I was very excited to meet Emma Carlow.
Since moving to Lewes many people have asked me “have you met Emma Carlow?” after saying that, well actually no I haven’t, a typical response would be “oh, you would really like her” or “really? She is great, you should meet her” or “how have you not met her? Everyone knows Emma, she’s brilliant!” Needless to say when I started The Lewes Home and a friend recommended that I contact the legend that is Emma Carlow for a blog feature, there was absolutely no hesitation on my part!
Before I met Emma I knew of her brand Wallplayper, which she describes as an “interiors brand that specialises in fun narrative wallpapers, cushions and lamp shades to suit adult and children’s spaces alike”. Firstly, the café in Lewes’s mini-department store Wickle is beautifully decorated with her paper and lightshades, as well as stocking most of her range in their shop. I had also been following her beautiful Instagram page and had spent lots of time browsing the Wallplayper website. I was intrigued to meet the person behind the brand and we quickly arranged a date and time to meet at her house.
Whilst it may be true that Emma Carlow is (practically) a living local legend…
When I knock on the door the person who greeted me was a warm, smiling, and down-to-earth woman with a twinkle in her eye, I liked her immediately.
Emma has lived in Lewes for eight years with her husband Graham, their son Finn and two black cats. She lives in the Pells area of Lewes and after once hoping (but failing) to buy a house across the road from her I was curious to see how she had made the house into her home.
Emma’s house suits her perfectly.
Interesting and quirky objects are displayed carefully and immaculately around the house. There is so much to look at and yet it does not feel cluttered in any way. It is beautiful but homely and cosy. She has managed to balance all of these things so well. Emma takes me straight into her light and open living, dining and kitchen room, the kitchen being situated in an extension.
The first thing that catches my eye is a fantastic, built-in yellow storage unit
Emma sings the praises of Lindsay who built it for her and I must say it is beautiful and that yellow is just so perfectly bold. Opposite is an awesome monochrome kitchen and sitting perfectly between the two is a dreamy kitchen island of dark blue cupboards and plywood work top with a formica coating (also built by Lindsay). A large 70s table extends from the island creating a perfect dining and homework space!Emma has an eclectic but harmonious style of mixing mid-century furniture with industrial lighting, colourful artwork and artefacts. A storage unit perfectly displays little objects she has collected, each one attached to a fond memory. A familiar looking shop ‘open’ sign made from Lego sits on one shelf. Emma tells me that she had made it for the Pleasant Stores cafe – now the vegetarian burger and coffee joint Bun and Bean.
There is a clear playfulness in Emma’s collection of artefacts and artwork
She has a beautiful vintage Lundby dolls house on display and I love the rabbit mask hanging up on the opposite wall alongside a mixture of colourful postcards, prints, photographs and shadow puppets that are all child-friendly but equally adult-friendly. I can see how Wallplayper is an authentic brand reflecting Emma’s own philosophy and tastes. She is excellent at finding that sweet-spot in images and objects that appeals to all people, no matter what their age.A striking blue Marmoleum floor spans from the kitchen through to the living room, where Emma balances out more bright colourful prints and objects on display with white walls, I also notice that she has built bookshelves framing the would-be partition between the living and dining rooms which really helps to define the space. This room is so cosy, a log burner sits in the fireplace and colour pops from textiles around the room; upholstery, rugs and cushions – all with bright colours and patterns working so well together to create an inviting and homely space.
There has been so much to see downstairs that time becomes short and so we whizz upstairs for a a quick look around. I am very happy to see that, in the bathroom, a wall is covered in one of Emma’s very own wallpapers. The fact that she wants to have Wallplayper in her own home just shows how much she loves her brand and believes in its appeal. I have to say, I do too.Alongside the bathroom is a spare guest room which has an ingenious storage system and out on the landing are stairs up to the loft – Finn’s room. As Finn is a young teenage boy both Emma and I decide not to venture up there (!) however she does show me her absolutely show-stopping bedroom. The dark grey panelled wall with built in bookcases is just gorgeous. The room has an atmosphere of its own, both absorbing and relaxing. The perfect place to retreat to with a good book.
Of course I can’t leave without hearing from Emma herself. She gave some time to the Lewes home to answer a few questions.
How would you describe your home style?
I live in a small Victorian terraced house and space is tight so storage plays an important part in the style of our house. I was very fortunate to find a wonderful G-Plan style wall storage system on ebay and this and our 70s dining room table and chairs mean that our house has a mid-Century modern feel to it (when its tidy).
What/who/where inspires your style?
Charles and Ray Eames inspire me, along with Herman Miller, Alexander Calder, and the Magic Roundabout. I love the Eames’ use of primary colours mixed with the natural tones of wood and stone.
What do you most look forward to when coming home?
It being magically tidy. My family and my cats. We redesigned our small garden a few years ago and in the spring and summer we spend a lot of time out there.
What is your favourite room in the home? Why?
The downstairs is an open plan room which we all share and this is my favourite room because it reflects us all. However I do like our spare room which is a guest room and garage combined. It has large cupboards along both long walls with a bunk sunk in amongst them.
Are there any interior design ‘rules’ you stick to when choosing things for your home?
Because our house is small I always consider whether I want the item or the space that it would fill. I like utilitarian design, nothing fancy, colour is also important.
What interior decor is a big turn off for you?
I don’t like interiors that make you feel in awe or uncomfortable because they are too perfect.
What makes Lewes special for you?
The people, Lewes is home to young and old people alike and I like that.
Apart from your own home can you tell us about another Lewes house that always catches your eye. What do you love about it?
There’s a 60s house on Park Road that is my dream house. It came on the market a few years ago and from the estate agent’s details you could see that it had its original kitchen, internal glass walls and lots of beautiful plain wooden cupboards and shelves. I couldn’t afford it! Sob!
Tell us a bit about Wallplayper, what spurred you on to start your own business?
I have always designed children’s products for large companies and I suppose I got fed up with the fact that girls and boys products were so stereotypical. Pink for girls, blue for boys. As a child I was a tom-boy and I found a lot of girl’s products to be rather condescending. I knew I could design things that could apply to both boys and girls. Also, so many children’s wallpapers are aimed at very young children, I wanted to design patterns that would not only stand the test of time, but would work in adult spaces as well.
Before I leave her house, Emma shows me a rug that is special to her as her father had made it himself using a sun-dyed print Emma had made and given him. He took the print, converted it into a pattern and set to work creating the rug. I love this story, but even more I love listening to Emma tell me it. The process that a simple image she made went through to create a beautiful thing for her home and made by someone she loves clearly moves her, she communicates this with genuine warmth, deep sincerity and joy.
I leave her house thinking of that story, I was so engaged with her in that moment that I think I will always remember it. It has been a treat to (finally) meet Emma Carlow, she is engaging and charismatic, talented and kind, fun and creative. What a legend.