The Art of Haus: Conversations with Laura Wellington
“I suppose that's why I set my stall out with the above line from the beginning - I’m not there to impress, I’m there to just be as authentic and approachable as I can be and to hopefully help people be more brave in their own design.”
The task of summarising the career to date of Laura Wellington is no easy undertaking. A passionate designer and entrepreneur, in the ten years since graduating university her star has only continued to shine brighter and brighter by the day. The woman behind one of Habitat’s most iconic designs of the past 50 years, her HULA lighting collection landed her a spot on prime time television, BBC’s Next Big Thing, and set the precedent for her commercial interiors career, showing consumers how to make a statement in any setting.
The eagled eyed among you will have noticed Laura’s designs in our Conscious Christmas Guide in the form of her rather decadent Totem Blue Light. Delving deeper though, you’ll also discover that Laura is the designer behind Revel Jewellery designs, and just so happens to be the Co-Founder of creative hub Duke Studios, and curator of The Big Disco - part regeneration project, part cultural happening and major party goals as guests partied the night away in the shadow of a disco ball the size of a three-storey house.
While I catch my breath, you might be interested to know about Laura’s latest project (yes, she really can do it all), The Art of Haus - her most recent Instagram feed which documents the renovation of her new house, giving followers an insight into the hard graft behind revamping a home, sharing her learnings and lessons of the process and understanding how to haus after years of apartment living. A honest and frank feed, we spoke to Laura about the project, her thoughts on social media, and why her bathtub is a sanctuary.
Firstly, how is the house renovation going?
If you had asked me this question 3 weeks ago I would have said slowly, but I recently went on a solo trip to Wales with my pooch Mr Scruff to see my family and it did me the world of good to step away from the renovation for a bit…
We got the house in April and having some time away a gave me some perspective in how much we’ve achieved in the 7 Months. One of my hats that I wear is “Commercial Interior Designer” so I’m used to cracking on with a job, having a team and an end date - our house renovation certainly isn’t that but I'm enjoying being my own client.
The problem with my brain is that I pretty much see how I want a space to be not long after walking into it, so it feels like it’s been forever in the project but it's more that I've gone over and over and over the spaces that many times in my brain that it contorts time, which doesn’t help the other impatient part in my brain. I also get major imposter syndrome in the middle of any job so I’ve naturally been getting to that in the middle of creating each room, I always at some point don’t trust my original ideas, so imagine all that whirring around in your brain in a house over 4 floors - it’s hard brain work!
What made you decide to start creating this particular feed?
A combination of things. In my interior work I’m known for commercial so I wanted a place to be able to document a residential project, I also wanted to create a space that was the real life ups and downs of a residential project - not just the polished end pictures where the same 5 images get repeated with chat about everyday life underneath and first and foremost I wanted to make a feed that doesn’t make people feel like total crap when following.
I want to be able to inspire people to be brave in their use of colour, to be able to ask honest questions, to have some fun and to be able to show what can be done on a small budget. When we get into the next bit, which is more of the making unique pieces for the house I want to also show people how all the machinery works that we will use and to demystify the process of making or to see how they can create things for themselves to.
“Life is not polished & neither is this feed” - a sentiment that will resonate with many right now, as a creative, how do you feel about the use of Instagram, and more widely social media as a tool for illustrating our brands and work?
I love Instagram. I love the people I have met through it and the hive mind that it creates but I really dislike the snobbery and life filters.
We were recently at an instagram interior event and a woman put her hand up to ask the panel a question which was “I need to design my bathroom - I have no idea what to do, what colour should I go for? And what about the suite?!” there was an audible intake of breath and I overheard a few sniggers. This made so mad - in a room full of interior designers they shouldn’t have reacted that way, they should have thought, “Ok I can help here or the more business minded should have thought - potential client.” I would like to try and change this a bit and again demystify/give people confidence to design their own spaces and be bold in their choices.
