The Journal

Life in Colour with Michelle Ogundehin

Michelle Ogundehin needs no introduction – she is prolific in the interior design industry as the former editor-in-chief of ELLE Decoration UK, presenter of TV shows including Interior Design Masters and Grand Designs: House of the Year, author of the new book Happy Inside as well as a writer, curator and brand consultant. Her passions run the gamut – from colour theory to decluttering and holistic design to sustainability. Below, Michelle shares what is currently sparking her creativity.

What were you like as a child? Do you come from a creative family?

From a very early age I think I intuitively knew that my surroundings had a profound effect on me. I was always moving my bedroom furniture around, knowing that if I could just shift this here and shunt that there, the room would be all the better for it, meaning it would make me feel better. But my family was not particularly creative, so I’m not sure where it all came from!

How would you describe your aesthetic? Would you say that you are a minimalist or maximalist?

I don’t believe in labels. I find them limiting. However, I’ll cheerfully confess to being pretty obsessive about texture. I always want to be surrounded by surfaces that thrill my fingers and eyes. It’s never just about the way something looks, it’s about how it makes me feel, as well as literally, how it feels. But my aesthetic is also all about attention to efficiency of layout and a sense of curation and containment. I love to display sentimental things, but my home will never feel cluttered because of adhering to this ethos.

You manage to juggle so many things – TV presenting, speaking, writing, consulting and curating. How do you describe your day job to other people?

I’m not sure that I try, to be honest! It’s so multi-faceted and different every day but I guess whatever projects I take part in, they’re founded on my constantly accruing expertise, willingness to learn and having a point of view. In other words, I have opinions about things and I’m not afraid to express them. Most importantly though, I walk my talk – i.e. I live by my #happyinside gospel – so anything I advocate is based on meticulous research and solid personal trial.

I feel very fortunate though in having had the opportunity to do mainstream TV with both Grand Designs: House of the Year and Interior Design Masters, because of the reach they give. And my mission is simple: to empower people to become their best selves by harnessing the power of their homes to support their wellbeing.

Last year you published your first book, Happy Inside. We love the premise, that “your environment is as fundamental to your wellbeing as good food and exercise.” How did you come to that realisation?

To answer that I need to take you back a step. To my mind, the purpose of our journey through life is to learn to become happy inside. In other words, to achieve a sense of balance and contentment, such that instead of reacting in times of stress, we can weather the curve balls of life with a more thoughtful outlook. Basically, we can only ever gain mastery over ourselves as individuals, but the impact of that can be far-reaching.

So, I wrote Happy Inside because I was looking at all the data about the spiralling levels of chronic disease and depression seen around the world, and I realised I needed to change the way many people thought about home-making. I wanted to completely debunk any ideas of it being something frivolous. Or something you do only after everything else. As far as I’m concerned, your environment is the third pillar of wellbeing, absolutely fundamental to health and happiness. What surrounds you, affects you. As such, I firmly believe that if you want positive personal change of any sort in your life, you must first address the space in which you live. And that’s what the book is about.

Your home also acts as a mirror to the current state of your emotions: whether you’re happy or stressed, tired or relaxed, your home will reflect, and magnify, it all. Because of this, our homes can inadvertently sabotage our heartfelt desires by dampening emotions and causing additional strife. Happily, you can harness that power and put it to good use, as guided by the nine simple steps in my book!

The book is to empower everyone to take charge of their space, based on the understanding that creating a carefully and holistically considered home (from the way it’s laid out to every single thing that you choose to put in it, and how you clean, colour or decorate it) will support your wellbeing and that this can be a total game-changer in today’s busy world — your secret superpower! And this isn’t just woo woo, there’s a lot of empirical scientific fact to support what I’m saying.

Let’s talk colour, as you’re somewhat of an authority on the subject. Do you think colour has an impact on the mood, energy and emotion of an interior for its inhabitants?

Absolutely. Colour IS emotion.

Are there any hues that you are personally drawn to? Are you into tonal or contrasting palettes?

I personally love what I call muted colours, shades that are slightly knocked back with an undertone of grey. I find them intrinsically soothing. Shades of the sea too. Perhaps this is why I also live by the sea?!

Do you have any tips on mixing and matching hues for those of us a bit afraid to experiment? 

That’s way too huge a subject to cover in this interview! I devoted a whole chapter of the book Happy Inside to it! It takes the reader step by step through finding their palette, the mix of materials that involves, the importance of undertones and then how to pull it all together. It’s a journey. There is no one quick easy answer to a question like that. And in truth it takes commitment to dive fully into it, but the results pay over tenfold.

How can we inject colour throughout the home in a way that will defy trends and have longevity?

Ensure that the colours you choose come from the heart. That you’ve fully engaged with the journey I mention above and you invest the time to work out your personal palette. There are no short cuts.

Your Instagram account is beautifully curated and has amassed cult following! What’s keeping you creatively inspired right now?

Thank you! Playing with colour is certainly an authentic passion project for me, the nuances between shades, arguing the difference between lilac and lavender. I’ve no idea why but these things really fire me up! Also colour is never just colour, it’s political and cultural and affective and effective in so many different ways. Watching the way they ebb and flow in and out of fashion will always be a constant source of inspiration.

But at the moment I’m really taking the time to educate myself about climate change and what we can proactively do as individuals to combat it. I’m aiming towards becoming a zero waste household and also ensuring that absolutely nothing toxic is either within my home, or flowing from it, so that has been a major evolutionary story for me on cleaning and laundry products which I share a lot about on Instagram too. Again, it’s a journey. We are all still learning a lot.

What are your hopes for the future of design going forward?

That designers and brands collectively wake up to the part they play in protecting the planet, and the impact of constantly trying to seduce people to buy things that they often don’t need or can’t afford. Considered consumerism must be the way forward, and from our point of view, as retailers and writers, that comes from helping people to understand what really speaks to them, and why this is important. To encourage care and consideration in all things home. Seriously, what could be better than that!

Follow Michelle Ogundehin on Instagram.


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