Every piece of writing influences its reader is some way. Product descriptions persuade us to buy, websites inform our choices, manuals enable us to achieve and testimonials encourage our trust.
Words inspire our actions and when a recent interviewee mentioned a major turning point in her career had been inspired by a book, I started to wonder what other books were having a direct impact on the interior design sector.
Fortunately, a fabulous bunch of business owners and professionals were willing to answer my question, with some incredibly surprising results, and I can’t wait to share them with you. I’ve put several on my TBR list – let me know which ones go on yours…
First up is Melissa Bandtock (who you can see in the fantastic feature image above). Mum of four and founder of Lumiere, the new lighting gallery on The Old High Street in Tunbridge Wells.
You’ve probably already spotted some of Melissa’s amazing images on social media but if you want to know more about her fabulous gallery you can take a virtual tour via her website or visit her design studio for a personal lighting consultation.
Melissa says, ‘One of my favourite books in the world has to be “De La Part De la Princesse Morte” by Kenizé Mourad. The title translates directly to “From the Dead Princess” but the English version is officially entitled “Farewell Princess”. The author tells the true story of her mother, the last Ottoman princess, who was forced to leave Turkey when Atatürk replaced the Ottoman Royal Empire with a Republican State. I read this book in my late teens when I spent a year living in Istanbul. I was born in London but my background merges French, Corsican, Russian and Turkish roots. For this reason, I could really identify with the chapters set in Paris, the descriptive accounts of the architectural delights of Ottoman palaces and the richly textured fabrics of their harems. All these elements appealed to my senses and had a profound effect on my own travels, my taste in interiors and life aspirations thereafter.
This book is a true-life fairy tale so richly embroidered with stories of love, train journeys through India, heartbreak, a sense of adventure and an account of historical events in the lead up to Atatürk’s reforms.
Coincidentally Atatürk is of particular interest to me. Not only do I find his transformation of Turkey fascinating, but I heard a controversial story about him… During my school holidays, I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time staying with the wonderful Turkish poet Rauf Alanyali in his house by the sea, about an hour from Istanbul.
His granddaughter and I were good friends. Most summer evenings he would host magical dinners in his garden with an eclectic mix of people during which he would read poems until the early hours of the morning in a haze of cigarette smoke and drink.
It was during one of these events that I got to meet Safiye Ayla; one of the most famous singers of classical Turkish music. We had a little chat and she told me that she would often sing for Atatürk when he was alive. It was later revealed to me that Atatürk would make Safiye sing behind a screen because he did not find her attractive and he wanted to focus on her beautiful voice… It was fascinating reading a book I felt so many connections to.
Tim Hoskins, one half of Turner & Hoskins Architects, is well-known for being easy to talk to and extremely talented.
From their Edenbridge based office he and his partner Vicki Turner run an award-winning company that specialises in seeing the untapped potential in buildings. (I may be a little bit bias but I’ve had the opportunity to write about several of Tim’s designs and he’s the man responsible for giving me ‘the ‘perfect’ spot to put my Christmas tree!)
Tim says, ‘We have stacks of books on architecture in the office, but my inspirational book is so thin, it could go unnoticed sitting on a bookshelf, sandwiched between others. It is ‘Build a House’, written and illustrated by Heinz Kurth. It’s a paperback Puffin book, and dates from the mid 1970’s. It’s a book aimed at children, and explains in simple narratives, with illustrations, and labelled diagrams, how a house is built. Considering all of the illustrations are by the author, their styles vary, and include semi-technical illustrations, and simple drawings, both in full colour, and with limited tones as redolent of the era.
I can remember my Mum and Dad organising a trip to a building site for the youth group, and I tagged along – I could only have been around four years old. This visit, and the book, are fairly vivid very early memories for me, and I suspect had significant influence on my career.
The book is only 28 pages long, and tells a good story. Significantly, everyone seems very happy in their chosen vocation, and the homeowners seem delighted with the result.
