In this week’s edition of our Design Insights interview we are thrilled to welcome the truly talented top interior stylist and writer Joanna Thornhill. With over 8 years’ experience having worked with leading magazines such as Country Homes & Interiors, Style at Home and House Beautiful, she is busily preparing for her very first book titled Home For Now. Let’s find out more about her world:
What inspired you to delve into interior styling and how did you get started? I’d always been interested in interiors but didn’t quite fancy interior design, and didn’t even know the role of interior stylist existed back when I was at uni. After spending a few years working as a TV runner, I moved into more art department-based roles, and became gradually aware of styling as a career option. I started assisting established stylists on a freelance basis for several years, until I had built up enough experience and confidence to go it alone!
How would you describe your interior style? When producing work for clients, you are usually working to a very specific brief, but I try to bring quirky touches into my work, whether it’s a miniature animal ornament creeping into shot or some really unusual accessories used for something outside of their intended purpose. When it comes to my personal tastes, I’m a bit of a magpie. I love working with natural elements and original features – I’ve been painstakingly stripping all the woodwork, floors and fireplaces in my house for two years now, and it’s so satisfying to see all the original details revealed (it’s a tiny house but it’s taking forever!) As most of our furniture and accessories have been collected gradually along the way rather than part of a grand plan, it’s all a bit mismatched, but we like it! I try to mix in the odd modern piece alongside vintage and mid-century bits to break up the look, which I think makes for a very cosy, relaxed home.
Where do you seek style inspiration? Anywhere and everywhere! From more obvious places like Pinterest and looking through magazines, to noticing the colours of flowers or a pretty sunset whilst on a country walk. The design part of my brain doesn’t ever switch off!
Of all the rooms you have styled, which has been your favourite? One of my favourite recent shots I’ve produced is this one, which features in my new book, Home for Now (more on that below!) At first glance, this setting appears quite grand, but it’s actually just one end of a relatively modest living/dining room in a flat in Brighton. The homeowner had picked up this beautiful twig on a local walk, painted the back wall in a rich, dark tone and hung two characterful vintage portraits up. He’d recently picked up these little metal horses (playing pieces from a vintage board game) so to style the shot, I simply added a runner to the centre of the table, and placed the horses so they were ‘running’ along it, alongside tweaking things to camera. I think it’s a really striking shot, yet it’s a look that would be easy and inexpensive to recreate in any home.
Which type of project do you enjoy styling the most and why? Editorial decorating shoots are the most time-consuming to produce, yet are ultimately the most creatively rewarding. You’re creating an entire room (or part of a room) from scratch, either in a studio or a location house. Alongside your editor, you work out what is going to go in each set and how it will be decorated, then go about sourcing all the products, from the furniture right down to the food and flower props. As shooting is expensive, there’s always lots crammed into a day – it’s kind of like moving house! But there is more creative freedom in this type of shoot than in commercial work or shooting “real” houses, so it often produces rewarding results.
Can you tell us about the most outlandish shoot you’ve styled? I once did a shoot for Essential Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom magazine which mainly featured homewares made from precious metals. We shot it in Goldsmith’s Hall in a room that looked like the inside of Buckingham Palace, and many of the products we featured were so expensive, they came complete with bodyguards who spent the day on set with us whilst we were shooting! It was tricky to style as lots of the props ended up looking tiny due to the sheer scale of the room (the mantlepieces alone were 5ft high) and many items already in the room were literally priceless, so it was a case of working very carefully around what was already there! We got some great shots out of it in the end though and it was certainly an interesting space to work in for a day.
Which trend are you most excited about working with this year? There are some really exciting marble products coming out at the moment and I think it’s great to see this classic material being used in contemporary ways.
Which colour combinations are your favourite to work with? I do love colour and couldn’t ever choose favourites, but I do enjoy pops of bright and neon tones against a dark background. I’m also quite into dirty pinks paired with greys and blacks, to ground its potential girlieness.
Which 3 objects do you believe have the ability to completely transform a room? Artwork really does finish off any room, and it needn’t be expensive – pretty sheets of wrapping paper, photos and ephemera can be picked up and framed for relatively little cost. Mirrors are a must-have in most rooms – as well as helping a space feel bigger, they can also bounce light around, which is especially helpful in gloomy rooms. And speaking of light, lamps are an essential, too – a floor lamp and a couple of table lights creates a far cosier atmosphere than just using a central ceiling light.
What advice would you give to our readers looking to refresh their interiors? Take a good look and what you’ve already got before hitting the shops – could you reconfigure the furniture to make the room work better, or paint that old coffee table rather than buy a new one? Rooms created organically will often feel more authentic than simply hitting the high street and buying a whole new look.
Do you have any upcoming exciting projects? Yes – my new book! It’s called Home for Now and is published by Cico Books, and goes on sale 10th April. It’s aimed primarily at renters and first-time buyers who are looking for ways to create inexpensive, stylish and reversible transformations at home, without upsetting their landlord or require doing anything too permanent. As it’s so difficult to both get on, and move up, the property ladder, there are a growing number of people who can end up feeling trapped in their home, decoratively speaking, and unable to try many of the ideas seen in interiors magazines. The book is packed with inspiring yet practical ideas for styling and decorating ideas anybody can try, as well as lots of tips and instructions for DIY and craft projects for readers to recreate themselves. My hope is that, whatever your living circumstance and budget, the book will show there is always something you can do to improve your home and ultimately help you enjoy being in it! It’s currently for sale in the UK via Amazon and for more information about the book, plus links to other countries it’s sold in, there’s a page dedicated to it all on my website.
A huge thank you to Joanna for taking the time to share her interior design insights! To keep up with her styling adventures and interior inspiration follow @JoannaThornhill on Twitter. You can also contact Joanna at www.joannathornhill.co.uk
To view top design tips from some of the most creative and famous interior designers, including Joanna, click here.