Every year for my birthday I used to get a lovely book from my school friend. Her dad worked for a major publishing company and always brought home the latest new releases. This started at age four with early memories of opening a shiny new edition of the latest adventures of ‘Captain Pugwash’ (no sniggering) and progressed through to ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ and similar exciting titles! On my tenth birthday however, the book she gave me literally changed my life. It was called Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain by Betty Edwards.
It was all about seeing shapes differently and noticing the space around objects to help your drawing techniques. I’d gasp as she’d show examples of someone’s basic drawing skills and then the jaw dropping transformation after attending her classes – I read it over and over again and even passed on some of the tips to my own students when I was teaching in later years. It’s based on the principle that we have two sides to our brain, the left – analytical, logical and scientific and the right, intuitive, artistic and emotional. Most people tend to use one side more than the other and this drives their ways of learning but also their habits, behaviour and interests.
This theory of left brain and right brain has continued to fascinate me and I’ve often wondered about it. Do lefties and righties get on or will they never understand one another? If we use the left hand side of the brain for academic things in life and the right side of the brain for creativity, are we forever destined to leave one a little behind while the other dominates and dictates our path in life ….or, is their a space where both can exist – playing an equal harmonious role in who we are and how we live?
As usual, believe or not there is a point to all of this. This week’s Style Warrior is someone who seems to successfully engage both sides of her brain fully and equally albeit at different times. Her home is a complete contradiction to the assumptions you might make when you learn what she does for her ‘day job’ which very much draws on left brain characteristics – logic, analysis, order and reason. It is of course, none other than our fabulous life olympian and super achiever, Nicola Broughton aka ‘The Girl With The Green Sofa’.
Many of you will know her originally through her intriguing instagram feed and in the last year her interiors blog has risen to dizzy heights in the ratings – a testament to her dedication and incredible ability to spin many, MANY plates successfully. By day, she travels the country investing in small innovative companies who are making breakthroughs in science and medicine and by evening (sometimes very late evening) she creates. Her creativity is evident in her adventurous and experimental home decor (she does all of it herself -efficiently!) and also in that impressive blog she launched just over a year ago which is aimed at supporting and promoting small creative businesses as well as highlighting beautiful and exciting home interiors (she’s already been nominated in the Amara Blog awards – read more here). With all of that, I’ll pass you over to Nicola to tell you more about herself and her style…..
Hello, I’m Nicola AKA the girl with the green sofa (www.thegirlwiththegreensofa.com) and I live in a Victorian House in a Village near Leeds with my Husband Sam and two boys Jack (8) and Alfie (5).
I first started my interest in interiors when I lived back at home with my parents while studying; here I got into furniture renovation on the weekend as a balance to the intensity of studying for an MBA. This balancing act continued throughout moving jobs until we settled on this house where I was able to let my creativity roam free. I’ve been interested in interior design for nearly 20 years but only recently started sharing my home publicly on Instagram and through my blog, something I have enjoyed immensely and which has brought me into contact with so many other inspiring and like-minded people.
How would you describe your interiors style and how has this changed over the years?
I would say that my style is now very definitely maximalist (I like “stuff”), dark and moody, eclectic, a real mix of styles that sort of work together. I absolutely love collecting items, sourced from all over; antiques fairs, car boot sales; interiors shops; Instagram, and as I add new things into my home, I often need to re-arrange the old things to make them work.
I haven’t always aspired to the “dark side”, our house was once painted in quite muted colours, always with an eye to selling, but it wasn’t me. I love the cocooning effect that a dark interior brings, the cosiness and the sense of history and interest you get from collecting unusual objects.
What’s a ‘typical’ week in the life of Nicola Broughton?
My life is full on at the best of times so my interiors hobby is what keeps me sane. I am an investment director investing in high tech businesses, which involves a lot of travel, unpredictable hours and of course often having to drop what I am doing to help with a challenge or issue. I am a mum to two boys, Alfie and Jack, the most important thing of all, but my husband Sam works part time and is in many ways the main carer which allows me to do what I do.
Fitting in the interiors bit is challenging, some weeks more than most, but given it’s my sanity relief, I force myself to make time for it, to switch off my brain from work and get my hands dirty painting, decorating, renovating furniture or even just writing my blog (my new way of stress relief that doesn’t involve renovating a room every month, much to my husband’s relief).
When I’m not working or writing or painting, we spend our time as a family. Weekends are often spent on the side of the football pitch cheering on my oldest son, at gym class with my youngest or generally socialising with friends
Can you describe for us what role art plays within your home?
I am a visual person, I don’t design by rules but by gut feel and based on how something looks. Art is really important to me in the home, as it can add real visual impact.
I have many, many different pieces collected over a long period of time. I like to mix up newer finds with vintage from eBay or antique places and create clusters of art for impact. I like the impact a big statement piece of art creates, a talking point and a focal point in a room.
What’s your favourite piece of art in your home and why?