Perhaps it’s a hopelessly romantic view of construction, seen through the lenses of a small boy (even then I wore spectacles), but for a child’s book, it doesn’t shy away from some technical aspects. I think my favourite image is from page 8, which not only discusses brick bonds, but shows a ‘cast-concrete house’. This was so radically different from anything I typically saw in the small village where I grew up in the 1970’s, and it captured my imagination.
The book stirs memories, and does make me feel optimistic about the profession I work in. There is no denying there are challenges with all construction, but as the book so succinctly notes, ‘People need houses for shelter and warmth’, and if we can be part of that process, what an amazing thing it is that we are privileged to do.’
If you live in the Tunbridge Wells area, you’ll be familiar with Eileen Leahy‘s name as she’s the editor of ‘So Magazine’ and the Deputy Editor of ‘The Times of Tunbridge Wells‘.
You may not realise that she’s also an amazing photographer, her work is published under the name of Atticus Images, and when I thought of people to ask about inspirational books, she was one of the first.
Eileen says, ‘As a lifestyle journalist and editor for the past 25 years I am very drawn to the visual aspect of books – and not just their words. There’s something that instantly pulls me in when I spy a stunning cover image of a tropical place on a coffee table style book or a funky graphic design on a recently published novel. And the same goes for traditional books too.
I love the original artwork on timeless tomes such as the Penguin series of classics or coming across a dusty vintage illustration in a second-hand book shop. So yes, I definitely feel that most of the time the cover of a book is just as vital when it comes to making you pick it up and flick through as the jacket’s blurb – or critics’ hype – is.
As an avid reader it’s hard to pinpoint one specific title that constantly inspires me but I have to say that I always return to ‘Books Make A Home’ by Damian Thompson. It’s published by Ryland Peters and Small and is not just utterly beautiful to look through but it also has clever ideas of how to arrange books and ensure they become part of the fabric of any decorating scheme. It might not boast a traditional ‘story’ but it tells an ever evolving one for me all the same.
Personally speaking, a home without books seems somewhat bereft of character – after all there’s only so much escapism that Netflix, social media and boxsets can provide. A book can go anywhere with you – and will also constantly inspire or comfort.
And for me that’s the whole point of any book – whatever its subject matter.’
Abigail and Chris Willlis are the founders of Willis Bloom, a fabric and wallpaper design company known for their passion for pattern and flair with colour.
I’ve been in love with their gorgeous duck, pineapple and whimsical hare collections, to name but a few, for a long time now and love the fact that all their hand-drawn, then digitally printed collections are genuinely ‘made in England.’
I’ve also been completely hooked by their story of their inspirational book. Over to you Abi and Chris…
‘As a husband and wife business team, we share a home, children, a desk and our bookshelf. And now we have to share 300 words on a book that has inspired us. Tricky. This is what our bookshelf looks like. Him: cycling, yoga, real life, autobiographies, gritty war stuff. Me: art, sewing, exotic ventures, sunny skies. Our middle ground is very small when it comes to books.
We eventually chose one. Willis Bloom is our home-grown business, and we design glorious fabrics and wallpapers having launched 2 years ago. Our latest fabric collection, Blooms & Foliage was very much inspired by time spent in the garden not just this year but over all the years we have been together. We pore over garden books together, drool over rose catalogues but ‘Life in the Garden’ by Penelope Lively is the book we keep coming back to.
Penned by a talented author, and octogenarian, this is a garden memoir like no other. It paints pictures of her garden using words. It meanders between countries, literature, and reflections in time. It flows between storytelling, autobiography and good old-fashioned gardening know how. It is as beautiful inside as it’s cover; yep, it looks good on the bookshelf too. This book was a gift to me Christmas 2019 from my mother, she has a copy and loved it so much, she knew I would too. This is indeed a book for garden lovers. It is relaxing, gentle and carries you carefully through her memories and into gardens that have influenced her past and present. Seeing my own flowers grow inspired me draw them; but really loving my blooms, thinking about gardens and our latest collections have absolutely been fuelled by this book.’
