Wednesday, 9 April 2014

twenty questions with Joanna Thornhill

I'm so excited to be introducing this blog post, not only is it my first Q&A but at the end of the post I'll be launching the first ever give away! A few weeks ago I reviewed 'Home For Now' by Joanna Thornhill which is officially published today and I'm delighted to say she agreed to answer a few questions for me...

 1. How did the book come about and how did you end up working with Cico Books?

I've worked for Cico as a freelance stylist on some of their craft titles and casually mentioned to them one day that I sort of had this vague idea, about showing renters how to try out some temporary decorating ideas, that I thought might work as a book. They really liked the initial idea and, after a meeting to flesh out the idea, they commissioned it!
2. How long does it take to put a book like this together?

Really, the best part of a year. I emailed over my initial concept in Jan 2013, worked it up into a full illustrated pitch ready for meeting them in March, then after it was commissioned in April I began location researching and shooting right up until August, then working out the format and layout and writing the book, which pretty much took me up to Christmas! It wasn't full-time but the project was certainly in my thoughts every day. 

3. What was the most exciting part of the process?

Other than finding out it had been commissioned (equal part excitement and terror!) I think the highlight for me was spending a week in Finland, where we shot several properties. It was super exciting to be shooting abroad and just fully immersing myself in nothing but the book for a week, and as this overseas leg took us over the halfway line, it was the first time I could really see how the book was shaping up and could actually visualise the end product.

4. Why do you think there are no other books on the market aimed at this market?

I think the traditional perception of renting (in the UK, at least) has been that it's just something you do for a short while when you're starting out in adult life, before swiftly moving on to your own home. But of course for many people that's now not the case, with property prices soaring and colossal deposits meaning renting into your 30's and 40's is now the norm rather than the exception. To me it feels like the media is slowly catching up to this, as is public perception.
5. How did you get into styling as a career?

I originally studied Fashion Promotion at university, as I wanted to work in fashion, but towards the end of my degree I realised my passion was interiors rather than clothes. But back then I didn't even know such a job existed, so went to work in TV as a runner in the hope of ending up working on property programmes, before moving onto art department roles, then eventually started assisting other interior stylists to learn the tricks of the trade. 

6. Which of your many rented homes was your favourite and why?

I've lived in some pretty dodgy rentals but have managed to land a few corkers too and it's actually tough to choose a favourite as they all represent different periods of my life. Possibly I'd say my second to last flat, which was an enormous old converted Victorian rectory in Angel, North London. I shared with my boyfriend and five ever-changing flatmates and the rent was insanely cheap, until after three years the landlord realised he should have been charging us double and chucked us all out to get city-types in. It was pretty rundown but with great bones and the landlord not only let me decorate all the communal rooms plus my bedroom, he even covered some of my costs. I was just getting started on my interiors career at the time so it was great to have that freedom to try out some decorating ideas with someone else's money! Due to its size and location that place must be worth absolutely millions now so it's fairly safe to say it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

7. Any decorating disasters you'll admit to?

Oh, loads! The worst has probably got to be the bedroom in my last uni rental- the house was totally ramshackle but the upside was the landlord didn't care what we did to it as long as we paid our rent. It was the first time I'd ever had free reign to decorate as I wanted so I painted the walls alternate shades of lurid fuchsia and turquoise, with curtains and bedding to match, then for some reason stuck panels of fake fur to the doors. And made curtain tie-backs to match. But I loved it at the time, so no regrets!

8. You're in the process of renovating your first home, how's it going?

Um... slow! Like many first-time buyers we spent every last penny on our deposit so my original delusions of bi-fold doors and loft extensions went swiftly out the window. We spent the last dregs of our savings replacing the bathroom as it was almost unusable, but other than that it's been a case of slowly doing bits as and when we can afford to. It was this experience really that inspired the book, I thought owning my own house would be the answer to all my decorating dreams, but lack of funds coupled with an awareness that we may well not be here forever have meant that, on the whole, my approach isn't wildly different to the way I've lived in my rentals. It's more about making over and making do, rather than coming up with grand designs. Two years on and we're slowly near the halfway mark. I hope!

9. What's your favorite part of your house?

Right now (mainly as lots of the interior is still grotty!) it's actually the garden! It's a really decent size for London, is south facing and quite a little sun trap, and we worked really hard last summer to get it looking shipshape for very little money. As it was just barren concrete, we ended up laying fake grass across the bulk of it, then created gravel borders along the sides to house pot plants. It's made such a transformation and the best bit is, if and when we move on, we could literally take the whole thing with us! I wrote a blog post on it here.

