Designer Emma J Shipley takes us inside her rented retreat

As businesses on the high street struggle to survive, many small, creative enterprises are thriving.

Artisan food stores, veg box deliveries and resourceful restaurants are responding to the challenges to serve the locked-down public.

It seems independent homewares are also high on the wishlist of frustrated customers who can’t hit the shops. And for print designer Emma J Shipley, business is booming.

‘Homeware is something that people are craving right now as we are all spending so much time at home,’ says Emma, 34. ‘We need it to be a nicer place and for our surroundings to be inspiring.

‘People are also making conscious decisions to shop from smaller local businesses. That means we have the flexibility to create limited-edition collections and make sure we’re not over-producing. That makes our brand more sustainable, which is what people want in their homes.’

Home for Emma is a rented apartment in a fabulous converted bible factory in East London. Entering the horseshoe-shaped courtyard, you know instantly which is her abode by the stunning velvet drapes at the floor-to-ceiling Crittall-style windows.

She has been living here with her two cats Romy and Luna since 2016. Her boyfriend moved in during lockdown.

‘I wanted somewhere I could live and work – a space that was creative. This was perfect, especially during lockdown as it already had a home office/studio on the mezzanine floor.’

It’s a spectacular space. ‘There’s no way I could live in a place like this if I wasn’t renting,’ she says. ‘Renting means I can afford to live where I want. When you buy you have to compromise by moving into something much smaller or to an area you wouldn’t necessarily want to live. Plus, all my capital is invested in my business, that’s where my priorities are right now so renting suits me.’

Renting doesn’t stop the designer stamping her personality on the place. The upside-down apartment is blessed with high ceilings and original beams. ‘You can still see all the original screws and struts,’ says Emma. ‘It was all just very white with original wooden floors so it was a lovely blank canvas.

‘As a renter, you assume that landlords won’t want you to make any changes, but I have found that if you do things that will improve the space and make it appealing to future renters, then they are often open to suggestions.’

One such suggestion was to wallpaper the wardrobe doors with one of her designs.

‘It took less than two rolls so that’s quite a cost-effective way to transform an ugly wardrobe with some colour and pattern. People get nervous about using pattern – I try to stick within a fairly tight colour palette.

So in the bedroom, even though there’s a lot going on, the patterns are tied together with teal and pink. Patterns don’t matter as long as the colours work well together. Bedding is a great way to start without making a huge investment like decorating a whole room.’

The ottoman at the bottom of the bed is made from one of Emma’s signature velvets. ‘I also love to dress a room with houseplants to bring the element of nature indoors, which is good for wellbeing. They are relatively inexpensive but can make a huge impact.’

The living area is one big open-plan space. The kitchen is dominated by a fabulous teardrop glass dining table and coloured chairs.

‘I’m really into dried flowers because they last a lot longer than fresh and you can get some really funky colours. I love dressing this table by mixing colourful glasses, place mats and coasters. Table-top pieces are another great way to introduce pops of colour.’

Above the kitchen is the double-height mezzanine where Emma has her office space. It was a godsend during lockdown and looks out over the whole living area with full-length doors, which open onto a balcony.

Outside is a seating area covered in her signature cushions and throws. Inside, there’s a cosy nook with TV, record player and sofa. Even though it’s open-plan, the area is carefully zoned.

A ‘plan’ chest houses all her original drawings and is used as a room divider with plants on the top. ‘I love putting lamps behind the plants to illuminate the foliage.’
All of her collections are inspired by botanicals and animals from her travels.

‘There is a lack of connection to nature, which I feel we are all craving, especially when you live in the city,’ she says. ‘I want to bring that connection with nature back into our homes and into our lives, as well as sparking our imaginations.’

There’s also a bar cart stocked with essential cocktail ingredients. ‘Bought during the first lockdown and particularly important these days when we are not going out again,’ she smiles.

Her drawing board is where all her ideas come to life. And there’s a gallery wall with vintage botanical prints put into bold frames, which pick out the colours in the curtains and soft furnishings.

Her monochrome wallpaper works beautifully against the white walls and original dark ceiling beams in the pitched roof.

Emma’s velvet fabric adorns the doors too, and there are lots of beautiful cushions in her home. ‘Cushions and throws are easy transformational pieces to experiment with. Curtains introduce huge strips of colour to the room as well as making it cosy and homely.’

For more information go to emmajshipley.com or find her on Instagram @emmajshipley.

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