a search for the uncommonly beautiful

Minimalism and Mindfulness with Michelle Halford

A devotee of Scandinavian interiors, Michelle Halford is drawn to spaces that are as warm as they are minimal and as luxurious as they are functional. Since founding The Design Chaser in 2012, the Auckland-based interior stylist has developed a fan following for her nuanced eye for design. We caught her before she flew off to Copenhagen to talk about what makes a thoughtfully curated home, her hopes for sustainable design and her favourite piece of investment-worthy furniture.

Photo by Kirsty Dawn.

What was the first piece of design that really mattered to you?
When my husband and I decided to build, it gave us a chance to start afresh with furniture for our new home. Passionate about simple, functional Scandinavian design, one of the first pieces on my wish list was a String Shelving System. The modular design allows you to adjust and add to the configuration, and because I’m always moving favourite objects and books around, it feels like it’s constantly evolving.

Photo by Michelle Halford.

Tell us a little about your background and what led you to interiors.
Looking back, the seed was probably planted from a young age as our family business was in textiles and furnishings, but I ended up travelling down a different path. It wasn’t until I started working for a magazine publisher with several interior publications that a switch went on, and I knew that this was the industry I wanted to be in. I can’t imagine doing anything else now!

Photo by Michelle Halford.

Describe your aesthetic in 3 words.
Clean, elegant, layered.
 
What personal values inform your approach to styling?
I believe that our surroundings impact how we feel and can affect our mood. I am most at peace in uncluttered spaces, so I take a pared back approach to styling. I find muted colour palettes to be the most liveable, but I like to build interest through different textural elements to create a warm, lived-in feel.

Photo by Michelle Halford.

Are you a tactile person?
Very much so. I am most in my element working with textiles and I love surfaces that make you want to reach out and touch them. I see materiality as being at the core of great design, adding depth and richness, and also encouraging engagement through the senses.
 
To you, what makes a house a home?
A space that reflects the people in it and how they wish to live. I also believe it should be a slow, considered process where time is taken to curate special pieces that you love, that you will have for a very long time. Our home is our sanctuary, where we relax and unwind, and spend time with family and friends. For me that means creating a comfortable space to switch off, where I’m surrounded by the things I love. This includes books, art, textural layers, sensory elements and handcrafted pieces.

Photo by Michelle Halford.

Is there a room you gravitate to?
Our upstairs living room, which is part of an open-plan area that includes our kitchen and dining area. Designed to capture the natural light with high ceilings, it’s airy and inviting. Surrounded by beautiful trees, there’s a lovely connection to nature that I find calming.
 
What do you find is essential to your own living space?
Uncluttered but relaxed surroundings. Furniture that combines comfort with functionality. Layered textile pieces in natural materials such as wool and linen. Sensory elements including handmade ceramics, scented candles, plants and flowers.

Photo by Michelle Halford.

We strongly believe in buying fewer but better things. What are your reasons for investing in quality, timeless pieces?
I only invest in pieces that I truly love, that I know I will love for many years to come. I always look for quality craftsmanship to ensure longevity, and natural materials that develop a patina over time. I feel that by choosing design that transcends trends, I’m curating a space that is nuanced, showcases the beauty in imperfection, and tells a story.

These days, consumers expect instant gratification. Do you think there is still a place for things that are made slowly, by hand?
Absolutely. I think that there is a growing shift towards choosing pieces for the home that are handcrafted with care by artisans, rather than mass produced. Pieces that require artistry, skill and time to create them provide spaces with a much more distinct and personal touch.

Photo by Michelle Halford.

How do you disconnect and unwind from that busy, outside world when you arrive home?
I work from home, so for me it’s about stepping away from my office and switching off. I find reading really relaxing. I like to listen to music while I cook dinner and I love sitting down with the family every night to talk about our day.
 
Where do you go for inspiration – whether it’s in New Zealand, internationally or online?
A lot of my inspiration comes from overseas. I’ve always been drawn to Nordic design, so I follow a lot of Instagrammers – designers, stylists, architects – from this part of the world. I find travel inspiring, so if an opportunity comes up, I take it. I’m excited to be heading back to Copenhagen this week where I know my tank will be filled to the brim with new inspiration!

Styling by Michelle Halford. Photos by Wendy Fenwick.

We’d love to know what excites you about the future of interiors and design.
Originality in design or design projects that use materials in a new way. I’m excited to see how design brands promote sustainability through the use of ethically sourced products including recycled materials. As a stylist I’m excited to see more brands understanding the value of investing in photo shoots to create beautiful imagery.

Styling by Michelle Halford. Photos by Wendy Fenwick.

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