10. What's your top tip for style conscious renters? (ie the thing that make the biggest difference to a rented home)

Try not to think about the limitations of what you can't do, and use it as a creative challenge. If you love bright colour and pattern and can't decorate but own your furniture, decorate that instead with paint, wallpaper or decal transfers. And try to build up a rapport with your landlord or letting agent - even if your contract states you can't alter anything, they might be amenable to the odd changes - letting you paint a particularly grotty wall, for example, or going halves with you on giving the garden a makeover.

11. And what's the biggest mistake renters make in terms of home furnishing/design?

I guess really it's having the attitude of "why bother when I'm 'only' renting" - I think whether you're into interiors or not, having a nice place to call home can have a really positive impact on your whole life, and as the book hopefully shows, that doesn't mean spending loads of money or investing a lot of time, and that whilst as a renter you might behave more limitations than a homeowner, there is still plenty you can do to personalise your space. If a £30 tin of paint and a day of DIY will make you love your living room, it's really not that big a commitment.

12. What inspires you?

Tough question - I guess I never really switch off from interiors and design - even when I'm on holiday or visiting family, something will always catch my eye to inspire a colour scheme or idea for a blog post or something. Pinterest is great for when you're looking for something specific, and I do love Instagram (I'm at @joannathornhillstylist)

13. Who is your design hero?

I'm not sure I really have one per se as I prefer a slightly more unstructured approach to interiors, but some fellow stylists I admire who have a great eye and have also authored books are Sania Pell, Emily Chalmers, Sibella Court and Selina Lake. And celeb-wise I've always had a soft spot for Laurence Llewelyn Bowen: after growing up watching him on Changing Rooms, one of my career highlights was acting as his runner on one of the shows' last ever episodes. Whether you love or loathe his style, he remains one of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met when it comes to interior design and its history.

14. Favourite paint colour?

Far too many to choose from and it changes on a daily basis, but right now I'm loving dark inky blue as the new grey- it's such a striking backdrop. 

15. Any blogs you love and want to recommend?

There's not enough time to read all the blogs I love, but I'll always make time to read Junkaholique, by jewellery maker and vintage fiend Artemis Russell. She is so utterly creative and lives such an effortlessly stylish life, yet manages to still be charming with it. 

16. Which shops do you love?

I always love a trip to Anthropologie they have such wonderfully quirky stock, and their merchandising is always amazing. Liberty, Heal's and Habitat are firm favourites too. Online, Rockett St George, REfoundobjects and Cox & Cox are all doing great things.

17. One thing you can't live without?


18. What was the first piece of furniture/design item you bought?

Probably a very cheap, slatted wood computer desk from Argos, which I painted in alternate blue and white stripes to match my Dalmatian print blue and white Mac, circa 2000!

19. What do you like about living in E17?

I like that whilst it still feels very connected to London, it is also very much a separate place in its own right. Lots of areas in London feel like an overspill of somewhere else, whereas Walthamstow definitely has its own distinct identity. I love that there's a real mix of people here and whilst there's lots of creatives, it's still very diverse. This is the first place I've lived in London where I've  actually made local friends, mainly via Twitter, funnily enough- I think that as there's not hundreds of pubs and restaurants on our doorstep, people here work harder to create their own entertainment, from setting up supper clubs to hosting pub 'tweet-ups' and art events. There's a large group of fellow journalists based here and we've all been to the pub together, and I've even picked up press loans for shoots here, direct from some local designers. I would say I highly recommend moving here, but with property prices already going crazy in the area, perhaps I should keep quiet...

20. What's next for you? 

Well continuing with Walthamstow, I'm actually setting up a 'pop-up' at local ceramicist Stephen Smith's house (another local friend met via twitter) during the upcoming E17 Art Trail to promote Home for Now! I'll be there on the 31st May/1st June and 7th/8th June (check for exact times). I'll be selling signed copies of the book for a special reduced price, setting up a styling display and will be on-hand to give any home-for-now-friendly interiors advice to visitors. Aside from that, I'll be continuing with my various styling and writing work for magazines and commercial client but that's normally all booked at fairly short notice so I can't say too much right now!

Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill is published by Cico Books and is available from Ryland

Cico Books have kindly agreed to send a copy to one lucky reader as a competition prize. To be in with a chance of winning your own copy tweet a picture of a room or area of your home that needs some inspiration to @nbtr_ The closing date is midnight on the 30th April and the winner will be chosen on the 1st May. The winner will be notified by DM and have their address passed to Cico who will dispatch the book directly. 

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