Judge at the BBC Two reality show, Interior Design Masters that had young designers vying for a career making contract. From your experience there, what did you find the most rewarding and challenging?
MO: It was an incredible insight into process: how different people approached design problems. But also a shock to see how often the designer's approached a brief as if designing for themselves! For me, the key to great interior design is quite simple. Does it answer the brief, and does it push the envelope, while being appropriate 'as defined by the client'. This last bit is the most important.
The best designers take what they know and love but flex and adapt it to the space and client to come up with something unique and original. Anyone can replicate a 'look', but that's not interior design.
STIR: You have moved so many apartments in your life. Have you found your dream home?
MO: I have moved a lot, swapping cities and continents, bouncing from rental to rental as I worked out where I wanted to settle. But each home taught me something fundamental about the secret to making myself a great space, by which I mean, one in which I could feel comfortable and at ease.
My current home (owned rather than rented) is a 200-year old cottage on the South-coast of England. It has three bedrooms and is relatively modest in size but insanely pretty (to me) having a completely symmetrical brick-finished frontage with traditional leaded glass windows and a little front porch with roses and passion flowers climbing over it! I always say it looks like something you might see on the front of a chocolate box!
But inside it has been thoroughly modernised while retaining its original character. I have underfloor heating throughout, dark-stained herringbone wood parquet downstairs and soft wool carpeting upstairs. The rest of my material palette includes a lot of marble, Corian in the kitchen, plenty of tiles (used for behind shelving to bedheads) and oodles of texture on walls and through the fabrics used for upholstery, cushions and bedlinens.
STIR: Being an architect by education, did you ever consider building your own home?
MO: Yes and no. Yes, because how utterly amazing would it be to have a custom-cut home that purpose-fitted my every need. But no because, having presented Grand Designs: House of the Year for four series, and being trained as an architect, and also having renovated homes already myself, I am painfully aware of the sheer hell that it can be! Always worth it in the end, but I am not sure I am up to that as a project at the moment.
Plus, in truth, I have always preferred old houses so the challenge would be to design something that looked pretty well like my current home, but a touch larger, and upto Passivhaus standards. And I am not sure the tech has quite caught up with that as a brief yet.
STIR: From tracing the history of colour in architecture to establishing new trends and styles for contemporary living, colour remains one of your key interests. What do you believe is the role of colour in designing spaces?
MO: Colour is, quite simply, emotion.
When we consider the colour inherent in all materials, it is everything to a space from the very beginning. From the precise shade of a brick or concrete render to stone slabs on a patio. There are so many material variants available, it behoves the designer to make conscious choices about every detail from the very start.
And then it gets down to the level of applied colour and finishes on walls, floors and ceilings, to continue that level of studious interrogation such that every component used, create a space that consciously contribute to a positive and highly-considered whole.
STIR: What are the best ways to use colour? How do you know what works best for you?
MO: We rarely look at a garden of flowers and say, gosh, those stalks really clash with the petals and sky today... As such, I believe that almost any colour will go with any other as long as the tones are similar. By this I mean the amount of grey, red, yellow or blue inherent in a colour. Match these and it will all fit.
What's more important is that when choosing colours, you do so from your heart. Don't over think it, just respond intuitively. Simply ask yourself, which colours am I naturally drawn to, and then that's what will work best for you!
STIR: You have a very unique Instagram page. Is it trend based or a conscious collecting of images from your current world?
MO: It is an entirely organic process. A passion project as I am pretty obsessive about debating the nuances of colour! But in terms of the flow of the feed, I respond only to what I am personally drawn to at any one time, and then each mood moves onto the next when I feel like it. It probably reflects both my personal moods and then whatever I am picking up externally.
Plus I am eternally an editor at heart, so it's also a wonderful way to curate the best of what I find down the rabbit hole of Instagram. A way to share the beautiful work of other people. I also love the wonderfully supportive and like-minded community that's grown up around the account. The people who regularly comment and the wonderful interactions that my posts inspire. In this way, I think social media can be an incredibly uniting force for good. I subscribe to the ideal that if you put love out there, you can get a whole lot of love back.
STIR: What's the one design object you own and cannot do without?
MO: My iPhone I am afraid. For the pragmatic necessity of it automatically remembering all my passwords, to the fact that it is my constant visual notebook. I record my thoughts and ideas predominantly through images as well as words.
STIR: What's on your wishlist?
MO: Nothing. I have more than enough for what I need right now. Also, no more rooms to fill and no desire to move houses!
But in this unusual time of enforced lockdown, I would love to be able to wander freely around my favourite stores, pharmacies and food markets inhaling the atmosphere and absorbing the moments. I need to feed my eyes.
Also read Michelle Ogundehin's Colour Chronicles - a series of explorations in colour.
To know more about Michelle’s book Happy Inside, click here