Art transforms my interiors therefore it is hard to pick just one piece. I am a great fan of photography by Pati Robins and have collected most of her pieces over time, they are so expressive. I have an enormous piece over the bed in my guest room. I’m really fond of my Sir Gerald Kelly above my bedroom fireplace, an eBay find. I get loads of comments from people about how they remember it as children (I love that it has history). I love “a woman is more dangerous than a loaded gun” art by @houseoffiv, unique and different. But these are just some examples since I collect art from many different sources especially small businesses.
What’s your creative process for coming up with interior décor ideas?
I collect inspiration from many different sources be it magazines, books, Pinterest but most importantly Instagram where I have come across so many stylish homes of real people. Abigail Ahern has been a big inspiration, I dip into her style, the dark walls for example and the faux plants. But I’ve never followed one style, my rooms evolve, I may start with dark walls and then find wallpaper I like so I add that into the room. I collect furniture so for each new piece I add, I then need to find a way to make the room work, so it changes. Luckily the maximalist home can be just that, a mixture of styles, that you can add to as you find more things you like. It’s getting pretty full now though!
Tell us about your favourite creative interiors project within your home…..and to make us all feel better, what was your biggest interiors mistake?
My favourite project was when we remodelled the top floor (our house has three). I had been hankering after space to work, when I started working for myself, just after having Alfie, and we decided to knock into the eaves, and move our bathroom to make way for a study. We also opened up the boy’s rooms to give them more space. I had expected to move the toilet and basin into a small eaves space and lose the shower but when we opened up the space I realised we had room for a roll top bath instead. It’s the first time I’ve designed a bathroom and it was so much fun, I really went to town, choosing tiles from Fired Earth and the bath. It was my little slice of luxury.
I’ve made all sorts of decorating mistakes, when we first moved in I painted our very small kitchen terracotta, the most hideous orange, in a rush just to make the house our own. I regretted it very quickly but because we had so many rooms to do, I had to live with it until we did our kitchen dining room knock through, 3 years later.
I’m now quite proficient at wallpapering but I haven’t always been – decorating one of our top floor bedrooms in Laura Ashley paper (yes, I went through that phase too), there were so many gaps I was forced to take it down!
Can you share your best DIY Style Warrior ‘secret’ tip from your creative projects?
I do all my own decorating but the thing I find the most satisfying is renovating old furniture. I’ve learnt so many techniques and you can pick up some real gems often over looked with layers of paint. It’s quite simple to fix, a bit of nitromors, sandpaper and elbow grease and you can wither strip the furniture back to the wood, create a rustic vintage look or re-paint it. I am a big fan of coloured wax as you can create all sorts of finishes using black and brown wax. I have a tutorial on how to do it on my blog.
Can you give any gems of advice for those looking to create an individual look in their homes?
Decorate your home for you and no one else. You will never please everyone but if it’s comfortable for you, it will always be a sanctuary to come home to.
For me it’s all about texture, rugs, sheepskins, cushions, wallpaper, layering a room will make it so much more cosy and homely.
If you threw the ultimate house party who would be your surprise star guest (dead or alive!) and what would you ask them to bring?
Ooh this is tricky one. I love to say Ellen Degeneres because not only would she be a hoot but she has a fabulous home and an interest in interiors. I’d also like to invite an 80s icon (the era in which I grew up to music) to get the party going – Boy George and Culture Club or George Michael and we really ought to have some great cocktails or if we are really going back to the 80s, dare I say some pretty naff drinks such as Hooch or Malibu and pineapple.
What’s your best trait and worst vice that we should know about before we move in?
I am a perfectionist and I am very impatient, which means that things can never be done quickly enough but have to be done right! I am very sociable and like to be surrounded by people but I work long hours and so often find I require solitude to rest and read, so I am constantly balancing those needs. But I’m easy going, nothing in my house is precious and that’s how I get to have the house I like with young kids.
The rooms in Nicola’s house I feel, represent compartments of her mind that possibly stay hidden in her day job and emerge the moment she enters her home. The decor is what is now called ‘maximalist’ but what I like to call ‘ well why not?’. When you’re spending your days asking why, reasoning and making sure the numbers stack, checking and double checking that the risks are minimal, something has to give. Hours spent travelling by train, early rises and late nights all take a physical toll on your mind and it needs recharged and nurtured with relaxation. You come home to be surrounded by things that comfort, that give you little energy releases and moments of happiness.
The mental battles of justifying a high powered career against being a ‘good’ mum and being there for your kids is something Nicola talks about a lot. But I have always been a believer that kids glean all sorts of life skills and emotional strength from seeing their parents continue to grow and be happy.
I admire Nicola not because of the high powered job ( of course that’s impressive but would we even mention it if she was a man?) but because, despite the long hours and sacrifices, she’s managed to allow creativity to stay in her life and tell the full story of her personality through her home. A home that represents concentrated creativity. When you only have a few hours on a Saturday morning or a holiday weekend, you cram all your creative thoughts on to one canvas, surrounding yourself with hopes, dreams and just plain fun.
It’s a pressure release valve and the moment Nicola enters her front door to her family home she can switch off and relax, that’s a feeling we can all relate to, left and right brain thinkers unite! The Yin and the Yang, the right brain meeting the left brain, passing the baton at the door.
*All photos courtesy of Nicola Broughton*