Ever since she opened her eponymous London studio in 2013, interior designer Beata Heuman has developed an international reputation for her inimitable style. Having worked on projects that range from model Adwoa Aboah’s New York City brownstone home to the Farm Girl’s London cafes, Heuman has demonstrated the beauty in combining the theatrical with the understated. Now, she’s sharing her expertise in her latest project – her first ever book, Every Room Should Sing. Here, we speak to Heuman about finding your individual style, and her tips for making your home a true reflection of you.
“You want to be inspired and energised by your home, as well as feel at ease and comfortable in it,” Beata Heuman tells me from the riverside Hammersmith townhouse she shares with her husband John and their two young daughters, Gurli and Alma. “Your home really can spark the imagination and surprise you.” It is, of course, her eye for creating interiors that blend “the theatrical and unexpected with a certain cleanness and simplicity”, as she puts it, that makes Heuman one of the most exciting, and in demand, interior designers in the business.
Since establishing her eponymous studio in London in 2013, she has completed high-profile commercial and residential projects around the world, from Notting Hill to Nantucket. (Always discreet about her A-list clientele, she does concede that she’s currently completing the house of model Adwoa Aboah in the capital, as well as a “moody brownstone” in New York). In 2018 she took home House & Garden’s inaugural ‘Designer of the Year’ award and, in 2020, she made her AD100 debut. Of such prestigious accolades, she says with a soft Swedish lilt, “of course, it’s great to have the recognition, but most importantly it gave me confidence.”
Now she’s written her first book. Completed in lockdown, Every Room Should Sing comprises ten chapters, each dedicated to a design principle and illustrated with a standout project. She hopes it will “encourage the reader to find their own voice and consider what is meaningful to them in a home,” she explains. “I tried to avoid being too prescriptive or dogmatic; it’s really about celebrating individuality.”
Each project is suffused with Heuman’s signature style – which she describes as “imaginative, considered and fresh” – but no two are the same. “A house is a reflection of who you are,” she enthuses. “I for one feel much more inspired when there’s a bit of mystery around me: when things aren’t exactly as they seem.” Think unusual paintings, objets d’art and curiosities – beds with majestic paws or sofas with embroidered eyelashes on the arm, for example.
Nowhere is this playful, layered, brightly hued aesthetic more evident than in Beata’s Hammersmith home, which features in the book. “There are animals and strange creatures everywhere,” she muses. In the guest room, which she calls the ‘safari room’, for instance, hangs a version of Charles Baskerville’s Zebra and Black Panther With Cacti. “I saw the original in an Elsie de Wolfe interior,” she says. “I loved it so much I decided to paint a copy myself.” In the sitting room is an antique royal banner from the former West African Kingdom of Dahomey.
We’re soon discussing the gold mural in her daughters’ bedroom, inspired by Ludwig Bemelmans’ 1947 mural at the Carlyle hotel in New York. It features “little scenes and characters that invite you to imagine the world they are in,” she says. “In my book, I talk about tapping into a kind of childlike curiosity and, for me, this room represents that idea. It brings me so much joy to lie there with my children in the evenings and look at it. I think it makes them happy too.”
While Heuman’s whimsical approach seems at odds with the pared-back ‘Scandi-chic’ style, it owes much to her Swedish predecessors. “For me, Scandinavian design is Josef Frank and Carl Larsson,” she explains. “It’s colourful but simple – free lines, curves and painted furniture. That side of Scandinavian style has been a great source of inspiration.”
So too has Italian design, notably the theatricality of the Baroque. After leaving school, Heuman spent a year in Florence with her sister, then an art student at the renowned Charles H. Cecil Studios. It was the beginning of a life-long love affair with Italy and its storied heritage. “We now have some of our lampshades and handles made there,” she says proudly.
The products in question form part of the bespoke Beata Heuman line of homewares, fabrics, furniture, lighting and wallpaper offered for sale via Shoppa, the firm’s e-commerce site launched last year. Despite a challenging 2020, Shoppa now counts for a large part of the business. “I think lockdown really encouraged people to see the value in investing in their home. After all, it’s where we spent a lot of our time.”
Heuman designs everything for Shoppa herself and works with small outfits in the UK, Sweden and Italy to create products that last. “Something that stands the test of time is testament to its quality and craftsmanship,” she notes. Standout pieces include her signature Dodo Egg pendant light, which features in Beata’s kitchen; and the Olympia wall light, inspired by an Alberto Giacometti design from the 1930s.
Smaller touches can also prettify interiors, continues Beata, with flowers, cushions and candles instantly uplifting a space. “Opening up a wardrobe to find that it is lined with beautiful wallpaper – which is quick and affordable to do – will change your perspective.” So too will putting beautiful handles on your cabinetry, just as she has on the eye-catching sky-blue cabinet that hides the refrigerator in her kitchen. “It takes everything up a notch.”
Changing environment can also help shake things up. Last year Beata and her husband spent more time in their little wooden garden house, which they affectionately call ‘Chatsworth’. “Being able to physically remove ourselves from the house in lockdown gave us that much-needed sense of difference. The enormously deep loveseat is my favourite place to sit.”
Rearranging furniture or rehanging artworks are alternative options, or you could simply “light candles to mark the transition into evening,” she suggests. Has lockdown forever shaped the way we style our home? “I think and hope people will have more confidence to express their own taste and not feel the need to slavishly follow trends.”
Eschewing the concept of the ‘ideal home’ can in fact be liberating. “There’s a lot of joy in expressing one’s individuality,” writes Heuman in the introduction to her book. “It is freeing. It can be exhilarating. It can also be pretty irresistible when you see the unabashed, true character of another individual.
“Your home will continue to evolve with you through life, taking in whatever comes your way and reflecting you and your family’s past and present. It needs to be a fold for all the experiences you go through, which is a completely individual journey,” she continues.
Heuman credits her parents with her love of all things art and design. Born and raised on a rural farm in Sweden, she spent much of her childhood “daydreaming, reading and drawing”, while days spent wandering around museums, art galleries and stately homes were commonplace. “My mother and father encouraged our imaginations [Heuman has three siblings] by showing us what interested them, but importantly they let us follow our own paths.”
Heuman’s led her to London by way of Florence and notably to the studio of leading interior designer Nicky Haslam, where she spent nine years learning about the opulent history of 20th-century design and decoration as well as the importance of excellent craftsmanship and materials. He also introduced her to “the English generosity of spirit. I feel very lucky to have had that experience.”
Then along came Instagram. “I wouldn’t be where I am now – professionally that is – without it,’ she says of her account, which currently has 143K followers. “Instagram allows me to communicate my designs to people in a simple, easy way.” She also finds inspiration in “the beautiful pictures certain people post.”
Among her favourite accounts are @savedny by Brooklyn-based artist and designer Sean McNanney and @tat.london by stylist Charlie Porter. But she adds, “Instagram can make you feel terrible and like you’re missing out.” How then does she find that elusive balance? “Curate who you follow and leave your phone in the kitchen at night. That way you don’t look at it first thing in the morning and last thing at night – I feel so much better for it.”
With a new book, an expanding product business and exciting design projects in the pipeline, the future’s looking as bright for Heuman as her imaginative, fresh interiors. Yet she seems surprisingly laid-back about it all. “I have always seen the value in making your house as nice and comfortable as it possibly can be,” she concludes. “But if lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that all you’ve really got is yourself and your immediate family and friends. I think we’ve all realised just how important it is to do what makes you happy.”
Every Room Should Sing by Beata Heuman (Rizzoli)