In this week’s episode of The Great Indoors podcast we get to nose around the London apartment of Matthew Williamson. The award-winning designer started out in fashion, creating dresses for the likes of Sienna Miller and Jade Jagger before turning his hand to interior design. As The Guardian put it: “From Fashion Star to Interior Tzar” or, as Matthew feels, perhaps he was simply returning to his first love.
Most recently seen on television as a judge on Interior Design Masters, he will be returning to judge the final of the next series with Sophie (!) and has just launched his own website selling his own collections of homewares including lamps, rugs, tabletop, cushions and vintage pieces.
We caught up with him on a trip back from his home in Mallorca, where he spends most of his time and where he spent lockdown. From the moment you enter the candy pink hallway with its mint green woodwork and cobalt blue door, the apartment has a joyous feel to it.
You then enter a huge living room via an original curved door which echoes the curved bay windows at the far end. Currently painted a soft turquoise, Matthew announces that his first plan is to redecorate.
“I bought this seven years ago and knew as soon as I opened the door that I didn’t need to see the rest; I had that tingling feeling. I’m going to redo it soon and I hate the word zoning but that’s what I will be doing in this room. It does explain that it will need to work as a multi-functional space and I think most people are feeling that at the moment.”
For someone who is known for his love of colour (his debut collection was called Electric Angels and was modelled by Kate Moss and Helen Christensen), Matthew’s home is based around a palette of soft colours with bright accents. It’s how I would do colour if I were doing lots of of it.
So while your eye might be taken by the turquoise windows, the walls are a soft dove grey. The desk is acid yellow but the sofas are in more gentle shades.
“I have an identity of colour – my go to colours are complementary contrasts of hot and cold while pink and green are my neutrals,” he says.
“To me colour is instinctive and natural and I don’t labour over it – I can’t spend hours days and weeks contemplating light or dark grey. I also find when I walk into a room, if I am doing a project for someone else, and I just say this room has to be green – I don’t know what kind of green yet but it’s instinctive. Then if you get it wrong you get it wrong it’s one of the easiest things to change.
“It’s more important to follow your gut and your heart and fix it if you need to. I don’t have colour rules but I like light and bright – not necessarily white. I need colour on the walls but not necessarily bright or dark and intense. So the candy pink of the hall works because I am travelling through it, but I don’t want to sit in a pink lounge or a bright green bedroom. I want mostly soft colours, but I hate doors that are not considered with the wall colours so I will give a burst of colour with the door or the architrave.
Choosing a colour is part of the process that is not to be feared and it can easily be changed if it’s sending you out in hives,” he says betraying his Manchester roots with a characteristic burst of down to earth pragmatism.
All these ideas have now come together in his website; the culmination of a long held dream to have his own online homewares shop. On the day we visit the walls are plastered with notes and images of his collections and collaborations. Most recent of which is a range of lights with Pooky. The shades are available now but the bases were held up by the pandemic so for now he has decided to pair them with vintage shades he has found himself. And indeed the flat is full of them.
“Lamps are often overlooked part of the décor. I underlooked it for a while and this collaboration helped me start to think about it and group lamps and create pockets of light.”
So why has he moved away from fashion and into interiors? It was, he muses, a slow and mindful shift but the signs had perhaps always been there.
“I worked in fashion for more than 20 years and it’s relentless; cyclical and fast-paced and I was exhausted by the demands of fashion. But it took two years to make the pivot into the industry I had always loved from afar and now I think my fashion career was training for this.”
“The signs were there when I look back at it – I was 10 years old, growing up in Manchester and painting my bedroom lilac and obsessing about the picture rail colours and the bedspreads. I definitely had a vested interest in [interior design] but it was latent and fashion became my first choice.
“I think I would attribute this to my mum and her way of dressing largely, but she also loved her home and loved saving up to buy something. She was definitely a heavy influence [on me] in terms of how she prepared herself for the day ahead.”
He describes his mother’s ritual of taking an evening bath and painting her nails. And then watching the results of that time and energy spent as she left to walk to work the next morning.
“She was a receptionist in an opticians – and she saw it as her duty to look fantastic because she was trying to sell a product and she thought if I don’t look good why would you trust me? So she had that very basic, quite smart, way of presenting herself. She would host a party and the wives would be jealous and the husbands would love her and she really was this peacock in the room.
“Back in that time that was quite rare and I was obsessed and fascinated by it and to see the positive effects on her and others around her so it felt that fashion was a natural thing, I thought if I can create things that will have that sort of effect on people that is what I would like to do.”
He recalls his mother having a fascination with pattern and colour that he has, perhaps, inherited: “So much of your design DNA you carry with you. I do try and push things but I do feel that a lot of what I am about was rooted in those formative years.”
The house he grew up in was “textured not minimalistic” and of course, growing up in the 70s you did a room and it was done. Probably for about 20 years. He still cites that decade as his favourite for inspiration and colour but admits that he can’t sit still in a space and is always changing the decor.
“Those turquoise windows are bit too jazzy for me at the moment,” he says (to Sophie’s dismay).
Elsewhere in the flat colour arrives in pieces of painted furniture – a vintage yellow chest of drawers here, a coral bedstead there. “I got that from my mum – if you stand still my mum will paint you.
“It is my design philosophy – not new and matching but you need to have fun and be practical as well as beautiful.
“I used to make clothes from relatively inexpensive fabric to transform it into gowns that would knock ‘em dead – transformation from something humble – not about glitzy pieces bar the odd splurge but am mindful about where to spend the money wisely.”
So where does he suggest you start with a renovation or redecoration project? The answer might surprise you: “All the things that you don’t see- the behind the scenes stuff – water, electrics and lighting. All that relatively dull part of the process is important and you should spend money on that. It’s the same as fashion – it’s about good fit and cut.
“Spend money on the floor – nothing looks good on a crappy floor – so get that right. You can put less expensive things in an envelope of good design.
“And take your time. You can’t rush it. Be fearless and don’t think that it all has to match – that’s the only no no for me. I think of things that you might not put together and that is how you get interesting juxtapositions.”