Q&A with Zoe Hewett from Stylemongers of Bristol

Queen of upcycling and founder of Boutique Interior Design Studio, Stylemongers Of Bristol, Zoë Hewett helps busy homeowners and small businesses to achieve practical, stylish spaces that they will love living and working in for years to come.

Finalist for the third time at the Bristol Life Awards 2019 and Grand Designs Live Roomset Design 2016, Zoë definitely knows what’s what when it comes to Interior Design, so we’re delighted to get her advice on all things interiors, from being bold with colour to how to decorate on a budget.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into interiors?

Upcycled blue tray with bottles and glasses

As a child, I loved watching my mum slowly decorating the house and I think I must have caught the bug from her. In my late teens, my parents went away for a weekend and I took it upon myself to secretly redecorate the living room as a surprise. Luckily they loved it! My friends and I would always put on plays for the grown-ups when we were really young. I would make scenery from crepe paper, margarine tubs and loo rolls so the natural progression from there was to study Theatre Design at university. It’s basically the same skillset as Interior Design and I worked in the entertainment industry for a good ten years before switching to interiors. The only difference is you can’t use gaffa tape in people’s homes and whatever you do has to last longer than a three-week run!

I love the problem-solving aspect of my job, helping people to get out of a rut by transforming their space, and running my workshops where I teach my design process is probably one of my favourite things. It’s always a sociable event and I love encouraging people to be more confident in their decor choices, especially when it comes to colour. Sometimes participants have a real ‘aha’ moment which is fantastic.

How do you describe your style?

Green floral wallpaper with black table

It might sound lazy to say that my own design style is eclectic, but interior design styles are just like musical genres – there are so many great examples from each that it is almost impossible to stick to only one type. My daughter has sight impairment that means she doesn’t enjoy being in spaces with a lot of visual ‘noise’ or clutter or high contrast colour schemes like black and white or a lot of pattern.

We also enjoy colour so have used one very dark but warm blue all over the living room, including the skirting and ceiling, broken up by a few large and colourful pictures on the walls. Many people wouldn’t dare go so dark all over, but it looks great with the natural wood of the floorboards and vintage furniture, and visitors always seem to like its soothing, enveloping quality. The house is a slow project though so it is only about half finished and we have a long way to go to completely win the clutter battle. It’s a bit like the old story of the Shoemaker’s Children.

Do you have any favourite pieces in your home?

Upcycled blue tray with bottles and glasses

My favourite piece is probably the vintage globe bar I was given by family friends when they downsized. It is ridiculous but so much fun and always a talking point. It’s great to have something so unserious in the house.

The last thing I bought was a roman blind and office furniture as I’m turning the box room into my office. As the room is so tiny the desk had to be a very specific size and the swivel chair without arms so it could tuck right under – it took quite a bit of research to source the right products. I’m really looking forward to moving in properly and installing cork flooring tiles onto the wall to make a big inspiration pinboard for all my projects.

Where do you get your design inspiration from?

Grey room with dark wood furniture

I tend to take my inspiration from the words people say to me about what they want for their homes, which probably comes from reading plays and character lines in my set and costume design days. Nature is also the ultimate inspiration resource, she has every colour combination imaginable and endless structure, sculpture and pattern to borrow from.

What are some of your best styling tips & tricks?

Childrens room with colourful accessories

Making beautiful rooms on a budget has in some ways never been easier, if you are prepared to put the hours into seeking out the bargains. Freecycle is a great way to find free furniture, accessories and leftover paint, and it’s even worth scouring online for seconds or remnants of fabrics, wallpapers and other leftover textiles and tiles.

The secret is to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve first so that you don’t end up gathering every cheap and cheerful item you see, only to find its too much of a hotchpotch. It is even worth making yourself a mood board with paint swatches and magazine cuttings to help you commit to some ideas then stick to them.

To decorate a room so it is easy to update I would say keep the clutter to a minimum so that if you need to do a repaint makeover it won’t be too much hassle. For less intrusive and perhaps more frequent updates then designating display areas, gallery walls or display shelves is great because it’s so quick to move objects around, swap photos and pictures in and out. Books are fabulous styling tools because the covers are often works of art in their own right. Facing them to the room breaks up the endless rows of spines, and can help in rediscovering forgotten favourites. Piles of books on coffee tables are always inviting too and can be used a bit like a tray to anchor miniatures displays of trinkets on top.

It sounds counterintuitive but I think small rooms often look and feel bigger with a bold colour all over, including the ceiling because there’s no harsh dividing line between where the wall ends and the ceiling begins. It’s an illusion of height. White or off-white can be a bit insipid and dull especially if there isn’t much natural light available, so it is worth taking the plunge for something a bit more vivid. Colour is good for our health too, so go for it I say.

Do you follow any Interior Trends?

Grey Modern Kitchen

As a designer, I feel quite immune to interior trends as I’ve never followed them in fashion either – although of course from time to time something will catch my eye. At university I learned about the different styles of design throughout history and that style is far longer lasting than any passing trend. Also with the scale of the environmental disasters we are creating becoming more apparent, it has never been more important to buy well, which means buying things because you love them and will be happy to use them until they wear out rather than changing with every season.

My favourite Oak Furnitureland products:

  1. Hallways are one of my favourite spaces to design so I love anything that provides useful storage like the St Ives unit. As space is often so limited in hallways and there is often a need to house coats, bags and shoes it can be tricky to get them right. Too often they are neglected as people don’t always value them as proper rooms in their own right, but actually because we only pass through them briefly, once the practicalities are catered for, they are the perfect place to be more daring with statement decorating.
  2.  The Mantis console table has a beautifully simple form and I love how you can see a lot of the grain of the mango wood. I’d be inclined to dress it with a big vase of wild foraged flowers
    Mantis Light console table
  3. Storage footstools make a great alternative to hard-edged coffee tables, so are just perfect for families with small children. Just pop a tray on top styled with your favourite tea or coffee set then plonk it back in the kitchen when you’re done, carrying it all in one trip. I rather like the Evie in lime with its mid-century style and cute little legs.
  4. The Brooklyn furniture range appeals to me because its industrial look is not what you might automatically expect from Oak Furnitureland. Also, the mix of honest materials, wood and steel, is fantastic, as is the blend of open shelves and concealed storage. I particularly like the desk and ladder shelving and would style them into a monochrome scheme and plenty of leafy, trailing houseplants.
    Industrial style office
  5. I love the mango wood and plaited grass chairs because of all that fabulous texture. Natural materials are soothing to look at and touch. I’d love to put these with macrame hanging planters and a rustic wooden dining table.

Follow Zoe on Instagram or head over to her website to see more of her great work.

If you want to know more about contemporary, stylish, practical homes and businesses which not only look great but also work for everyday life, check out our interview with the founder of Interiors.Family, Sara Morrison, as part of our Q&A series.