With over 15 years of experience in interior styling and writing under her belt, Sara Emslie speaks with authority when it comes to creating beautifully unique and personalised spaces. A London-based interiors stylist and writer Sara has worked for publications such as LivingEtc, Red Magazine, You Magazine and more and her most recent book, Urban Pioneer: Interiors Inspired By Industrial Design, is now on sale at RSG!
Urban Pioneer is all about incorporating industrial interiors into the home regardless of whether you live in a converted warehouse or not. This resonated with us because we love it when stylists and designers make interior design accessible to all. So whether you live in a converted warehouse or if you are looking to add a little industrial chic into your home (just like RSG co-founders, Jane and Lucy did), Urban Pioneer explores twelve inspiring and real-life homes that showcase the very best of ex-industrial buildings. What's more, the book is filled with pages and pages of beautifully commissioned photography which makes this a particularly unique and inspiring read.
1. When did your passion for interior design first develop?
I’ve always loved interior design, and putting objects and pattern and colour together – even as an English student in Oxford I got a part time job in a gorgeous interiors shop, just off St Giles, that stocked everything from David Mellor cutlery and copper saucepans to hand painted Italian ceramics. I used to love unpacking new deliveries and unearthing what was in the boxes, doing the window displays and helping customers choose items for their homes. But I wanted to be a journalist and work in the media, so a career as an interiors editor on a magazine was the perfect job and also now a freelancer it means I can combine both styling and writing beautifully to great effect.
2. You have written for a number of well-known publications such as You Magazine, Homes & Gardens and Living ETC. What do you enjoy most about your career as a writer, author and stylist?
So much really. It’s a great industry, full of really creative and talented people who seem on the whole to have plenty of respect for each other’s talents. I enjoy coming up with original ideas for stories and projects and seeing them through from concept to the final printed page or online content. I love the fact that every assignment is new and different from the previous one and my working week can be so varied - styling one day, researching future stories another and feature writing the next, as well as attending press events to keep up to date with all the new product launches. And, of course, the joy of seeing your byline next to a story or feature in one of the leading interior magazines or national newspapers never seems to wear off!
3. Your most recent book, Urban Pioneer, has recently been published and is available to purchase on the Rockett St George website. What inspired you to write this book?
It’s one of my favourite subject matters – interiors inspired by industrial design – and has been for a very long time. So many of the factories, mills and warehouses of the past are truly formidable spaces, both in terms of their historic significance and wealth of original features as well of course their prominence on the landscape. I grew up in Yorkshire and the mills of the North were quite inspiring in every way. I’ve seen so many redeveloped over the years into both unique living spaces and also community spaces and creative hubs such as Salts Mill in Saltaire. And, of course, the first wave of loft living was a huge success back in the 1980’s. When the industrial trend came back to the fore after the recent global recession, it seemed appropriate to reinvestigate my original idea. However, I realised that for it to have sufficient editorial integrity amongst what seemed to be a tidal wave of industrial style decorating coverage in magazines and online it needed a new spin – hence Urban Pioneer. For me, urban living these days isn’t just about buying an architect designed apartment and kitting it out. It is as much about the creative ingenuity and inspiring ideas of the inhabitants who make their homes in these unusual spaces as it is about the original buildings themselves. I investigated former shops, redundant garages, schoolhouses, factories and even a disused navy canteen as well as the obvious lofts and warehouses, all of which have been transformed into amazing living spaces full of so much original character and urban charm that is unique to their residents. We – myself, and the photographer Benjamin Edwards – were fortunate to be able to visit each space, to photograph it especially for the book, and for me as the author to be able to meet and chat with the owners about their individual urban pioneering spirit has really made the narrative of Urban Pioneer such a compelling read.
4. What would your top 3 tips be for someone who wanted to incorporate Industrial Design into their own home?
1. Make it work for you and your individual style. Don’t be a slave to the textbook industrial look – there isn’t a set of rules saying what and how you should decorate your urban space. In Urban Pioneer I highlight three style directions: Urban Creative, Urban Boho and Urban Utilitarian to inspire the reader, but ultimately your home should be a reflection of your own personality. The pictures in Urban Pioneer tell a wonderful visual story and alongside that the copy and captions are jam packed with style and design tips and advice so I would suggest reading and highlighting your favourite ideas across all the chapters.
2. If your home is a former industrial space then enjoy the beauty of any defining original features it may have and work with them rather than against – they will add so much visual integrity and honesty to the final result. If it is a conventional residential space then classic industrial ideas such as exposed copper piping, metro brick tiles, iconic task lighting designs and robust factory style cast iron radiators can all add plenty of quirky charm without looking at all incongruous.
3. Shop around and mix modern pieces with vintage classics. Love peeling paint, rusty metal and any old industrial pieces - items that show wear and tear are Urban Pioneer favourites. And be bold with scale and size, and materials - so much lighting and furniture designs were designed to be large enough and robust enough for industrial usage so are perfect contenders for an Urban Pioneer’s interior.
5. Tell us about your home - How would you describe your personal style and how have you incorporated this into the décor?
