Living Well with
For those aspiring to be minimalists (or at least lead more organised lives), Tiffany Grant-Riley is a fountain of wisdom. The freelance stylist and author of design blog Curate and Display lives in Kent, England where she and her husband have been gradually renovating their Edwardian terrace, working from home (well before the rest of us!) and raising two young children. She chatted to us about creating a home that balances function and style, carving out some personal space and making a stand against today’s throw-away culture.
Where did you grow up? Were you creative as a child?
I grew up in a Suffolk town opposite a paint and lawnmower factory. You could say it’s a fairly rural area, surrounded by countryside. I was very creative as a child and I spent a lot of time outdoors exploring the meadow behind our house and wading in my wellies in the river. I’d collect broken shards of old china I found in shallower parts. My mum is very creative too (she has an art degree and worked as a silversmith for a while when I was younger) so it was very natural to be into art, theatre and music (I played the violin and sang). She wholeheartedly encouraged that.
What was the first piece of design that really mattered to you?
An original Lloyd Loom Lustre chair with its original post war utility stamp that my husband bought me for my birthday about ten years ago. We found it on the pavement outside an antique shop in Islington and I had to have it. It sits in the sunroom now and reminds me of a similar one we had at home when we were kids.
You’ve had such an interesting career path. Do you think your experience in theatre production and wedding planning has influenced your aesthetic and work ethic as a stylist?
Absolutely. Having a story for each shoot is really important and I like to bring emotion into my work. I’m often told my style is very soothing on the eye, which I like. During my degree I had to learn to create impact with very little budget. Quite possibly why I feel so at home with more minimalist environments.
"Is it not better to have pieces in your home that carry a story and follow you through life?"
The Internet loves Scandinavian style! Why do you think that is?
It’s soulful, classic, honest and rooted in nature. Scandinavia has always been at the forefront of innovative design – we’re still talking about Nordic Mid-Century designers now and those pieces continue to inform the environmental relationship between the design process, the quality of the materials used and the impact of production methods.
What aspects of Nordic design have you incorporated into your own home?
The over-arching feeling that connects everything is soothing minimalism. Working from home, we need the house to feel like a sanctuary when we close the office door and we’re not into clutter. I stick to a quiet palette of white, soft beige and blues with a touch of black for contrast and I’m drawn to pieces with an artisanal feel that are beautifully made in raw, untreated finishes.
You moved into The Chatham House in 2016 and have been gradually updating it. What, to you, have been the benefits of renovating slowly?
I’m so incredibly impatient that it’s hard not to want to have everything finished already, but we have both budget and time restraints. Renovating at a slower pace means we’ve been able to truly get to know the house, studying how the light behaves in each room, how we use it, how we want each space to feel and connect accordingly. Rob often catches me staring off into a corner of a room and he knows that I’m ruminating on a colour or finish and starts feeling nervous.
There are a lot of fast trends in interiors as with fashion and I can’t stand the throw-away culture that’s part of it, so if I find something I want to apply to our home, I have plenty of time to decide if it’s got legs or not. The hallway has taken 18 months so far, working on it when we have time, and 80% of it so far has been the painstaking process of stripping lead paint from all the woodwork (the house is Edwardian so there’s a lot of detail). At the beginning of the process I didn’t have a clue what to do with it but, now we’re getting closer to deciding on paint and floor tiles, it’s exciting because it feels cemented in my mind.
Photography by Victoria Erdelevskaya.
As a company that’s 90% women, we’re curious – how do you find the work/life balance with two young kids? (Especially when you’re also renovating!)
First off, there’s absolutely no such thing. I’ve had years at the beginning of my styling career where there wasn’t enough work to keep me feeling creative and valued but the kids had plenty of time with me, and now I have a pretty full schedule I struggle with the guilt of not being able to spend more time with them. You can’t always have both and you can’t make yourself feel crap about doing what you have to. That said, we both work really hard to carve out a life where we can be flexible with our time. One or both of us can take an afternoon off to spend as a family if we like. It’s give and take.
You and your husband have always worked from home, but have you developed any new rituals and routines while we’ve been in lockdown over the last few months?
We’ve always had to be very structured within our working days when the kids are at school but since lockdown we’ve learned to live life on the fly a little more. Home schooling was an interesting experience (read: another level of anxiety!) but we kept it going between us despite our son and daughter being of different ages.
What have you discovered is essential to your own living space?
Does personal space count? Particularly now, when we’re becoming used to confining ourselves at home, having a space you can retreat to is so important for your mental health. I love my own company and spend a lot of time in the sunroom, thinking. To be able to connect with nature is really important and we have a healthy smattering of plants around the house for that reason. That, and a really decent sound system.
When it comes to modern family living, do you have any tips for striking a balance between functional elements and more aesthetic design details?
Aesthetics are important, of course – that’s what forms your identity, your personality BUT if the room doesn’t function properly to suit your needs, it’s about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Ask yourself first – “how do I want to use this room?” and then “how do I want to it to make me feel?” and tackle it in that order. Clever storage to hide away mess and a well-made sofa should never be overlooked. And if you feel you’re going to be too precious about something, don’t have it in the room if it’s likely to be jumped on / knocked over / stained and so on…
You’ve always been a real advocate for craftsmanship. What are your reasons for investing in quality pieces with real longevity?
Aside from the fact you can’t rely on poorly made pieces that break, I can’t answer this question without mentioning sustainability and throw-away culture. If we’re going to collectively turn the tide on the current state of the global crisis, it’s important to educate ourselves as consumers and understand how what we buy is produced and the impact it has on the environment. That means choosing to invest wisely in timeless furniture over fast trends and to shift our mindset towards honing our own personal style and continuing that forward over regular revamps based on popularity. Besides, is it not better to have pieces in your home that carry a story and follow you through life?
These are strange times, with a lot of uncertainty about the future. How do you see the role of design in shaping communities going forward?
I think we’ll all have to spend a lot more time at home so escapism and well-being will be all the more important. On a more localised level, I hope to see shifts towards improving outdoor spaces – cleaner, greener streets, better transport options and safe ways to spend time together, apart. It’s all very generalised but design that is kinder both to the environment and to our communities.
Follow Tiffany Grant-Riley on Instagram.