Marie Brown from Beyond the Kitchen Table is a wonder woman when it comes to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners build successful websites.
She’s been featured by Forbes, Metro, Red Kite Days and the Talented Ladies Club and many of her designs promote businesses within the lifestyle sector. She’s also been chosen by Theo Paphitis to be a #SBS (Small Business Sunday) winner and runs some fantastic, great-value-for-money, masterclasses.
Marie chose Donald Miller’s ‘Building a Story Brand’ as her inspirational book and says, ‘I love a good business book and discovered this one at the beginning of 2020. It talks about getting clear on your message and using stories to build an engaged following that leads to more customers. Donald Miller suggests putting your customers at the heart of the story and positioning yourself as the guide that can help them find their way from where they are now to where they want to be. All good heroes have at least one wise guide to help them find their way!
When I started building websites, like most website designers, I focused on the look and functionality of websites without thinking too much about the content (that is always my client’s responsibility). Reading this book (and other training courses I have taken) has changed that. I encourage my clients to put their own target audience front and centre of their website and all other forms of marketing. Think about where they are, where they want to get to and what they need to get there. And use stories to show that transformation. The result is a much better website with much better results!
Matthew Ryde – Founder of Graham John Estate Agents. Matt believes the needs and wants of his clients should always come first and goes out of his way to make them happy.
In those rare moments he’s off-duty, Matt indulges his love of classic cars, literature and history. For several years Matt was judge for ‘Kent Life’ magazines Food and Drink Awards and can, occasionally, be persuaded to dress as ‘Biggles’ and drive around Kent for charity.
Matt chose ‘Reilly’s Luck’ by Louis L’ Amour as his inspirational book and says, ‘I started my career in estate agency in January 1985, launched my own Real Estate business, Graham John, in 2014 and have helped people selling homes across England, Wales and overseas in France, Spain, South Africa and Australia. Which book inspired me to get here?
Encouraged to read from an early age I devoured the written word and so there is a vast library to choose an influence from. As I looked along the aged and newer book spines one threaded its way into my mind, something I read early on in life, probably before I was ten years old and it is a book I have re-read many times since and never tire of.
One night a four-year-old boy is taken out into the snow to be abandoned to die. This book begins with harshness, finds a spark of kindness and as the story develops touches on elements that guide the main character and I suppose helped guide me. It takes you across America, to the mountain passes of Europe and back again.
It teaches: Practice makes perfect; don’t just look, observe; learn and don’t just read; question, discuss, analyse. Some of the names on my bookshelves, some classic literature is with me because of this book and this author.
This is a story that has a touch of darkness, yet it reminds you to never give up, persevere, recognise opportunity and act upon it. It touches upon honour, love, hope, loyalty, comradeship. It is a human story that inspires me.’
Jennifer Cooper is a small business mentor, virtual assistant and behind-the-scenes queen of social media content creation and scheduling.
Running numerous campaigns for all sorts of lifestyle businesses, Jenny loves developing systems and methods that will save you time and allow you to focus on the areas of your business that you love. One of the first things that strikes you about Jenny is how organised she is, so when she chose ‘The Complete Book of Home Organization’ by Toni Hammersley as her inspirational book it didn’t come as a complete surprise.
Jenny says, ‘So, you may have guessed that organisation is my thing. Well, I adore this book. This is my manual and the best book on Home Organization I have read (and I have read them all). Long before ‘The Home Edit’ was ‘A Bowl Full of Lemons’, a stunning blog full of home organisation tips from Toni Hammersley. This accompanying book takes organising to a whole new level. It goes into the level of detail that I crave: a complete guide to setting up a home filing system, with a breakdown of each section, colour code suggestions and different filing options. It introduced me to the idea of a mail drawer (keep your cheque books, stamps, envelopes etc all together, a game changer for efficiency). It taught me how to organise my kitchen by introducing the concept of zones and making me consider how I use the space and where best to locate things. Plus, there are hundreds of sumptuous pictures from Toni and other bloggers’ homes. Everything is thoroughly thought out, looks fabulous, and is covered in labels – basically Jenny heaven. If I am reorganising any area of my house, this is the book I go to first for inspiration and know how. It has it all.
