Find out why there’s more to the interiors guru than just shabby chic…
Words: Rosalind Sack
With her leopard-print loafers, exuberant husky laugh and tales of a past life in a rock band, Annie Sloan has edge and humour and a truly eclectic taste for interiors styles.
She may have become the poster girl for the shabby chic movement, but it’s apparent there’s far more to Annie than that. ‘I’m very keen people don’t think I am just about painting shabby chic, I’m much broader than that, and I hate to be pinned to one thing,’ she tells us.
Her latest book, Annie Sloan’s Room Recipes For Style And Colour, which she wrote with her son, Felix, is a gold mine of style inspiration; from coastal to neoclassical, modern retro to industrial. Annie tells us of an Amsterdam warehouse apartment featured in the book that she instantly fell for; with its exposed brick walls, deep dark colours and worn metal accents softened by flowers, hessian cushions and a giant chandelier. Shabby chic this is not.
Creativity and vision
‘It’s an amazing place,’ says Annie. ‘The owners have kept a lot of the original warehouse features, like exposed brickwork and the old building line. The brickwork is beautiful but it’s not perfect, and that’s why it works so well.
‘They also use a lot of natural materials, like woods and stones, and they have the most extraordinary leather kitchen worktop; you can’t actually see that it’s leather, you can just feel it.
‘It is a very textural place, it has big concrete floors and, because it was once a warehouse, there are a lot of elements of scale, like that great big chandelier made from wooden beads. I thought that was just fantastic, it looks so light and delicate.’
It’s this creativity and vision that Annie has in spades; she’s able to spot the beauty in what, to some, may appear to be a stack of junk.
‘I love thinking outside the box,’ she says. ‘I was in an old junk shop the other day and there was a metal farmhouse hopper with a big funnel-shaped part at the top, which would have looked amazing painted with a tabletop on it. I like re-purposed bits of old machinery, and reusing and repainting things that initially just look like old junk, but with a lick of paint, turn into something amazing.’
‘Industrial’ can be homely
Annie insists this ‘Industrial’ style can be enjoyed by the whole family and, despite the lofty rooms and rough finishes, the Amsterdam apartment retains a homely quality.
‘The apartment looks very natural, it looks very much like a home,’ she adds. ‘It’s owned by a children’s clothing designer and the whole family live there. That appealed to me because I’ve seen a lot of lofthouse apartments lived in by couples with no children, and I’ve thought: “It doesn’t feel like a home.”
‘I also love all those deep rich colours. Again, when people only associate me with shabby chic, they think I just use pale blue and pale pink – I have three sons so we never got to use pale pink or pale blue!’
Annie’s creativity runs in the family – one of her sons is a musician and she clearly loved collaborating with her middle son, graphic designer Felix, on her latest book.
‘We’re a terrific mixture and I’m stunned at how well we work together,’ she says. ‘He has more modern tastes than me, because he’s a lot younger, but we have a similar aesthetic and reason for liking things.
‘He’s probably a deeper thinker than I am, I’m more of a do-er. He will understand what I’m trying to say and put it into better words than me. I sometimes have acute knee-jerk reactions and he will say: “No, we need to think about this,” and he’s right. It’s really annoying, I have to say!’
Put your own stamp on it
The key to successful interior design, says Annie, is to put your own stamp on a specific trend by fusing elements of varying styles -–and she practises what she preaches. Workshop-style vintage lighting, 1950s office chairs and a graphite coloured wall in her garden room add a flavour of Industrial style into her Victorian home in Oxford, which she shares with her husband, David, who helps to run the business.
Yet one prized piece in Annie’s home is far from industrial; a Greek statue of a young boy, which stands in the garden room.
‘He’s just a mould. He hasn’t got a head I’m afraid and I think someone knocked his penis off… Anyway, I love him,’ she says. ‘From the garden you can see his bottom, which is very sweet. You can use him to hang your hat on.’
Annie’s rocking past
Born in Australia to a Scottish father and a Fijian mother, Annie came to England aged 10.
She received a Master of Fine Art from Reading University and, during her time as a student in the 1970s, she formed an all-female rock band, The Moodies. The band were featured on the front cover of The Sunday Times Magazine and counted Mick Jagger and David Bowie among their fans.
‘I can’t quite believe I did that, it’s now so long ago. It’s what you do when you’re at art school I suppose. I still have a very broad taste in music, including rock,’ she says.
But Annie didn’t want to be a rock star; she knew her future was in paint. ‘I used to paint murals,’ she says. ‘I had to paint very conventional things, like jungle scenes. I enjoyed myself actually; generally it was very much what they asked me to do, but sometimes I could do some interesting things.’
By 1987, Annie had written her first book and she went on to launch her range of hugely popular chalk paints. In 2000, she set up her shop in Oxford to showcase her ranges, run courses and offer interior design services.
So if she’s not the queen of shabby chic, how would Annie describe herself? ‘I always have that problem,’ she says. ‘When people ask: “What’s your occupation?” I say: “Which one?” I write books but I wouldn’t say I’m a writer, I find writing hard and it takes me a long time. I went to art school for seven years, but I hate being called an “artist”. Everybody’s an artist these days; whether you paint teddy bears with polka dots on or you’re Lucian Freud. And I’m not a designer. I suppose I’m a creator of things, a publisher or writer of books … a communicator.’
Annie Sloan’s Room Recipes For Style And Colour by Annie and Felix Sloan, published by CICO books, £25, available now.