Claudia Baillie is the Interiors Editor for Sunday Times Style and is the latest creative to share her cool habitat with #HabitatVoyeur. She lives in Streatham, London.
What’s travelled with you from first home to this?
From my very first home when I was a child, a little Chinese doll that was bought for me by my then next door neighbour’s dad when he came back from business trip. He was very kind and would buy me a gift as well as his daughter, who was my ‘best friend’. She was a little bit older and I was slightly in awe of her at the time, as you are of older children when you’re very small.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My heart would break if I lost my grandmother’s engagement ring. From an interiors point of view it’s my Paul Smith for the Rug Company ‘Birdie Blossom’ cushion, which is gorgeous and probably the fanciest thing I own.
How did you find the place?
I had been travelling around Asia, Australia, New Zealand and America, had come back and was living and working in Hampshire, which is where I am originally from. All my university friends had moved to London, and after a while I’d saved up and wanted to buy a property in London so I would dispatch my friend Jeremy, who already lived over the road to look at flats on my behalf. He would let me know if they were worth the trip up to come and view. We only looked at about 3 or 4 before we found this place.
Did it feel right immediately?
Yes. It was so much better than anything else I’d looked at. It was painted entirely in bright cornflower blue and sunflower yellow with odd burgundy and gold squares on the wall (very Changing Rooms), and had awful old carpets and very badly constructed storage. It also had a really naff kitchen, and the original bathroom, which was an amazing black and lemon 1930’s affair but sadly falling to pieces so it had to go. But it’s full of light, has brilliant narrow wooden floorboards and a cool deco open fireplace. The beautiful garden was a big draw too.
How have you made this house your home?
By letting it evolve, living with things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. If you’re in too much of a rush, things can end up feeling interior-designed, which suits some people but isn’t really how I like things to be.
How did you shape it – and how did it shape you?
I shaped it quite literally by sanding and painting almost every inch of it entirely by myself, and on more than one occasion. The last time I decorated I did get someone in as I just couldn’t face all that painting again. I was incredibly lucky as Joa Studholme, the international colour consultant for Farrow & Ball, came round to advise me on paint shades. You’d think I’d have an idea having been in interiors for this long but I still had a mild panic when it came to the crunch, and she suggested a wonderful palette, which I love. It has shaped me by teaching me all the things you need to learn when you finally become a grownup/homeowner, which are quite dull – how to find a plumber, how to sand a floor – but necessary skills all the same.
Where’s the heart of this house? And the head?
The heart is next to the fireplace, and the head is in the study.
Are you done yet? Is this your perfect habitat?
I have a lot more art that I need to get up on to the walls, but they are rock solid so it’s easier said than done and I might need to get someone in to help. I could do with replacing some of the furniture, but it’s not a huge priority at the moment.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
So, what should I steal?
The Lucie Bennett ‘Pink Knickers’ limited edition print. The first feature I ever wrote back when I started at Livingetc magazine was a feature about buying art. I was so inspired I invested in a piece of my own and that was it.
What did you hide before we arrived?
Even more magazines and books! I could do with some more bookshelves, and some really good fitted storage as well as getting the art on the wall, but again that’s a job for someone with an industrial drill.
What do you wish you’d hidden?
The TV. I rarely watch television, and it it’s big and black and not particularly attractive. I’m considering investing in one of the new Serif TV’s by the Bouroullec brothers for Samsung. They’ve completely rethought how a contemporary television should look and function. It’s ace.
What’s the guilty pleasure?
Spending too much money on my mattress, pillows and duvet, but I’ve got a dodgy back from sitting in front of a computer all day every day, so it’s worth it. It’s feathers and goose down all the way.
One pillow or two?
Two very soft goose down ones.
Comfort or style?
Comfort. There’s no point in everything looking spot on if it’s not functional or comfy to live in.
Inside or out?
Small details or big statements?
Small details. My house is full of little things I’ve picked up on my travels and each one of them has a memory attached.
What’s your party trick/hidden skill?
I can make up rhymes very quickly. I used to write poems all the time for my friends on special occasions and I’ve even written them for other people to use as speeches etc. I also recently discovered I’m quite good at making cakes. I made a friend a cake in the shape of Rod Stewart’s face for her 40th birthday, and completely winged it but it turned out really well. And I can light Sambuca in my mouth, which is something I learned when I was travelling but I haven’t done it for a while. That might be for the best.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
A personal chef. I’m pretty busy most of the time so someone to cook me tasty, healthy food would be the dream.
Do you savour or shun silence?
I love it and I can happily potter about in complete silence. It’s something that’s only come about only as I’ve got older, but I’m happy that it has. I used to go out all the time but now a night in is just as good.
What’s your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is probably completely switching careers relatively late in the game. I left a lucrative job in the telecoms industry with a regular bonus and company car to become an intern at a wedding magazine. I was 28 at the time and sitting in a cupboard, returning tiaras, but I think if people see you’re prepared to do something like that when you’re a bit older, they know you’re serious. Thankfully, although it took many years of hard work, it paid off.
Tell us about your job.
I am the interiors editor on the Sunday Times Style Magazine, so I come up with the ideas for the interiors pages, write features, interview people, go to all sorts of design events and commission other writers to put together pieces for us as well.
What would your dream job be? Is it different from what you do now?
I really enjoy making things, and always have done. I was the child who made everything on Blue Peter, but took it to the next level. I have a degree in Fashion Design and although I wouldn’t want to work in fashion, I do love to make clothes and wish I had time to pick it up properly again. I also love to draw and paint – anything creative. So my dream job would involve actually making 3D objects – but I’m not sure what! Maybe costume or set design.
Do you have any memories of the Habitat brand specifically?
When I was at university in Bristol there was a huge Habitat store that was THE place to go to get accessories for your room, and if you bought a gift for special a friend it would be your shop of choice. We thought that anything from Habitat was the bee’s knees – picture frames, soap dishes, vases….my Habitat bed linen was the starting point for the entire scheme in my 3rd year student bedroom (yes, I had a scheme).
What Habitat products are your favourites?
When I first started trying to work in interiors I actually had a job, along with a friend who is now a very well respected stylist, as an assistant on the production of the Habitat catalogue, so I knew all the names of the products off by heart. Now I’m not as good but I’ve always been a fan of the lighting. Tommy lamps in all their guises are really versatile – I’ve even got one on my kitchen countertop. And I’m a big fan of Garland by Tord Boontje as once upon a time I was going to buy his original Wednesday light but then luckily Habitat collaborated with him on the high street version, which it a lot less expensive but still as lovely.