Transforming a basement flat in Battersea into a cosy haven that evokes the grand tradition of the English country home is no mean feat, but for designer Octavia Dickinson, it’s par for the course. Having developed her impeccable eye first at the Courtauld Institute of Art and subsequently with an esteemed international gallery, it was a spell at Leveson Design that introduced Octavia to the more practical aspects of design, and offered an outlet for her long-standing love of interiors. We caught up with her to talk favourite Farrow & Ball colours, interiors inspiration, and the key to creating a space you’ll never want to leave.
What encouraged you to make the leap from fine art to the world of interior design? How does your background feed into your current work?
I think the simple answer is my first employer as an interior decorator, Cindy Leveson of Leveson Design. I knew that I wanted to work in a creative industry, but I wasn’t completely sure which one. After leaving my job in an art gallery I decided to intern in a variety of different jobs, including those at an auction house, an art travel company, and the BBC art department. But when I started working for Cindy, I knew quite quickly that it was right for me.
Interior design requires a mix of creativity and organisation, two of my strongest attributes. It is also a career in which I could utilise my knowledge and love of art and architecture. I understand spaces and how different architectural elements can alter our perception and our experience of a room. In the ideal job I would be involved in a project from the beginning to the end, working alongside the architect to create the space and finishing up with the dressings; a room never looks finished until the pictures are hanging on the walls.
When you talk about decorating your own space, you say that the goal was to create somewhere you’d never want to leave – how have you gone about that? Is it an ongoing process?
It’s definitely an ongoing process adding and moving things around, but making my own space feel welcoming and homely is absolutely always my first priority. To begin with, I look at the floorplan to make sure that the rooms flow well into each other and that I’m utilising the space to its best advantage.
Lighting is paramount to creating a relaxing atmosphere, so early on I think about what the lighting sources will be (spot, ceiling pendants, wall, lamps...) and where they’ll be. Then it becomes all about layering – layering patterns in fabrics, trims and wallpaper; layering pieces of furniture on rugs; cushions, trays, artwork, ceramics, books. I love a room where there are so many different layers that you never notice everything at once and it’s only by spending some time there that you start to see everything the room is made up of. And of course, comfort is vital. Who wants to sit on a hard sofa in a cold room?
Is there a Farrow & Ball colour that you always come back to? What’s your current favourite?
I’m known to often use Slipper Satin as it’s so versatile and has a very pretty, slightly pink glimmer, making it an incredibly useful white for walls, woodwork – actually, anywhere! Since moving house I’ve painted my bedroom in exactly the same colour as my last flat, Lulworth Blue. It’s such a calming but also energising colour.
What do you think no room should be without?
Thought. No room doesn’t deserve being thought about.
Like us, you’re a big believer in the finer details – are there any particular features home decorators tend to overlook that could be making a big difference?
Paint colours. So often I have clients who, when they moved into their home, painted everything white, thinking it’s the best backdrop. I disagree. Start with colour and everything else will follow – it really brings life to a room.
Is there a particular era or style of decorating you return to again and again for inspiration?
I am continuously inspired by Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler who started their company in the 30s. It’s very English, lots of specialist paint effects, florals and trims. There’s something so simple yet beautiful and quintessentially British about this style, which I think is part of all our DNA.
Is there any one project that you find particularly memorable? An impressive property, a difficult brief, or a finished result that you’re especially proud of?
My own home. Maybe it’s a cheat answer, but it certainly came with quite a memorable brief – to have it liveable in before our first child was born. We managed to move in four weeks before our son arrived, which was lucky as I had a lot of boxes of china to unpack.
I always find it harder to decorate for myself because I see the enormous number of choices and have a new favourite fabric weekly. It’s not finished (is a room ever?) but I am enjoying adding to it. It’s always exciting when something new arrives – I think changing and moving things around keeps a house alive.