Audrey editor Carly Saillard talks with Jessica Bellef about her passion for authenticpersonal decor and tips on how to create a stunning home that truly reflects you
We all deserve to live unapologetically in homes that are a true reflection of who we are, within spaces that make us feel connected, emotionally rich and secure. As we strive for more meaning and authenticity in our lives, it’s real homes that inspire and energise us. Each of the case studies proudly shouts out with distinct style and feeling, from a crafty hand-built straw-bale home nestled in rolling hills to a 1970s-era palace in the ’burbs. These homes weren’t created by hired interior designers or completely furnished in one transaction at a big-box retailer. The homes – and the collections within them – are autobiographical in nature, layered up over time and subject to the ebb and flow of life.’ INDIVIDUAL, JESSICA BELLEF
Carly: You have an amazing career in homewares and design. How did you get started styling and how has your journey affected your thoughts on interior design?
Jessica: I started marketing and psychology at uni and worked in marketing for a minute, then went “Noooo, I need to do something more hands-on” and started in visual merchandising in fashion. I was the person who did the layout on the floor and dressed the mannequins and put together outfits. And then I started doing visual merchandising for interiors, like for homewares stores, applying the same principles but with objects instead of garments. And then I started teaching at Whitehouse Institute of Design where I taught visual merchandising and interior styling, which was a lot of fun. When I was there, I was also freelancing – assisting on photoshoots and still doing visual merchandising, working a lot of hours and loving it all.
While I was teaching at the Whitehouse, one of the other teachers was working at Temple & Webster. He said to me, “I’m going to need a stylist to create some images for us, do you know any students that will work for free?”, and I said “I’ll work for free’ [laughs]. So I got started styling for Temple & Webster when it was a week old as just one of my freelance jobs and then Temple & Webster got bigger and bigger and busier and busier, and we were shooting three, four, five days a week. And that’s when I went full time with them. It’s an incredible place to learn photographic styling. I like the fact that you’re working with a lot of different styles of stuff, which again has opened my eyes to how we live. No one’s career is an A-B-C journey. I appreciate the fact that I did start with the study in psychology and marketing because it’s given me that angle on it all, where it’s less left-brain/right-brain. I love the creative output but then I love seeing how people respond to the creative output, as well.
I started writing as part of my position at Temple & Webster and found that I really, really loved it and really enjoyed it. And on the side, I was kind of scheming ideas. Because I don’t sleep.
Carly: Speaking personally as someone who has always been quite self-conscious about their home-styling choices, I love how Individual focuses on exploring personal style. And that it makes it a subject that even a lay-person like me finds inspiring, rather than intimidating or alienating.
Jessica: I think a lot of that has come from being a teacher. And knowing that people’s faces will start to glaze over as soon as they’re bored and you know when you’ve lost someone. I knew that I needed to make it something that connected with people whether they were interested in interiors or not. To show that paying attention to your space is a beneficial thing and it doesn’t mean you have to spend money or know who the ‘in’ designers are or who the ‘in’ brands are. It’s more inclusive in that way. And then there’s the beautiful photography by Sue Stubbs and that’s when the industry people go “Whoah, this is great!” I wanted to create something that stood apart from everything else on the shelves. Interior design books are a hard market and so I knew that I had to offer something different and that was kind of always at the back of my mind, again thanks to my marketing background. I was like “What’s my niche, what’s my niche?”
Carly: If you were talking to someone like me, and had a blank slate to work with, what would be your tips on creating my own home with my individual style?
Jessica: Look, my go-to is always adding art and books, and using your books around the home, whether it’s on a coffee table or up a stairwell. I think the thing that art and books do is add texture and colour and movement to a space. They’re already telling a story and you’ve chosen them – they’re reflective of your values and your goals, whatever they may be. So definitely consider how you can add those things in.
Look at the light and the scale – what size place are you working with as well. I’ve got a chapter in Individual about small space living; scale is one of those things that you don’t think is important until it’s wrong. And you walk into a space and you go “That chair is so tiny in this huge space” and it makes you feel wonky. And the space feels a bit not-finished, not complete. Take the measurements of the space and work out how much room you’ve actually got to work with, and then map out your ideal sideboard, your ideal dining table, how big that would be. And thinking about the context of how you use the space, so it’s got to be functional as well. Do you like to invite all your friends over for dinner once a week, is that a ritual that you have and if so, have you got a space where you can comfortably eat together, or is your home your solo nesting pad and therefore you need lots of comfy seating and lots of layers and textures?
So: art and books, think about the scale of things, and think about what you actually need in order to do the things that make you happy at the end of the day, at the end of the week.
Carly: Wow, that’s excellent advice! I’m going to go home and fix up my house.
Jessica: There you go, [laughs] go home and do it.
This article was originally published in Audrey Issue 16 – A creative spark