I’m not really a massive social media user in terms of knowing the games to play to get more followers or playing the algorithm game and I’m not even going to push myself to learn as I know it’ll then end up taking over my life. I’m not really influenced by big accounts, I’m more inspired by the smaller accounts with people doing things differently.
I really do worry about the mental health of the account users with huge followers as its so much work and it totally takes over, the pressure to post at certain times, to engage to do all the right things, to keep to the status quo to entice brands etc. I suppose that's why I set my stall out with the above line from the beginning - I’m not there to impress, I’m there to just be as authentic and approachable as I can be and to hopefully help people be more brave in their own design.
You have many strings to your bow, Placemaker, Designer, Disruptor, where do you feel most comfortable and which area do you want to work more on?
Ha tough question - I love them all, naturally get very distracted and bored very easily, so I love that I can work across so many different disciplines that are all connected with design thinking and people at the centre.
I think even if I won the lottery (which I’m taking very seriously at the moment) I would still do all the things I do and I would probably do loads more work in the City for free (actually, my mum told me if I win the lottery I have to go home to Swansea and do the work we’ve done here in Leeds there). I really love thinking creatively with strategy and problem solving across the board.
How has your work as a designer evolved over the years?
Its completely changed! I used to be a lighting designer, it wasn’t until we designed the first Duke Studios that people then started to ask me to do interior design so this was never the plan (not that there was a plan) I think also my design style and work has evolved over the years by getting older - I’m 33 now and I just don’t give as many hoots as I used to about what people think about my design style. I used to be so worried about what other people would think as well as being a complete bully to myself in my head, but when I turned 32 I decided I was going to be less harsh on myself and stop worrying about other people think and I thats relaxed me more.
At Yolklore, we’re interested in how our individuals cultivate cosiness and comfort in their own spaces, how have you achieved this in your own home?
This goes across many things for me, the ultimate of cosiness is my bath, I should have been a hippo, second to that is lighting - lots of different ways to create the mood using light and lighting that is not the norm, thirdly it’s ‘things’ - mainly art and objects and the last thing is blankets - I have the beginnings of a ridiculous collection of blankets.
What does the word ‘home’ mean to you?
This is actually a tough question as I think it goes across the spectrums. It’s a place that you feel settled in and that is calming for your brain but then goes the other end of the spectrum that its filled with laughter, family, friends, food music and fun times. I suppose it’s a place where we and others feel happy, comfortable and safe. I have a friend that just texts to ask to come round for a bath, this makes me think I’ve made a good home.
Is there a way of creating this feeling in the spaces you have built and curated, such as Duke Studios?
Yes because I think it’s all about people, not about the stuff that you have or the colours the walls are painted, it’s about making people feel like they’re welcome and part of your world, its about being gracious in your design and making it full of soul. Not too showy, not too over the top in a swanky way; just nice and fully thought through.
What objects bring you joy?
I recently bought two pop up books from the Glynn Vivian art gallery in Swansea - they are amazing and bring me SO MUCH joy - the pop up designs are fricking ridiculous - so complicated - I mean how do they even mass produce that kind of book? So now I’m collecting pop up books by David A. Carter if anyone wants to start sending me them then please do - I already have White Noise and the Yellow Square.
Where do you work best?
At the moment I'm working best from home. We have so much stuff going off at the moment in future plans for Duke, the house renovation and then my own personal work that I’ve started working from my studio here.
I've got a massive whiteboard I can get all the whirr of my brain onto and I can listen to audiobooks on my sonos whilst I work through it all. It's easier to jump from one thing to another here (I'm just trying to get better at managing my time better and not just chasing my cat like dog Mr Scruff for love and drinking too many coffees).
What is good design to you?
Good design for me is something which is designed down to the last detail, every inch has been thought about. If its a product or a space it will take into account its user and its completed style in finish. The colour palette will have been thought through to work in harmony with its adjoining or surrounding materials and most importantly it will make you smile and want to touch it.