I had the privilege of getting to know Alwyn Human, an interior stylist, via Twitter. It’s a funny thing, Twitter, isn’t it? One minute you’re minding your own business, sharing the odd link to things that catch your eye (and uttering random nonsense) and the next, you’re chatting to an interior stylist about creating an outdoor cinema and the pros and cons of ‘artfully arranged’ clutter. Such is the way with my Twitter conversations, anyway.
Anyway, in ‘meeting’ Alwyn, I thought it would be great to capture a little insight into the minds of those under-appreciated stars of the interiors world – the stylists. How do they make rooms look so great when we’re looking through that look book or leafing through that magazine? Alwyn was kind enough to share some of his insights and tips in our recent Q&A session.
If you could start by telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do…
I’m South African and moved over to the UK in 2004. As a child, I had a keen interest in design and can recall being obsessed with decorating a small doll’s house. It amazed me how the smallest of things could change the dynamics of a space and how rooms are defined by what is in them and not necessarily how they are built. From this initial curiosity, grew a lifelong passion for interiors and design.
Currently I work as style director for Hangar Seven Ltd, specialists in content creation. Within my role, I oversee all creative jobs involving interiors and design. Particularly set design and fashion.
How would you describe your own style/aesthetic?
When it comes to my work, it is multi-faceted. I look at either a product or room and build on what I have. There is a strong sense of sensory perception in my work. Texture and a good mix of materials is key in all I do.
My personal aesthetic is influenced by my South African heritage and spending many a family holiday on safari on the family game farm watching animals. I believe that in some way or another, we need to feel connected to the outside world and to nature. So my style is a combination of rustic natural woods, paired with powder pale walls, stripped floors, glazed pottery and hand blown glass. These finishes are all offset by the highlights and hues of either indoor planting or flower arrangements.
You worked with Dulux earlier this year on their latest Trend Forecast, tell us a little bit about the challenges around styling those sets and how you went about styling a room where the paint colours were the stars of the shoot?
On a trend shoot we’re selling paint as the main item but really you are also selling the idea of a very specific lifestyle or look.
Interestingly enough trends and colours work the opposite way around. When it comes to trends we look at things like art, social media, furniture design, architecture, the news, social movements and how all of these affect our day to day lives. From these ideas a trend becomes apparent.
When the trends are compiled and the colour palettes are collated, other essential information that makes up the fundamentals of the trend are put together like, finishes, materials, furniture design and architecture. All these areas are covered off in the early stages of trend forecasting. So the challenge I suppose is having a clear understanding of the core elements that make up the trend and striking the correct visual balance when putting a shot together. The size, scale and arrangement of items all add to the final product and misinterpreting the balance between all of the above factors may result in relaying an inaccurate message about the trends.
Other factors we look at are acceptability. In their purest form trends are not always accessible to the every day consumer. So when looking at placing a trend in a room it is important to look at spaces people relate to and recognize. What is really important is that people are inspired by what they see and especially the impact colour can have on the everyday room.
In the trend called “The Art of Understanding”, for instance, we celebrate the aesthetic of the 50s when times were simpler and more glamorous. The colours were then chosen around that. So think, blue skies, macaroons, cherries and mint choc chip ice cream.
Who else have you worked with and in what capacity?
I have a varied list of clients I work with. Some of the nicest projects were for Dulux, Sophie Conran, Laura Ashley, Fired Earth, John Lewis and M&S to name but a few. My involvement varies from project to project, but usually it’s a full-scale service – designing the set, sourcing all the items and then dressing the space.
How do you stay inspired?
I am an extremely visual person. There is a wonder of beauty around us every day. People often neglect to notice the small day-to-day things that form part of their routine. For me, inspiration can be seen in the smallest of things, like the reflection of the evening sky in a puddle of water, or watching a classic 1950’s film, or even a conversation between strangers on the bus. I draw inspiration from things that capture my attention and I then work to communicate that in my work. Naturally, looking at magazines and virtual media such as Pinterest are amazing sources of stimulus too.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career as a stylist?
Passion is everything. If you have the passion you will have the drive, if you have the drive you will have the motivation, if you have the motivation you will have dedication to focus on making your dream a reality. But remember that individuality is the most important thing. There is no such thing as a bad idea. Sometimes the worst ideas materialize into the most amazing results. And above all, never change who you are to suit others.
What’s a typical workday like?
Every day is different, that’s what I love the most. I think we, as creative souls are not too fond of repetitive routines. My drive in to work usually involves singing in the car, this puts me in an instant good mood. Throughout the day I am either on set styling, out and about in shops and fairs sourcing items or at my desk designing. A cup of earl grey tea is never too far away either; that and my trusty water bottle – it’s like my third arm!
What advice would you give to our readers who are looking to create a stylish interior?
Create a starting point for your project. Think of things that make you feel happy and that capture your attention. These are the things, which instinctively will make you love your home. Find an item you love and build on it and then think of other items you love that would complement it. Do not be afraid of colour. It is the easiest thing to change. Add a small splash to start off with then as your confidence grows add additional tones and colours. And remember if you don’t like it you can always paint it back. A home is transient and should always be in a constant state of change, growing as you and your family do.
Hypothetical: You can only style interiors in various shades of one colour. What colour would it be?
Oh that’s easy. Grey. It’s a running joke at work. Some would say it’s my signature colour or tone if you want to be technical. It literally goes with everything; darker shades create rich contrast whilst pastel tones are more romantic and delicate.
Aside from your phone, what can’t you leave the house without?
Protein shake. I love exercising and taking time out to do something for me. A healthy body is a healthy mind. I escape for an hour at work and train in my lunch break. It gives me an instant boost of energy and is a nice natural break for giving your mind a rest.
Who’s your current favourite up and coming British designer?
That’s a tough one. As much as he is not really a new designer I find myself drawn to the works of Lee Broom. Especially his tile tables and consoles, that and his stunning etched light bulbs. As far as light bulbs go, generally they are not that amazing to look at. These however are amazing. It really does prove that design can be aesthetically pleasing and practical.
There is also a great Manchester based illustrator whose work I love: Dom & Ink. He is currently working on a book deal and it’s no wonder.
Where is your fantasy shopping location?
Tokyo. They really are at the forefront of design and pop culture.
Draw a picture of what your brand would look like if it were an animal (real or fictional).
What’s next for you?
Blogging. I am constantly asked to do it so I think the time has come to start it up. I’m still thinking of names but seeing as all my friends call me Al I am warming towards AL DÉCOR!
Any blogs you’d recommend?
I’d like to plug an amazing blog called the Manuscript. It’s a fashion blog my sister Karin has. She is the official blogger for GUESS watches in South Africa.
If you have any questions for Alwyn, we’d love to pass them along! Have you any questions about interior styling? Have any challenges that you face in your own home? Let us know in the comments and we’ll ask the expert!