6 colorful interior design teachings you'll soak up from artist Heather Chontos' home

Interiors stylist and writer visits the artist's rural French home to explore how her self-expression influences her home's interiors

Three rooms from artists home
(Image credit: Ryland, Peters & Small / Nomad at Home)

In her new book, Nomad at Home, compulsive wanderer Hilary Robertson, New York based interiors stylist and journalist, offers inspiration from the homes of like-minded design-led travellers. 

Here, Hilary introduces us to the extraordinary decorating ideas in the artistically-infused home of painter and self-proclaimed nomad Heather Chontos. Set within a hamlet in rural France, the house benefits from simple and creative updates that ensure this space reflects Heather's desire for self-expression. For us, it's a lesson in every aspect of interior design, from making a moodboard to displaying artwork.

'If you have ever longed for somewhere, an elusive place where you feel you belong, then you will understand the concept of hiraeth, a word Heather strongly identifies with. Having led her life following that longing, Heather, a self-elected nomad, has moved from destination to destination, not knowing where the journey will end,' says Hilary. 

'Heather has made homes in London, Paris, New York City, Barcelona, Maine, Montana, Berlin, and Bolzano, Italy, with extended stays in New Zealand and Tanzania. She found her latest abode in the tiny hamlet of La Tour-Blanche, Cercles, Nouvelle Aquitaine, France. This home, a couple of ancient rustic stone buildings, is where Heather, a mother of two daughters, has been able to combine family life and her work as an artist. 

'After much online research, she bought it without being able to view the property in person, perceiving that it had solid bones and trusting her gut on the rest. As a serial homemaker Heather is adept at improvisation, her make-do-and-mend attitude to decorating resulting in a gloriously individual space where rules don’t apply. Currently the two unconnected stone buildings serve as studio and home. 

'Ask if this is the place and she might fudge an answer. For such a talented and energetic creator of worlds, perhaps "the place" is always with her; wherever she goes.' 

Book jacket for Nomad at Home
Hilary Robertson

Hilary Robertson is the author of Nomad at Home: Designing the home more traveled (published by Ryland Peters & Small). With photography by Mike Karlsson Lundgren, the book showcases 10 unique locations and tells their stories. It offers inspiration from homes all over the globe, and includes Hilary's favorite shopping destinations across the world, with an address book for every country covered, every story told.

1. Add painterly detail to upcycled furniture

View through to an artists bedroom with decorated closet and graphic canvas

(Image credit: Ryland, Peters & Small / Nomad at Home)

'Due to the pandemic, when Heather moved here she wasn‘t able to shop for furniture. However she made friends with the owners of Ali Baba, the local vide-grenier, full of things gleaned from house clearances. 

'No wall or surface escapes Heather’s embellishment. A particularly striking piece is this monochrome armoire, upcycled and transformed by Heather’s creative hand, painted a pale gray and applied with Cy Twombly-style scribbles.'

2. Be inspired by organic shapes and natural materials

Artwork on a wall with stools in front

(Image credit: Ryland, Peters & Small / Nomad at Home)

'The stone barn next door to the main house has become her atelier and sculpture laboratory. Sculptures that echo the amorphous shapes of Heather’s paintings were made from pieces of charred wood or rubbed with intensely colored pigment.'

3. Be adventurous with paint finishes

Lamp against colorwashed wall

(Image credit: Ryland, Peters & Small / Nomad at Home)

'A sliver of the upstairs hallway which doubles as an office has been embellished with Heather’s dreamy decorative powder pink wash wall art. During the lockdown she was unable to easily buy artist materials, but ever resourceful, she found a way to continue painting with her own concoction of children’s gouache and acrylics from the local supermarket mixed with house paint.'

4. Make a small change for a big impact

Artwork on a wall in front of vases

(Image credit: Ryland, Peters & Small / Nomad at Home)

'Turning the buildings she had bought into a viable home required no small amount of physical labor. The garden and barn were full of rubbish that had to be cleared, walls needed insulation, open spaces were divided with recycled doors, and windows, and precarious wooden stairways were added. And Heather’s striking pieces of art add vibrancy as a wonderful contrast to the building’s traditional, natural materials.'

5. Make a moodboard for inspiration

Artwork swatches on wall with ladder against them

(Image credit: Ryland, Peters & Small / Nomad at Home)

'Walls are collaged in doodles, scraps, ideas, and ephemera. Arriving with nothing meant being inventive with items found at the local "dépôt-vente".'

6. Be adventurous with bold patterns

Living room by artist Heather Chontos with pattern sofa

(Image credit: Ryland, Peters & Small / Nomad at Home)

'Though Heather bought the house sight unseen, it has proven to be a perfect canvas for her – literally. Heather’s resourceful decorating style very much incorporates her artistic flourishes; no surface escapes her signature biomorphic shapes and splashes in gorgeous saturated shades of scarlet, pink, ochre, and indigo. As seen here with the freestyle painted wall. 

'The sofa in this main living space next to the studio is covered in a painted linen prototype designed by Heather for French fabric house Pierre Frey, an abstract explosion of color and shapes reflecting her signature artistic style.'

Lucy Searle
Content Director

Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she also took on the editorship of the magazine. Today, Lucy works as Content Director across Homes & Gardens, Woman & Home, Ideal Home and Real Homes.