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 (opens in new tab). 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.'
Hilary Robertson is the author of Nomad at Home: Designing the home more traveled (opens in new tab) (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
'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 (opens in new tab)-style scribbles.'
2. Be inspired by organic shapes and natural materials
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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 (opens in new tab), an abstract explosion of color and shapes reflecting her signature artistic style.'
Emma Thomas is the Style Editor at Homes & Gardens and Livingetc magazines, looking after the decorating features. Before joining Homes & Gardens in 2014, Emma worked for over 25 years mainly as a freelance interior stylist and art director producing photo shoots for many editorial titles and commercial clients, including Elle Decoration, Livingetc (she worked on the launch issue back in 1998!), Habitat and The White Company, to name but a few. As well as overseeing and art directing the original photography we produce, Emma also leads on many of the decorating and design ideas and features you see in print and online.
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