Jenny’s Affiliate link for the book:
Phoebe Oldrey, expert Holistic Designer, Ted X talk presenter and founder of Smart Style Interiors is‘a big fan of design books’ and was, in fact, the inspiration for this blog post. (Thank you, Phoebe)
She says, ‘when I decided to leave acting behind and retrain in interior design my husband bought me a design book to mark the occasion. I have a varied collection as I’m not just interested in ones with beautiful spaces to ogle but also, I’m about expanding my knowledge in Holistic interior design. Out of my large collection I managed to narrow my ‘inspirational’ book choices down to two –
This book was a revelation for me when I bought it. It was published in 2007. At the time, design books were all highbrow, written by designers like Terence Conran, Kelly Hoppen and Nina Campbell. They mainly consisted of 3 sentences and photos of gorgeous spaces that most humans won’t ever have the chance to own. Home was the first book I remember that talked about creating a beautiful home for you and your family, full of memories, child friendly and packed with style. It was written just as blogging was beginning, so that accessible approach to design we see now just wasn’t on offer then. It was either Changing Rooms or Kensington Palace and nothing in between. This book made me realise there was a place in design for me, a woman who just loved designing family homes. That’s why it still lives on my coffee table 14 years after it was published.
Ingrid’s book is a cross between design and self-help. After Ingrid’s design work was described as “Joyful” she felt compelled to understand what that really meant and how we can bring joy into our homes and lives. I find it fascinating how certain things bring us joy, a frequently overlooked happy emotion, and the difference that surrounding ourselves with joy can make to our mental health.’
Finally, I’d like to introduce you to Kate Alexander who has recently launched Home Edited, a professional decluttering and organisation service based in Tunbridge Wells.
Kate’s company focusses ‘on deciding what to keep rather than what to get rid of’ and she’s already making a huge impact on instagram and, far more importantly, people’s lives.
Kate says, ‘Personally feeling the benefits from keeping order in a world that feels so far removed from calmness is where Home Edited was born. I love what I do and can see the instant weight lifted when we declutter and organise a home or workspace. As a busy mum of two little incredible people, I am not afraid to say that clutter and mess makes me anxious and stressed, so being organised is hugely important for my mental health. To have my home organised and everything to have its place gives me a clear mind and allows for inner calm and I love seeing what effect it has on our clients’
Kate’s inspirational book is the Sunday Times No.1 Bestseller ‘Untamed’ by Glennon Doyle as it’s ‘a necessary read. It is inspiring, truthful, and awakening.’
She goes on to add, ‘For someone who has always battled with anxiety I finished this read and thought, what kind of world can I create if only I was braver? What if I stop dreaming and started doing? It is a read that does not shy away from life’s downfalls but also applauds life’s amazing moments too. It empowers you to be YOU, to do the things that please you. ‘Stop pleasing, start living’.
I have always wanted to start my own business, and after working years in the world of Recruitment, I was thrown into the life of motherhood, and have loved what this has taught me so far, however, I have always wondered what next? When should I start my business? The writer Glennon writes late in her book, ‘The braver I am, the luckier I get’. This was when Home Edited was born. I decided to get brave, to jump in, trust my knowing and the rest is to be written.’
So that’s it. I’m extremely grateful to Kate, Phoebe, Jenny, Matt, Marie, Abi, Chris, Eileen,Tim and Melissa for sharing the books that have inspired them and I hope you, in turn, have been inspired too.
And, if any of these books struck a chord or you’d like to share your own inspirational book choice, please drop a note in the comments below.
Until next time,