My home is a former 19th-century worker’s cottage in the leafy London suburb of Richmond. It is utilitarian in style with a pared back interior and plenty of restored original features. It actually provided the inspiration for my first interiors book “Beautifully Small: Clever Ideas for Compact Spaces”, also published by Ryland Peters & Small. It’s definitely a testament to my own interior style – a lovely balance of calm neutrals, little luxurious touches and artisan pieces, interspersed with plenty of industrial classics such as cast iron radiators, task lighting, hospital style iron bedsteads and linen bed-linen – yes even linen was once an industrial favourite, having been used throughout history by many industries due to its strength and durability. In World War II unbleached linen was used to cover the control surfaces of aeroplanes, and it was used in hospitals too for bedding, bandages and uniforms.
6. Which is your favourite room in your home? Describe how you have styled it?
My favourite room in my home is perhaps the living room. It is a pretty, uncluttered space that combines beauty and functionality so effortlessly and has bags of charm. The cast iron fireplace (which is still used in the winter for log fires), alcove cupboard and wooden floors are original to the house, added to which are custom made panelled shutters, cast iron radiators, simple shelving, and a soft monochrome mix of black, grey and neutral shades in soft furnishings, hand thrown ceramics and delicate porcelain pendant light shades.
7. Which treasured item or piece of furniture in your home has a special significance to you and why?
Two pieces really. The first is an antique Welsh chest or coffer that is a family heirloom and has been passed down through the generations. It has a special little internal compartment, originally designed to store candles – and I still use it for that today!
The second is a sweet 9-drawer cabinet I bought from Habitat years ago with index cabinet drawer style handles and is a lovely vanilla shade of off white. I fell in love with it just before I bought my first flat and when I went to buy it they had stopped making it. I happened to be propping for a shoot in the Tottenham Court Road a few weeks later where they had the only one left in the company and it was ‘ex-display’ and reduced. I bought it there and then, and still love it to this day. The design is so simple but so aesthetically pleasing – softly industrial and pared back, but elegantly so.
Image Featured in Urban Pioneer - The residence and studio of Jennifer and Liam Maher (aka Energy Plan Creative)
8. Your first book, Beautifully Small, was inspired by your beautifully small London home. What would be your top tip for someone who is trying to effectively utilise limited space?
Have a good old fashioned clear out, and get rid of any items that you simply don’t want or use any more. It seems so obvious but it works! And don’t be afraid to stamp your own style on any size space. A small interior doesn’t mean you have to compromise your use of colour or pattern, just be considered and restrained in your approach –bold pattern and darker colours can sometimes make a room feel bigger and brighter if used strategically and are great for zoning individual areas within an open plan space.
9. What’s next for you in 2017? Any exciting plans?
There are a couple of new work projects in the pipeline that could have the potential to be very exciting indeed…. I’m also combining work with studio pottery, so hopefully I might make some creative headway with that but to be honest, I’m quite enjoying the slow pace that comes with the whole process of making pots. And alongside that, I hopefully will be able to factor in some new travel adventures.
10. Finally, name three new RSG products that you love?
Firstly, Steel tiles - they are a great modern Urban Utilitarian alternative to the vintage tin tiles used in factories as a decorative alternative to ornate plaster ceilings. Use to create a quirky headboard or a single tile would look great as part of a display of objects on a shelf or mantlepiece. Secondly, Round ships mirror with rope - A lovely nautical inspired decorative accessory that would add some maritime flavour to a bathroom or even a hallway. It would be a great Urban Creative idea for a waterside converted space. Thirdly, Macramé cushion. This would add a touch of Urban Boho to a living space, and would look great on a worn leather armchair or velvet or corduroy sofa. Lovely texture and great colour!
Macrame Woven Cushion - Grey £76.00 Steel Tile with Crown Detail - Forest Green £18.00 Round Ships Mirror with Rope £35.00
Quick Fire Questions
1. I am happiest when… I’m being creative and making something.
2. My favourite magazine is... all of the interiors titles, naturally. And National Geographic – as a teenager I used to babysit for a family who didn’t own a TV so I used to spend hours reading my way through their immense collection of National Geographic magazines. It really opened my eyes to the whole idea of exploration and the incredible diversity of life on our planet.
3. My dream holiday would be… and was Antarctica! I have wanted to go for so many years, and I feel privileged to say I got there. I went on a month-long conservation focused expedition exploring the remote Ross Sea region of East Antarctica, sailing virtually as far south as you can go on the planet, right down to the Ross Ice Shelf, taking in the historic huts of Scott and Shackleton, vast penguin colonies, huge icebergs sculpted by the elements and a landscape that was beautiful and beguiling beyond belief! Fast forward 8 months and I was in the middle of Manhattan shooting for the book – from the least populated area of the planet to one of the most! Needless to say New York, of course, will always be a dream destination too.
4. My ideal day would be… spent at the potter’s wheel, perfecting my skills, followed by a sociable supper with friends.
5. My personal motto is… Follow your dreams and make them happen!
6. My guilty pleasure is… chocolate.
7. The last film I saw was… Jackie. I had researched her redesign of The White House for a feature I wrote for The Telegraph, so it was fascinating to see the story played out on the big screen.
8. My favourite book is…The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - honest, compelling, and so poignant!
9. In five years’ time, I want to be… sitting in a pretty styled and cosy little cabin somewhere quiet and secluded, with a beautiful view out of the window, attempting to write my first novel (maybe..!)
10. The three things I can’t live without are… adventures, ambitions and inspiration.
To purchase your copy of Sara's latest book, Urban Pioneer, head over to Rockett St George.