Images by Chris Snook
London-based Laura Stephens is swiftly becoming the go-to interior designer for those who love colour but want to be able to live with it. She tells Jessica Jonzen how she creates homes with character
Laura Stephens may have started her working life as a secondary school teacher, but her true vocation was evident when she was still at school herself. ‘Even as a child, I would put schemes together for my bedroom, tearing pages out of my mother’s magazines and cutting up fabrics to make mood boards’ she says.
Whilst the only concession most students might have made to interior design would have been a blu-tacked Pulp Fiction poster or a mandala wall hanging, Laura had more refined ideas. ‘I would have the loveliest room in my student halls and paint the walls and was known to drag wooden furniture out of skips to do it up’ she says.
When Laura had her first daughter, Daisy, 11 years ago she realised that the time had come for a change. ‘It became clear that running a department of a large school wasn’t compatible with a family and I wanted to take control and continue to work but have time with my daughter.’
She enrolled on a year-long Interior Design course at Chelsea School of Art and Design with a view to setting up on her own.
Ten years and two more daughters later, Dulwich-based Laura is fast establishing herself as the go-to interior designer for people who want to vibrant, welcoming homes with exciting but easy-to-live-with schemes. ‘Whilst I adore colour and pattern it has to be used in a way which is liveable with’ she says. ‘There are few people who find living with a riot of colour soothing.’
Laura will often use a neutral backdrop of painted walls, carrying a key colour palette right through the house, using furnishings, window treatments, rugs and art to make the rooms feel cohesive. ‘I always try to ensure the neutral has the right ‘tone’ to go with the colours I introduce. A grey neutral throughout will work with dusky pinks with a shot of grey in them. Whatever neutral I use I like it to have a ‘warm’ tone – ‘Stone’ by Paint & Paper Library is a favourite. I find this makes it easier to introduce the colours which I love into the furnishings.’
When it comes to her aesthetic, Laura’s decorating style is feminine without being sugary. ‘I will always be drawn to muted colour: aquas, soft pinks and lavenders often pop up in my schemes. I have never been a slick minimalist in my style – whilst I admire it from afar. I have learnt to love more traditional styles, especially since we moved to our townhouse which is quite grand, but I always like a traditional feel but with a fresh contemporary twist. This can suit any property yet doesn’t feel stuffy.’
Laura advises those who are a little timid about commiting to colour to start small. ‘Whilst it maybe clichéd, small cloakrooms work brilliantly with bold patterned wallpaper or dark wall colours. If a client is reticent to commit, I will suggest adding ‘shots’ of pattern and colour through the rug, or through soft furnishings which are changeable.
Understanding the tastes of her clients is only one element of the background research that Laura undertakes to ensure that she creates a home which will be loved and lived in. ‘I want to know how my client lives their lives. Do they work from home? Do they entertain a lot or do they rarely cook? Do they have children? Are they naturally tidy or not? All of this is key in determining the right practical space and look for a client. A scheme which looks its best with clutter-free works surfaces with selected objects on display is no good for a busy family who are relaxed and inclined to be a little messy.’
Laura also determines how much input each client wants to have with the project. ‘Often they love a certain style but want help in achieving it. I love working collaboratively with clients and some of my most successful projects have been when we work together, with clients pointing towards items they love, or looks they want to emulate. I feel very lucky to have found my vocation, and most days, it doesn’t even feel like work. I genuinely love creating homes that my clients love and enhance their lives.’
Laura Stephen’s Little Black Book
‘Sourcing is one of the best parts of the job and I use a wide range suppliers.’
For rugs ‘Jennifer Manners is a dream to work with and her rugs are exquisitely designed and made. She can do any of her designs in bespoke colours so almost anything can be made to fit a scheme.’
For fabrics and patterns ‘I love GPJ Baker and Designers Guild, where I recently used an aqua cut velvet to upholster a bespoke sofa made for a kitchen designer. Colefax and Fowler always have the perfect designs for more traditional schemes, and Osborne & Little are great for fun and fabulous animal prints.’
For paint ‘I am really enjoying using Paint & Paper Library paints right now. Their palette is really interesting and feels fresh. I love the way they have one colour in a range of shades from dark to light which makes it super easy to use tonally.’
For furniture ‘I really rate sofa.com for the quality, value and fabric range and their amazing customer service. For something special Sofa & Chair Company are fabulous; I recently commissioned incredible bespoke dining chairs in velvet for a client and they always do an impeccable job. I also love Tom Faulkner for the quality of his beautiful glass and brass coffee and side tables. My clients never fail to be delighted with one if his pieces.’
For wallpaper ‘I am a self-confessed wallpaper addict. I source them everywhere but House of Hackney do some of my favourites and I adore their floral wallpapers.’
For tiles ‘I am currently eyeing up some tiles from Mosaic del Sur for a kitchen project. They have a gorgeous shell-like glaze in lovely colours.’