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A Meeting of Minds: Beata Heuman and Duncan Campbell talk fantasy, eccentricity and what gives a room its soul

The Swedish-born, London-based interior designer dips into her new book, ‘Every Room Should Sing’ to share some unconventional home truths

A Meeting of Minds: Beata Heuman and Duncan Campbell talk fantasy, eccentricity and what gives a room its soul

Interior designer Beata Heuman has a rare ability to combine folksy charm with wit and sophistication. Her work – which includes private homes from Nantucket to Notting Hill and the interiors of Chelsea restaurant Farm Girl, as well as an enticing range of whimsical homewares – is notable not only for its gleeful approach to colour and pattern, but also a certain feeling of lightness and comfort that makes all her schemes not just beautiful, but liveable. In her new book from Rizzoli, Every Room Should Sing, she takes readers through the process that produces such fine results, outlining 10 principles that guide her work alongside various case studies from the past seven years of her eponymous studio’s output. The helpful advice contained within ranges from guidance on creating contrast – in colour, texture and even space – to more down-to-earth ideas about looking after – and, yes, loving – your home. (One tip we particularly love: always keep your fridge well stocked). Below, to celebrate the book’s release she talks to friend, fellow designer and Inigo Guild member Duncan Campbell about the thoughts and ideas behind the creation of this inspiring volume, delving into everything from Swedish folk tales and resourceful decorating, to her recent yearnings in the Bridgerton direction…

Duncan:
One of the things I admire about your work is that you have this sense that the spaces should transport you a little bit. Is that important to you, the feeling to create some whimsy and a bit of a fantasy?

Beata:
Yes, absolutely. You don’t want it to be so much of a fantasy that it becomes unrecognisable. But fantasy plays a huge part in our work and is something that we always strive for.

Duncan:
I’ve heard you talk in the past in interviews about the importance of your Swedish heritage. Both from an aesthetic perspective, when you talk about Gustavian design or folk art, but also how your Swedishness makes you approach things.

Beata:
Well, to me it’s not about what “Scandi” design is known for now. That look is very different from the actual heritage of Swedish design. One thing that I think is particularly important is storytelling; for example, folk tales. The idea of these creatures being around us. Growing up on a farm, for example, meant all of the trees around me had a name. We were constantly talking about the nymphs or the trolls. Somehow, that idea of storytelling has stuck with me.

Duncan:
I’ve also heard you say before that in Sweden, it’s not the done thing to stand out too much, to be too eccentric. Your work is quite eccentric, and I think that’s what makes it magical. Did you find that hard?

Beata:
Yes. For some reason, when I first started school, I basically didn’t have any friends. So I revelled in being different, and escaped into my own world. Mainly drawing and reading and thinking up these stories. And that’s kind of how I survived. It sounds a little bit extreme, but I was quite lonely in my first few years of school. Then, I think I established myself as that sort of person. I’d like to dress a bit differently. And I continue to do that. Then when I was 15, I started this boarding school. And all I wanted to do was to fit in. And I was there with my designer handbag, my armour. I wince when I think about it now. But after my school years, I moved to Florence. I got to know all these young English people who went to my sister’s art school. And all of a sudden I was completely absorbed by these very bohemian artistic young people. I fell in love with all the people I met and that way of being, and English eccentricity. Since then, I’ve always really thrived on the idea of doing something a bit different.

Duncan:
I think the English celebrate irony. So maybe your work is a combination of the Swedish and English there.

Beata:
I think so. And I think another thing that is quite Swedish about my work is that it’s quite practical and uses quite simple materials. It’s normally just painted wood. It’s not like we do excessive moulding details. We’ll do specialist paint work, but it’s still just on a flat wall. So I think that way of dealing with materials is quite Swedish as well.

Duncan:
I think your rooms always look like rooms you could immediately live in. So much design looks like it’s just for photographs. Whereas when I see your rooms, I think “I can jump on that sofa and be quite happy.”

Beata:
Yes, and I think a lot about layering. We’re all a mix of lots of different things, so I feel happier being in a room that’s a mix of lots of different things. Old and new, high and low, expensive and cheap… that just seems a little bit truer to human nature.

