Updated: May 1
It all started with the humble shower curtain. After moving to England from a five-year stint in NYC, Sarah Watson (Founder of Balineum) was perplexed at the lack of stylish shower curtains on the market. Along with help from the textile designer Gail Bryson, she put an end to that quest & created a new and seriously slick range. With that, 2007 saw the start of Balineum.
I first laid eyes on their wares whilst helping Gabby Deeming on a decoration shoot for House & Garden, unpacking a very slinky number. I still think of that shower curtain, and the first time I met Sarah I fan-girled her about that shower curtain. Over my four years at House & Garden, Balienum became a familiar and exciting friend - not someone who inundates you with anonymous press releases, but instead, one who would pop sporadically into your inbox with such delights as the 'Series S', The 'Floral Wall Mirror' or the 'Edwin Trolley'. Each piece caused a ripple of excitement through the office: 'Have you seen..?' 'Yes it's...' ' Wonderful? I know'. So there was no doubt in mind that I wanted to get Sarah to do Tete-a-Tat; my only doubt was whether she would. Thankfully she kindly said accepted the task.
If you could be a fly on the wall, where would you land?
Inside any or all of Marella Agnelli’s properties.
Any good advice? Who gave it to you?
Aim for underwhelm.
I am getting better at being more realistic at what I can do in a day, but I still need to do less. I know when I have less on my plate, I am happier and I make better decisions.
Have a prudent reserve. Someone suggested having 1-2 months of savings in my personal and business accounts as a buffer. It’s taken many years to get to point where I can actually have this – but since I have, it’s been the best thing I have ever done for my stress levels. And right now I am really grateful for it because it’s given me a buffer to deal with Corona interruptions that I did not have before. Corona probably would have killed my business a few years ago.
Favourite spot in London?
Hampstead Heath. I walk in it every day and still find pockets that surprise me and make me smile.
Someone I don’t know: the character Villanelle, in Killing Eve. I LOVE her (a little too much).
Someone I do know: Lulu Lytle of Soane. She’s been a great advisor and mentor to me over the years: she’s incredibly talented, but also quietly behind the scenes, she very generous with her time and advice to lots of makers and craftsmen in the industry and has helped me immensely (I should probably name a toilet brush after her).
But I have lots of girl crushes: I really like a lot of my clients (both male and female). A lot of the people who work in the interior design industry are really funny and lovely, and its joy to make stuff with them. The teams at House & Garden and The World of Interiors always make me smile.
Someone I don’t know: Barack Obama. A guy called Dax Shepherd – he has a podcast called Armchair Expert that I dip in and out of. He’d be fun to have a conversation with. A designer I don’t know very well but have a complete design crush is J.P. Demeyer.
Boys I do know: many of my clients make me smile. Scott Maddux – I love him - the world is more infinitely more colourful and better with him in it. I also can’t stop grinning whenever I see Guy Tobin, Max Rollitt, or Adam Bray. Oh and Eric Egan. I giggled so much when I first met him, he probably thought I was day-time drinking.
Best Moment in your career so far?
Whenever I am with our makers. Hanging out in factories with people who make stuff just makes me insanely happy. I have a core group of partners who I’ve worked with now for multiple years: and the more I work with them the more I love them.
My staff also make me laugh a lot. You have to have a sense of humour in any kind of customer service role
What would your autobiography be called?
“ReaLLY??? “ or “Oh f**k!!” – both of which I say far too frequently.
Despite having lived away from Australia for almost 20 year years – my accent has not softened: it is very firmly wedged at the back of the nose and when excited, all my sentences have a high pitched inflexion at the end.
What makes you roll your eyes every time you hear it? Donald Trump speaking. There’s a very funny Tracey Ullman skit of her playing Angela Merkel, practising not rolling her eyes whilst talking to Trump: I think of this skit almost every time I roll my eyes.
What movie can you watch over and over without ever
getting tired of?
I rarely watch a movie more than once. Favourite movies in recent years: Thor Raganok and Shawn of Dead both made me laugh out loud.
Favourite Restaurant (or pub) in the world?
Gosh so many…. I like to eat A LOT. I spend most of my day thinking about what I am going to eat. I really love The Barbary in Covent Garden. They don’t take reservations and its only seats at a bar, so you need to go early: which suits me fine as I would quite happily eat dinner at 5:30 every day if I could. I also like Orasay in Notting Hill. And The Tow Path café is my absolute favourite place for breakfast. I love it there.
Best Tube Stop/ Line?
Piccadilly Circus. The travertine and orange pillars upstairs, and then 70s bricks on the platforms.
But I love them all. Fun tube tile fact: originally all the different tube stations were tiled in different colours because literacy was poor and it meant people could navigate different stations without being able to read the station names.
On a related tube note, I am pretty dispirited to be watching the old station tiles slowly being replaced by cheap imitation new tiles, that only loosely interpret the original ones. I appreciate that it’s a public service and they can’t be profligate with cash - but clearly no one with any design skills or taste is involved in refurbishing tube stations. The tile purchasing is seemingly being handled by a colour-blind engineer or accountant. This makes me sad. There are ways of doing it cheaply but better than what they are currently doing.
What is the thing keeping you sane at the minute?
Gails Bakery. After we clap for the NHS – I throw in a few extra claps for the staff at Gail’s. Their baked goods are really keeping me sane: I buy a hot cross bun every day, often followed by a sausage roll chaser...
I’ve also started doing Pop Fit online – which has me doing fun but slightly weird dance moves in my living room.
Citrus and cloves.
What is the worst job you’ve done?
My very first job was dipping battered sausages into vats of hot oil at the Royal Melbourne Show. Life has, on the whole, improved since then.
From the Top: The dining room at the Via XXIV Maggio apartment in Rome, with Mario Schifano murals | Oberto Gill