Duncan:
So the book is somewhat about finding your voice when it comes to interiors. You’ve talked a bit about your childhood, but could you explain how your work has evolved? You worked at Nicky Haslam for, what, nine or 10 years? And then you’ve had your own practice for how many, six?

Beata:
Seven. I was always really interested in the environment around me. And then working for Nicky… he’s pretty irreverent. He takes risks and has an open mind. But he also has this incredible knowledge of how things should be done, in a very English way or Anglo-American traditional way of decorating, which was great for me to learn. But I think the thing that really shaped me as I set out on my own was decorating my first flat, but not having any money to really do that. I also began to get some projects, but these didn’t have the kind of budgets I was used to working with when I was with Nicky. It made me go back to my Swedish heritage and be more resourceful. But lately I’m feeling quite 18th century. Like a Bridgerton me.

Duncan:
In terms of your aesthetic?

Beata:
Yes, I think that’s where it’s going…

Duncan:
A bit Rococo?

Beata:
Rococo… neoclassicist maybe. But still modern. I feel like I’m becoming a bit more pared-back.

Duncan:
You need a big country house somewhere. A Regency project.

Beata:
I’m actually doing up this house on my parents’ farm, which is late 18th century. It’s a really lovely house, it’s quite simple. So I’m thinking a lot about that house and I’m becoming a bit affected by that, style-wise. But it’s fun.

Duncan:
I think so. Do you ever finish a house? Obviously you do for a client, but for your own home?

Beata:
My house was photographed last summer for this book and is in Chapter One. For that, I did quite a lot of last-minute things that I hadn’t been completely happy with before. So at the moment I can’t really think about it any more. I mean, I’ve done up every inch of that house. Although I haven’t done up my laundry room… I think that’s next.

Duncan:
It’s fun – I have definitely found that your own home is the best canvas to try things out.

Beata:
And that’s really relaxing. You don’t have to justify it to anyone. But my poor house. It really has been done up within an inch of its life. I don’t really know what we’re going to do next.

Duncan:
Maybe it’s going to be very pared down. White plaster on the walls…

Beata:
[Laughs] Maybe!

Duncan:
What is a perfect home to you? Obviously, it’s not just about the way it looks. Are there certain things that you want to bring to space? Is it about a feeling?

Beata:
I think from a design perspective, when a room sings is when it is comfortable and you can relax in it. Sometimes if it’s very done up, it doesn’t feel relaxing. But it needs to leave you feeling inspired; for example, in the colour combinations. You should feel at home and inspired at the same time. The best thing is when you go to someone’s home and you can tell that the person who lives there really loves it. Like when they have a well stocked fridge. You know, people remember these things: “you guys, when we came to visit you… the little cocktails… the nibbles! [laughs]”

Duncan:
It’s all about the nibbles. I love spaces that you feel like you can have a good time in. Some interiors, the kind of people that have them are so highly strung that you don’t want to sit on a cushion in case you mess it up.

Beata:
I think that comes down to the person who lives there and what kind of host they are. I actually talk about that in Chapter Three of the book, “A home for living”. How to not be a jittery host. I’m not always good at it myself. But you can tell when the host is relaxed; you just feel looked after and welcome.

Duncan:
It can put the guests at ease. And it really changes the atmosphere. Whether it’s a dinner or something else. Tell me what you’re excited about this year – obviously, last year was a bit of a weird one. But 2021 I think has a hopeful feeling about it. What are you most excited about?

Beata:
I’m very excited to just see people again. I love my family. But I think it would be really nice to get some new impressions – to go to an exhibition, or a dinner where you might not know every single person. I’m also really excited about this house we’re doing up in Sweden. I’m a bit of a workaholic and not that great at taking time off work, but we’re going to go there for a month with the girls and really get into countryside living. I can’t wait for that.

Every Room Should Sing is available to purchase online now

Photography courtesy of Simon Brown

Further Reading

Shoppa by Beata Heuman

Duncan Campbell’s own eponymous brand Campbell Rey

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